Outside a city administration building in Ashgabat, the gold bust and the color poster face off. Neatly parted hair, bushy eyebrows, fleshy faces – Turkmenistan’s presidents, old and new, appear strikingly similar.
The golden one, Saparmurat Niyazov -- a.k.a Turkmenbashi -- built a notorious cult of personality, even penning his own “holy book.” Now, four years after the eccentric dictator’s death, his successor and former dentist, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is slowly eclipsing “the leader of the Turkmen.”
Every day, Berdymukhamedov smiles from the cover of every newspaper in the cloistered country, often from the same photograph. Words of his wisdom are boxed off as inspiration across the top.
Like a religious icon, at the head of each cabin on Turkmenistan Airlines and on the dashboard of all official taxis, Berdymukhamedov watches his flock, posing with pen in hand as if signing a check or ordering an arrest.
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