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Saparmurat Niyazov, 1940-2006

Turkmenbashi.jpg President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov (whose official title was "Turkmenbashi," or Great Head of all Turkmen), reportedly died of heart failure this morning at age 66.

If Americans know one thing about Turkmenistan, it’s usually Niyazov. As Turkmenistan’s chairman of the Communist Party at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse, Niyazov assumed the presidency and quickly became an eccentric dictator (is that redundant? Aren’t all dictators eccentric?).

In trying to define a unique culture for Turkmenistan, he set the gold standard for a cult of personality, literally. In addition to the typical statues and portraits of Niyazov around the country, a gold-plated statue revolves atop the Arch of Neutrality in the capital city Ashgabat. There are tight controls on the media but earlier this year he opened a book-shaped $17-million "House of Free Creativity." The Rukhnama, the philosophical guidebook to life penned by Niyazov, is required reading in all schools. You can even take an online quiz on it (I passed! 80%). It apparently holds some of his poetry too.

It’s all actually very sad. His regime was entirely repressive and Turkmenistan is squalid despite sitting on a large supply of natural gas. If you can read Russian, follow the propaganda as it breaks at Turkmenistan.ru. The English version hasn’t been updated yet. However, the official government site has.

The personality cult of Turkmenbashi (The Guardian)
Turkmenbashi Dies, But Impact for Turkmenistan Unclear (Eurasianet)

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