Amid the many efforts Turkmenistan makes to gain international visibility are the large international scientific conferences the government stages on topics relating to Turkmen history and culture. These events are often majestic affairs broadcast on national TV.
It is no surprise that these events are also extremely popular among scholars who are either curious about, or genuinely interested in Turkmenistan. They are also a perfect occasion to interact with local elites, an opportunity I have enjoyed on several occasions. At a recent conference, the day before the event’s opening ceremony, the organizers hinted that there would be a surprise.
The gathering had been moved to Ashgabat from the west of the country to enable the president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to attend the opening immediately after his return to the Turkmen capital from a visit to China. On several previous visits, I had been told the president would show up at an event I was attending, but it had never happened. But this time, this promise sounded different.
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Begench Nurgeldy is a pseudonym for a scholar who specializes in Central Asian affairs.