Turkmenistan: 'April' Returns To Ashgabat
It's April again in Turkmenistan. Not "Gurbansoltan" -- the name of late President Saparmurat Niyazov's mother and what he insisted that citizens call the month.
In 2002, in one his more bizarre moves, Niyazov changed the official names of the days and months. January became Turkmenbashi, or "Head of the Turkmen," the late leader's preferred title. April was named after his mother. And the days were given names like Bashgun (Monday), which in Turkmen is literally "main day," or Ruhgun (Saturday), which means "spirit day."
Those changes have long confused many of Turkmenistan's 5 million people. But now, as with many other things in post-Niyazov Turkmenistan, yet another odd legacy of the strongman who died in late 2006 looks set for the dustbin of history.
On April 23, Akja Nurberdieva, the speaker of parliament, presented President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov with a request from the Turkmen people during a government meeting in the capital, Ashgabat.
"Esteemed President, we have received thousands of letters from Turkmenistan's citizens and in these letters they want to change the names of months and days back to what they were," Nurberdieva said.
In reply, Berdymukhammedov told the meeting that maybe the time has come to restore the traditional names of the calendar. He also recommended that parliament take up the issue at its next session, although it's unclear when that will be.
"As this issue directly concerns the nation's interests, and there is public support for it, let us put it on the agenda of the next parliamentary session," the president said.
Most never learned the new names. So the change will be welcomed by nearly everyone except perhaps by schoolchildren, who had to memorize Niyazov's calendar and will now have to learn the days of the week and months all over again.
"People my age, for example those over 30, have not used the new names except in official documents," one citizen who asked to remain anonymous tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. "Honestly, I don't know which month is which. They say 'Alp Arslan [August], Gurbansoltan, Turkmenbashi, Turkmen, etc....' I don't understand."
Berdymukhammedov, who has moved slowly but surely in undoing some of the more mercurial moves of his late predecessor, also told the meeting on April 23 that "in some cases, national laws become obsolete, thus creating obstacles to progress."
Analysts suggest that the pace of reform under the new president has been measured to prevent a break down in Niyazov's highly structured system. Too much reform too quickly, they say, could lead to big problems.
Moreover, merely returning the names of days and months to their traditional form might not be enough.
"People want to be able to make statements about Niyazov, that Niyazov's policies don't bring us anything good; and Berdymukhammedov must say this openly -- he must say that the people were completely deprived of their rights during Niyazov's rule," one man tells RFE/RL. Berdymukhammedov "has to confess this and not only Berdymukhammedov but the Mejlis [parliament] also has to fulfill its obligations and state its position, and not simply look at Berdymukhammedov's mouth."
Berdymukhammedov has never indicated that he is willing to go that far, that fast. For now, he seems content to see progress in changing things back to the way they were before Niyazov's embarked on some of his worst excesses.
In the future, when the new president feels more comfortable in his position, then he may come to acknowledge some of his Niyazov's worst mistakes -- just as Nikita Krushchev denounced the policies of Josef Stalin, his predecessor as Soviet leader, at an unprecedented communist party congress in 1956.
If that day comes, though, it will be an ordinary Monday or Saturday. The days of Bashgun or Ruhgun will already be forgotten.
Guvanch Geraev and Allamurad Rahimov of RFE/RLs Turkmen Service contributed to this report
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