NOTE : Saparmyrat Niyazov died on the 21st December
2006 (aged 66)
The text below was written after I travelled in summer 2005
Statues, portaits, propaganda for his books, slogans....
it's all about him, HIM, HIM.
If you want to create a parody of a megalomaniac dictator, look no further,
HE is your man !
His name is Saparmyrat Niyazov, calling himself "Turkmenbashi the
Great" (leader of the turkmens).
He has transformed Ashgabat. The centre is almost devoid of life. Pedestrians
are very few, and most of the people in the many large parks are those
taking care of the lawn, flowers etc... The large square between the
government buildings is very empty, but if you try to take photos, you
realise that there are a few people around : some guards whistle from
somewhere to tell you "no photos". So you continue and you
reach this big sort of tripod, on top of which is a gold-covered statue
of the president that rotates to follow the sun.
The "Arch of Neutrality" here at night
You can go up the 1st level on a sort of lift that goes
up one of the legs of the tripod. Traffic flows under this monument,
and the panorama on the city is quite good from the viewing platform.
And no guard tells you to pack your camera, although you take photos
of the very same government buildings.
Ashgabat : Independence Sq. with the
Presidential Palace and other government buildings
There are not only statues of himself, but also a lot of posters, and
he actually got his grey hair "rejuvenated" to a perfect glossy
black, trying to keep a young look.
Near the "tripod" monument is another government building with a large portrait of the president.
Hung on the facade of many buildings, you see large posters
advertising for the "Rukhnama" ("book of the soul"),
a series of book written by the president. On several occasions, I stopped
walking at a street corner to look at the statues or posters of the
president, and a policeman would come to ask me to get moving.
On top of buildings (also above his portrait
in hotel receptions), you can read this slogan :
"Halk, Watan, Beyik Turkmenbashi" which translates as :
"People, Nation, the great Leader of the Turkmens".
When I was travelling by minibus across the Karakum desert, at one of
the stops to fix a breakdown (see story), one of the other passengers
asked me in russian "what do you think of Ashgabat ? ". I
said "hmm... interesting.. but quite bizarre to see everywhere
all those statues and posters of your president". They laughed
and he said "ahh... Allah !!" as in "he thinks he's God",
and quickly "shhh.... diktatur...!", crossing his fists showing
he could be arrested for saying that.
Turkmenistan is a country with resources, and could be a prosperous.
Their president surely is as he pockets the benefits from gas and oil
exports. The monuments to his own glory are made of white marble and
cost a fortune. Note that many of these are built by a french company
: Bouygues. As we say in french : "l'argent n'a pas d'odeur"
(lit. "money has no smell"). Meanwhile, local people survive
on a 30 $ pensions, with the threat of their home being bulldozed to
make space for more constructions.
Another golden statue of himself in Berzengi
behind is the monument to the Independence of Turkmenistan
Someone told me "He is a good man, Ashgabat is beautiful now, there
was nothing to see before, and thanks to him, we don't pay electricity
and petrol is very very cheap". Sounds very "official"
doesn't it. Well this guy was in the military actually.... It's true
tough : petrol costs... well they did not seem to know exactly : "one
dollar, may be 40 liters".
Most people in neighbouring countries laughed when I mentioned the Turkmen
president : "ha ha ... he's mad"... or "we call him 'Super'myrat
Niyazov"... but for locals he's no joke.
see more photos from Turkmenistan