MARRIAGE AND WEDDINGS IN TURKMENISTAN

MARRIAGE IN TURKMENISTAN

Among Turkmen, the bride and groom are expected to be of the same tribe. Unlike other groups like the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz that have rules that restrict marriages within clans, the Turkmen have strict rules about marrying within one’s tribe. Girls traditionally married when they were very young, often to much older men after a high brde price was paid. The Soviets discouraged the practice but it continues today because bride prices have traditionally been an important source of income for some families and only older men could afford the high costs.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “Of the many ceremonies observed in Turkmen culture, the most important is the wedding. Turkmens attach great importance to the marriage of their children, and many of the old traditional customs, rites and beliefs associated with the matchmaking process and the wedding ceremony have lasted to the present day. [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com]

Marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents. Sometimes the newlyweds knew each other or played together as children. More often than not they were strangers. One young girl told National Geographic in 1973, “I’m not married, and I never want to be. Here a girl cannot choose her husband and may not refuse the one her father picks for her.”

Traditionally, newlyweds did not live alone together for two or three years. After the wedding the bride would go to live with the groom and his family. Teenage boys and girls didn't date and young women were expected to be virgins on their wedding night. Marrying a first cousin was considered advantageous. Polygmay was allowed by Muslim law but rarely practiced among Turkmen. Turkmen rarely marry non-Turkmen.

Divorce is legal but frowned upon. On the issue former Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov said, “divorce here is considered a sin but everything is in the framework of the law. Life is life. People make mistakes when they are young.”

Bride Abductions and Child Marriages in Turkmenistan

Bridenapping has a long tradition in Central Asia. In the old days, Turkmen fathers tried to keep their daughters around as long as possible so they could earn money from the carpets they made. If a young wanted a bride, kidnapping one was often the only way to get one.

One old timer told National Geographic in the 1970s, “Once my father helped a friend kidnap a bride, Although he had, of course, never seen her, this friend knew that a young woman who lived in a certain yurt. He asked his friends to help him take her...The band of youths burst into the yurt and seized a woman who was veiled. They boosted her up behind the bridegroom’s saddle, and galloped away...After a while he turned and said, ‘By the way, sweetheart how old are you?’...’Two times thirty and ten,’ she replied.”

Bridenapping is such a strong tradition among Turkmen that ordinary weddings sometimes feature a mock abduction. Describing a mock abduction Turkmen wedding Sabrina and Roland Michaud wrote in National Geographic, “Some of the men drag a large carpet to the door of a yurt. They fight a mock skirmish with those inside: They are ceremonially abducting the bride from the home of her father, who has kept her as long as he can in order not to lose the income from the sale of the rugs she weaves...The intruders place the veiled girls in the rug and carry her to the richly bedecked camel. With slow and measured gestured women in long robes and lofty coiffures wish her prosperity and happiness. Opening their hands to sky, men pray.”[Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1973]

According to humanium.org: “Arranged child marriages are common in Turkmenistan as they ensure good relations between the two families. The father receives a dowry of money, camels, or sheep. Sometimes, fathers will marry off their daughters in order of age. Once they are married, young girls belong entirely to their new family and are expected to become pregnant within the first year of their marriage. These forced marriages are clearly a violation of children’s rights for two reasons: first, because the children usually have not reached the legal age for marriage; and second, because this practice denies children the freedom to make their own decisions about their future. [Source: humanium.org]

According to UNICEF, one percent of Turkmen girls are married by 15 and seven percent are married by 18. Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

Turkmen Marriage in the Soviet and Post- Soviet Era

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In the Soviet era, marriages were recorded in regional Communist party offices. The traditional marriage feast was held in the morning before work so as not to arouse suspicions of authorities. Bride prices were banned by the Communists so livestock and consumer goods changed hands as gifts and no money was offered.

Marriages continue to be arranged by parents, but more and more are love matches. Young people that marry outside their tribe are often in big trouble. Grooms are sometimes sued and sometimes brides are killed by their parents.

Polygamy has a long tradition in Turkmenistan. Women often welcomed new wives because it meant less work for them and seniority over the new wives. The practice was prohibited by the Soviets. Under former Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov there were rumors that polygamy would be legalized. On the issue Niyazov said, “I think that men in all countries have more than one wife—though they name it differently.” Niyazov decreed that foreigners have to pay $50,000 to marry a Turkmen man or woman.

When a couple gets married in Turkmenistan, the state gives the newlyweds two weeks paid vacation ad a special allotment of flour and oil. The 10th grade was eliminated so that women could finish high school and university and find a husband before the age of 20.

Turkmen Matchmaking

In rural areas especially, marriages are often arranged by special matchmakers (sawcholar ). Aside from finding the right match in terms of social status, education, and other qualities, the matchmakers invariably must find couples of the same clan and locale. Most couples have known each other beforehand and freely consent to the marriage arrangement. Divorce among Turkmen is relatively rare. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “Matchmaking is an important stage of the marriage process, since it is necessary to find a good bride for the son. The parents of a young man usually make this decision after consultation with highly respected older men (aksakals), also taking into consideration the feelings and opinions of their son. Careful attention is paid to social and ethical factors; the girl's family; her attitude to work; and, whether she has the qualities of modesty, chastity and seriousness. [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

“Attention is paid to the choice of day for the match-making. According to ancient beliefs, there are certain propitious days for the successful realisation of plans and dreams. There are some popular Turkmen sayings which distinguish these days from the rest of the week. "On Wednesday you may go and side." "Saturday is a day of success." These beliefs are peculiar to the Turkmens. The neighbouring Uzbeks consider other days to be lucky. In general, the 7th, 17th and 27th days of a month are considered to be successful days. *|*

“The first stage of the match-making process is a visit by some of the young man's close relatives (his mother, aunts and uncles) to the family of the girl. According to Turkmen tradition, the parents of the girl do not give immediate consent to the marriage. Even if they approve, they will ask for time to consider. There are a lot of traditions concerned with the beginning of the match-making process. Some sweets and biscuits or cakes are presented to the family of the girl by the matchmakers, as a symbol of establishing sweet relations between the future relatives. Receiving a piece of bread of a sweet from the girl's family is also considered a good omen for a successful outcome. *|*

“When the talks are over and an agreement has been reached between the parents, a return visit is made by the relatives of the girl. Her aunts and sisters-in-law try to learn more about the young man, to discuss some of the wedding plans, to establish good relations with the family, and to make sure that all bodes well for the future of their girl. When the day of the marriage is fixed, the girl's family will sing a verse. “We've seen our future son-in-law, / He doesn't look worse than our girl, yar-yar./ We've tasted their dish, yar-yar, / It's better than grapes, yar-yar.” *|*

Turkmen Wedding

Key elements of a Turkmen weddings include the bride's caravan, the traditional welcoming of the bride, and the recognizing of the bride as a woman, in the ceremony known as bash shalmak. Describing a Turkmen wedding in the 1970s, Sabrina and Roland Michaud wrote in National Geographic, “The men of the village, led by the groom’s father, are making up a caravan to bear the bride-to-be to her new husband...They have ordered the camels to their knees and harnessing them. The harness of one is especially rich and bedecked with bead pompoms and silver bells. On each side of the animal they attach wooden platforms on which the bride and her attendants will ride. So that she remains hidden from public gaze, there is atop all a framework covered with fine carpets and decorated with bright scarves and talismans.” [Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1973]

Brides often wear glittery red shawls, silver headdresses and heavy veiling. They are not supposed to speak and are expected to keep their eyes lowered. A handkerchief is pressed against the bride’s lips on her wedding day. She is often covered much of her wedding day by a large red-and-indigo cloth.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “The day of the wedding ceremony is fixed according to the advice of the aksakals, who ascertain the most favourable date, according to the location of certain stars and planets, and by the relation of the moon to the earth. The direction from which the bride arrives to the groom's home is also determined by the position of the stars. One particular star is considered very unlucky, and it is preferable to delay the wedding rather than have this star facing the place where the wedding will take place. In cases where this is not possible, the aksakal tries to "whitewash' by putting on the road, a needle with the thread pointing in the direction of the star, or by giving bread to people as a way of offering a sacrifice. Though this belief may seem rather primitive, it is still held by Turkmen people today. [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

Turkmen Wedding Customs and Superstitions

Turkmen weddings and early days of marriage feature many unique customs and rituals. According to popular Turkmen belief the bride can not walk on a spot marked by the blood of a butchered animal, walk past dirty water or cinder, pass beneath certain kinds of trees during the first days of marriage; she also is not supposed to visit funerals or commemorations.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “The Bride's first step into the house of her future husband, is of great significance and should always be made with the right foot. If she takes the first step with her left foot, troubles, illness and quarrels will trouble her family, and she will be on bad terms with her new relations. Also on the wedding day, the bride, surrounded by guests, puts her hand into bowls of flour, oil and honey (Symbols of prosperity and well being). This means she will be a good cook, that she will be as complaisant and obliging as oil, and that her life will be as sweet as honey. Flour is brushed across her forehead, and the sacred herb yuzalik is burnt to protect her from being bewitched. [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

Turkmen wedding clothes are filled with charms and symbols that are believed to possess magic properties of protection and purification. The bride's outfit contains various amulets designed to protect her from evil forces, to help her to stay healthy and to bring wealth and prosperity. The wedding dress itself, for example, is made of beautiful, traditional red fabric to arouse envy and attract an "evil eye" that is supposed to protect the bride by all possible means. For protection against “alien evil eyes,” the bride wears a cape covering her head along with amulets and charms which were believed to possess guarding forces. Many elements of the wedding clothes — camel's wool thread, a pig's tooth, silver plates, beads with "eyes" fastened to them, a cape with a sewn-on triangular pouch with coal and salt inside — are there to bring good luck and keep away bad luck.[Source: advantour.com <=>]

One of the most interesting and complex elements of the wedding ritual is the bashsalma — the ceremonial of changing of the unmarried woman’s headdress, or takhya, for the one of a married woman. The ritual is both solemn and cheerful, and is characterized by noisy symbolical scramble between women and girls for the bride. The bride's friends stand in a circle around her trying to you defend her, This playful fight is inevitably won the bride’s friends. Then a bridle made from woven colored lace — an aladzha — is flung over bride's wedding cape. The groom pulls the bridle three times as if trying to remove the maiden headdress. After that the bride 's head is covered with a big white kerchief presented by a respectable woman having many children and the takhya is passed to the youngest sister of the groom. Behind this is the idea that the former takhya owner should pass her good fortune to another girl and she in turn will get happily married and give birth to many children. The takhya is passed along with the wishes: "Sanada toi etmek nesip etsin!" ( "May thee have a wedding!"). <=>

Turkmen Wedding Clothes

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “Great attention is paid to the clothes of the bride. Her national dress is decorated with traditional embroidery, and jewellery made of gold and silver. The step of the bride is slow, measured, and rather staid. This symbolises the change to serenity and maturity, and the parting from parents and home. In the past, the young man wore the red oriental robe called 'gyrmuzy don' with its decorated cummerbund, yellow boots, and the national fur hat the telpek. Now the young men prefer modern suits and the relatives of the groom arrange a dozen or more cars for the ceremonial cortege, rather than the camels and horses which were used in the past. [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com]

A great deal of cares goes into preparing a Turkmen bride’s wedding garments. The dress is sewn in the house of the bride from the fabric presented by the groom. Only certain "lucky" days are considered suitable for cutting and sewing the wedding dress. The most respected woman of the village, a mother of many children, along with the bride's dear friends cut the dress. The friends are allowed to take away scraps of fabric for good luck. [Source: advantour.com <=>]

A Turkmen wedding dress is distinguished by rich ornamentation and decorations. It features light,silvery pendants that tinkle as the bride walks to drive away evil spirits. The majority of pendants served not only as decorations but also as symbolic talismans and amulets. A bride's wedding procession is decorated with colored kerchiefs.

Kerchiefs and scarfs are important decoration of a wedding ceremony. At the "gelin toi" (wedding party for the bride), women bring wedding gifts and sweets wrapped in kerchiefs. When they were about to leave they get their kerchiefs back full of presents equal to those they had brought. A big kerchief itself is considered a kind of a gift. A kerchief is often the most valuable prize to win during men's contests.

All young women and girls come to weddings in bright kerchiefs. In the old days, during the wedding procession, small kerchiefs or pieces of cloth were handed out to passers-by in order to “neutralize the malicious forces which might harm a young family". Today wedding guests are given small pieces of fabric, kerchiefs, "shapyrdyk", or handkerchiefs as a symbol of festivity and well-being. Turkmen also bring kerchiefs, pieces of cloth, carpets, rugs, mats, spreadings ("at gulak") to the house of the groom.

Girls and young brides wear soft, embroidered takhya (skullcaps) with colored silk threads and silver decorations. Takhya emphasize the blossoming beauty of a girl, and embroidered flowers on them symbolize beauty and virginity. Not wearing takhya is regarded as a loss of chastity.

Turkmen Wedding Caravan

Describing a mock abduction and wedding caravan at a Turkmen wedding in the 1970s, Sabrina and Roland Michaud wrote in National Geographic, “Some of the men drag a large carpet to the door of a yurt. They fight a mock skirmish with those inside: They are ceremonially abducting the bride from the home of her father, who has kept her as long as he can in order not to lose the income from the sale of the rugs she weaves...The intruders place the veiled girls in the rug and carry her to the richly bedecked camel. With slow and measured gestured women in long robes and lofty coiffures wish her prosperity and happiness. Opening their hands to sky, men pray.” [Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1973]

“The bride’s camel quits the compound. The others, bearing women and young girls, follow in a caravan. Thus does the Turkmen girl leave her family. Seated on a rug she has woven with her own hands, she is borne away to her destiny...The caravan moves along. The silver bells the young girls wear on their festive attire tinkle joyously. The tambourines in their hands beat a lively rhythm. The girls sing “ Kilin aljak, kilin aljak! We are taking the bride away!”

“The procession goes to the bridegrooms village. It halts before the yurt—so new it is white as snow—that has been erected for the bride...Still on her rug, she is carried inside and stays there until evening, surrounded by her female friends.”

Turkmen Wedding Party

On the day of the wedding, a marriage feast is hosted by the groom's parents. Sheep or goats are slaughtered. Guests feast on spicy plov and lamb soup. Other food are served. People dance to an electronic band playing traditional Turkmen songs with a disco beat and sing traditional songs accompanied by musicians. After dinner the friends leave. The bridegroom comes with two witnesses and a mullah who performs the wedding ceremony.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “ In some Turkmen regions, for example Kazanjuk, the bride enters the house of her future neighbours when she first arrives at her new home. This is a sign of mutual respect. The influence of Uzbek and Karakalpak traditions on Dashhowuz Turkmens is evident when the toast master or someone else recites verses on behalf of the bride.
‘Our greetings to father-in-law, / Who plant the sweetest melons,
And prepares stumps for firewood.
Our greetings to mother-in-law, / Who wears boots without tops(Shoes),
And never rests at home (Always busy).
Our greetings to grandfather, / Who is proud of his grandson,
And wears a new don (National Turkmen robe)
Our greetings to our sisters-in-law, / N"o are better bred than the khar@s daughter,
And wear dresses with pearl embroidery.’ [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

“After each verse, the bride bows from the waist, as a token of respect and a way of greeting everyone. If she did not do this, the guests would feel hurt. However this tradition is not observed by the majority of Turkmens. The variety of rites in the different regions of the country are rooted in ancient traditions. *|*

“A Turkmen wedding would not be complete without the popular songs of hagshis, and popular games. Altyn gabak is when the players shoot at a small golden pumpkin. Yaglyga towusmak is a game where people compete to see who can catch hold of a shawl or kerchief, suspended high in the air. Horse racing, wrestling, dog and cock fights, camel fights were all done for the entertainment of the wedding guests.” *|*

Turkmen Wedding Songs

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “The wedding traditions were accompanied by songs, called 'toi aydymlary'. 'Toi' refers to any festive occasion, but in this context it refers specifically to a wedding celebration. 'Aydymlary' is the Turkmen word for songs. Although these songs vary according to the part of the country where they are sung, they all share a common Turkmen view of the world. Qualities such as patience and endurance, and a respect for national traditions are common themes.” [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

Traditional games and traditions provided material for the wedding songs. “One goes: A bay horse is galloped, yar-yar, / At a wedding party yar-yar, /The boy who fell in love with this / Will soon be recognised, yar-yar.” The following song is sung by the girl's sister when the time comes for the bride to leave her parent's home: “Chuval (a rug) is spread at home, / My house is left behind, yar-yar,/ With various dishes in it, / My share is left behind, yar-yar.” *|*

“A bride is sorrowful when the time comes t leave her parental home for ever. Thus, toi idymlary, sung as a girl is about to embark on a new phase of her life, reflect the grief she feels in the knowledge that from now on, she will seldom see her family and girl friends. The wedding songs embrace a wide range of themes from sad to comic.” One of these goes: We'll treat you with long noodles, / Please, taste them our matchmakers, / We'll give you a change to race an ant, / Please try to ride it, yar-yar.” The most humorous songs are sung when the relatives of the groom come to escort the bride to the house of her future husband. The relatives of the bride and groom make fun of each other in songs with lines like “It is normal to praise the young man, yar-yar, / It is normal to turn out his family, yar-yar.” *|*

Some of the songs are an expression of good wishes. “May you be happy in your new family, / May you live long with your friend,/ May you never turn back in tears” is one sung by the girl's relatives, who hope to see her happy and satisfied with her new life.

Turkmen Wedding Ceremony

After dinner the friends leave. The bridegroom comes with two witnesses and a mullah who performs the wedding ceremony. This ceremony, or nikka, has traditionally been done in private, overseen by a mullah and attended only by two witnesses or close family members. The mullah asks the groom, “Have you chosen this young woman for your wife?” The groom responds, “I have.” “You have heard,” the mullahs asks the witnesses. “We have heard,” they reply. The process is repeated for the bride. She is expected to answer in a soft, demure voice. Traditionally, when the witnesses were asked if they had heard they said no and the bride was expected to say “I have” very loudly. The mullah then blesses the couple.

Afterwards the newlywed couple is alone and is expected to consummate the marriage. The next morning two old women are given the duty of determining if the “boy has become a king,” or in other words find out of the marriage has been consummated. If the answer is “yes” the bride is no longer regarded as a “slave” of her father but is now a “slave” of her husband and is expected to turn over all the money she makes from her carpets to her husband.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “Muslim weddings are carried out by the mullah, in accordance with religious rites. The sweet water offered to the bride and groom to seal their marriage is offered to all the guests, as a symbol of a sweet and happy life for them all. There are some basic Turkmen wedding traditions are common to all groups. For example, guests greet the bride with the following words:
‘May you have a son in front of you, / May you have a daughter beside you,
May your hand be dipped in oil, / May your hand be dipped in flour,
May you not speak a lot, / May you not blame your mother-in-law,
May you respect your elders, / May you yield to younger ones,
May you be modest.’ [Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

“There are certain quatrains recited by an old woman after the mullah has completed the nuptial rites. She slaps the young man on the back and says:
’Let her not wear white or blue (Meaning bad clothes), / Let her not eat oat bread,
Let her not be caught by anyone, / Let her not be kicked by hoofed animals,
Let her be fruitful as a melon, / Let her bloom like tomatoes.’

“This didactic verse underscores the responsibility of the young man to take care of his bride, to respect her and to protect her from evil. In that the family is continued through its male descendants, the groom's parents dream of children, especially boys. Some Kerkuk Turkmen living in Irak greet the bride with the following words: ‘This house is for you, / All these things are for you too.’ *|*

“The bride should be grateful for this inheritance, for the confidence of her 1-iusband's parents, and should take care of them and the house. All the young man's relatives share the joy of this significant event. As an expression of their joy, they plan a party to introduce the bride to her new relatives so that she can establish close contact with them. At this time, they present her with traditional gifts, such as a length of dress fabric or a shawl. The neighbours also join in the tradition of honouring a new bride.” *|*

Bride Money and the Meaning of a Turkmen Wedding

One important custom still practiced in Turkmenistan is the brideprice (kalong ). Depending on region and a family's wealth, the bride's family may demand huge sums of money from the groom in return for the bride's hand in marriage. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The bride price paid by the groom’s family is often very high — thousands of dollars worth of livestock, grain and cash paid in installments. This is generally a very large expenditure for a Turkmen family. In return the groom’s father spends at least half the bride price on his daughter’s dowry which includes thing likes carpets, quilts, linens and furniture. Single girls have traditionally worn belled caps to signify they were from fairly wealthy families and their fathers demanded high prices. Many of these girls had to wait a long time for husband to appear or wait until their father’s lowered the bride price.

The day after the Muslim wedding ceremony, the bride greets friends while surrounded by her dowry. The kaitarma is when the young wife's returns to her father's home after the honeymoon before full payment of kalym (bride-money) by the family of the young husband. During the first day of the bride's "kaitarma" relatives arrange a feast in her parents house. The bride is dressed in different outfits, including a red pin-striped dressing gown. She return to her husband's home wearing a dark green-olive cape.

Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva wrote on turkmenhost.com: “Although marriage is one of the most important events in the life of any person, the attitude of the parents of boys is different from that of those with daughters. Traditionally, each Turkmen family with a son dreams about his marriage from the day of his birth; of selecting a bride who is diligent and moral, of arranging a rich wedding party in accordance with the old traditions. Turkmens usually greet any wedding cortege with a traditional gesture - lightly touching their foreheads with both hands three times and saying, "Let God glance at me too". In so doing, they express their belief in a successful marriage. The same gesture and words are repeated by the guests when the bride arrives at the house of the groom. Her face is hidden from view by a thin pelerine, the guests try to see her, praying God, "Let God help my son, too".[Source: Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva, turkmenhost.com *|*]

Ashgabat’s “Palace of Happiness” Opens for Business Registering Newlyweds

Turkmenistan’s Wedding Palace — “Bagt Koshgi” (Palace of Happiness) — was inaugurated in Ashgabat in 2011 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence. The event was marked with the registration of its first pairs of newlyweds. Located in the southwestern part of the Turkmen capital, the three-step structure is crowned by a cube with a ball with a diameter of 32 meters displaying the map of Turkmenistan. [Source: turkmenistan.ru /=/]

According to a Turkmenistan government press release: “The Wedding Palace can register seven pairs of newlyweds at a time. It consists of three halls for celebrations, seven banquet halls for weddings, dozens of shops, as well as various services, including wedding dress shops, wedding decoration of cars, rentals of jewelry and national embroideries, photo and beauty salons, and parking spaces. There is also a cultural and methodological center for promotion of national traditions of holding wedding and family celebrations. The opening of the building was attended by President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who spoke to the newlyweds. He also planted the first tree in a park near the palace, thus initiating a tree planting tradition to celebrating the marriage.” /=/

When the plan for the building was announced in 2009 AFP reported: “Turkmenistan has found an original way of coping with the global financial crisis: if your people are sad, build them a "Palace of Happiness." The reclusive ex-Soviet republic said that it would build the palace as part of over $1billion worth of construction projects to beautify the capital Ashgabat and make it more liveable. "President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a series of documents under which several important community structures will be built in Ashgabat at a cost of over $1 billion," state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan reported.” [Source: AFP, April 14, 2009 ***]

The Palace of Happiness was estimated to cost $133 million), said the newspaper. “Turkish construction firm Polimeks won over $200 million in contracts as part of the projects, which will also see an additional 2,000 hotel rooms built in Ashgabat. The announcement comes one week after Turkmenistan unveiled plans to build a $1billion Olympic village, including a winter sports complex, despite the fact that the desert nation is not due to host any upcoming Winter Games.”

Turkmen Newlyweds Ordered to Plant Trees on Wedding Day

In conjuction with the opening of the Palace of Happiness, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov introduced strict rules to highlight the importance of family values and respecting traditions. Among these were orders to Turkmen newlyweds to plant trres and visit monumnets on their wedding day. [Source:Miriam Elder, Associated Press, October 26, 2011 +++]

Miriam Elder of Associated Press wrote: “Those who think weddings should be the happiest day in a couple's life would do well to avoid Turkmenistan, where new rules impose a strict order of ceremonies on residents” there. “In the latest example of what might generously be called his eccentric approach to power, Berdymukhamedov has ordered couples to plant trees and visit... such romantic sites as the Earthquake Memorial, the Monument to the Constitution, the Monument to Independence and, finally, a second world war memorial.” Berdymukhammedov said: "It is advisable that the couple registering their marriage at the palace plant trees at a nearby park and care for them. It would be nice if some time after the beginning of marriage, couples on dates and important celebrations, family anniversaries, came to the park and planted new trees in memory." That, he said, would turn the palace into a "green oasis". +++

“The new requirements highlight "the exceptional importance of preserving family values in modern society and raising the younger generation to respect the traditions and customs of the people", Berdymukhamedov said at a government meeting devoted to weddings. Hopes that Berdymukhamedov would break with the outlandish path set by his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, better known as Turkmenbashi, have come to naught.” Berdymukhammedov “bestowed upon himself the title of Hero of Turkmenistan – a title his predecessor took six times. Several thousand officials and representatives of Turkmen society gathered at a grand new marble hall in Ashgabat to hail the president. +++

"Wherever you tread, the soil turns into an orchard of paradise and new villages, museums, factories and kindergartens rise there," Shir Sopyev, a resident of the northern Tashauz region, told Berdymukhamedov at the gathering, according to Reuters. "We live in paradise, and the self-sacrificing work of our president lies in the foundation of everything," said Aigozel Gurbanova, presented as a student of journalism. +++

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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