The Turkmen government has decided to remove the requirement to pass an exam in knowledge of Ruhnama from secondary schools, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reports.
Ruhnama (the Book of the Soul) is the state cult book promulgated by past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, and helped cement his cult of personality. The book was a mixture of religious and folklore teachings sprinkled with fantastic claims about the Turkmen people, such as that they were the first to harvest grain.
Niyazov offended Muslim clerics by having an inscription about Ruhnama carved into the Gypjak Mosque, the largest in Central Asia. One leader who refused to place Ruhnama on the same stand as the Koran was interrogated by security police, Forum 18 News Service reported.
The book used to appear everywhere in Turkmenistan and was a mandatory subject in schools, but gradually began to be diminished after Niyazov's death in December 2006 and the coming to power of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in 2007.
While Ruhnama may be retired, official ceremonies, public buildings, and universities have been saturated with the works of Berdymukhamedov, author of publications on health, medicinal plants, economics, and the famous Akhal-teke race horses. These volumes are now being included in course work and serve as the propaganda centerpiece at various state occasions, such as last weekend's festivals in celebration of the Akhal-teke.
Indeed, a new cult of personality seems to be forming around Berdymukhamedov with his
portrait and books everywhere -- and even a symbolic dove alighting on him as he rode an Akhal-teke horse during an equestrian festival.
The withdrawal of the book has sent some teachers worrying about how they will replace it, but TIHR reports that an exam in Internet technology will now be substituted.
No word yet on whether the memorial park in Ashgabat with the large sculpture of Ruhnama will remain.