Uh-oh. We thought the golden statue of Turkmenbashi, the past dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov, (the title means "leader of Turkmens") was supposed to have been toppled.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who took power in February 2007, removed many of the trappings of Niyazov's cult of personality. Among them was supposed to have been the huge 230-foot statue of his predecessor clad in business attire, arms outstretched, which rotated with the sun.
To be sure, after he announced its demise in May 2008, it took Berdymukhamedov more than two years then to actually take down the statue as planned. Workmen finally removed the figure on August 25, 2010.
The statute formerly stood atop the Arch of Neutrality, which symbolizes a central tenet of Turkmen state propaganda regarding its relations with powerful neighbors.
But according to a report from the Russian news site lenta.ru, Turkmenbashi is back -- and now he is perched on top of the new Monument of Neutrality (not to be confused with the old Arch of Neutrality.)
In fact, if you look at his past speeches, Berdymukhamedov never actually said he was getting rid of the statute for good; he just said it would be "removed to the suburbs" -- and it has been -- that's where the Monument of Neutrality is located.
Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen Service of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe got some feedback on the statue's return.
Rasul Seidov, a resident of Ashgabat, told Radio Azatlyk that the return is symbolic of what is happening in the country:
When the monument to Niyazov was removed from the center of Ashgabat, many people became hopeful that along with it, his political regime would recede into history as well. But recently the political situation that has emerged in the country has clouded all these hopes. That's why the return of the Niyazov monument is symbolic. It illustrates the political course in the country.
Aman Kakliev, a tourist agent, told RFE/RL that while the statue was a travesty for people inside Turkmenistan, tourists liked it because it was so exotic, rotating with the sun.
Farid Tuhbatullin, editor of chrono-tm.org and head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, said:
The system which Niyazov built has not changed in five years. And although many no longer mention Niyazov's name, the president of the country remains an adherent to the policy of Turkmenbashi.
Lately, Berdymukhamedov has been doing more to create his own cult of personality than reminiscing about Niyazov -- granting himself the Hero of Turkmenistan award and publishing yet another pair of books.
According to Agence France Presse, the statue now doesn't rotate any more, though. Progress?