Turkmenistan’s New Personality Cult: Two for the Price of One
Turkmenistan’s president has dismantled some of his predecessor’s personality cult – only to replace it with a new one, in the spirit of two for the price of one: Aside from filling television screens and billboards with images of himself, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is intent on immortalizing his father.
Citing Turkmen state television, AFP reported on August 13 that Berdymukhamedov had unveiled a 5-meter bronze bust of his father, Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov, to mark the patriarch’s 81st birthday. The bust is housed at a compound newly built for the Interior Ministry’s military unit No. 1001, where the elder Berdymukhamedov served and retired as a lieutenant colonel back in 1982. Under the terms of a parliamentary resolution last year, the unit now bears Berdymukhamedov Senior’s name.
“Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov enjoys a great reputation as a man who managed to bring up a highly humane son who is infinitely loyal to the Turkmen people and sincerely loves his people, showing a brilliant example of selfless service to his people. The courageous image of Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov, the father of the distinguished president, and his highest humanity serve as [an] enormous example for imitation for all of us,” the resolution says, according to the official Turkmenistan.ru.
This is not the first monument devoted to the president’s father. Last year a bust of him was mounted in a park in the Berdymukhamedovs’ home village of Yzgant, some 50 kilometers from Ashgabat. The local school in Yzgant bears the name of the president’s grandfather, Berdymukhamed Annayev, who worked as a teacher until his death in Ashgabat’s devastating 1948 earthquake.
After coming to power in 2007 following President Saparmurat Niyazov’s death, Berdymukhamedov has taken some steps to dismantle the personality cult of Niyazov, who assumed the title Turkmenbashi (“Father of the Turkmens”) and renamed several months after himself, his mother and his holy book, the Ruhnama. This summer, for example, Turkmenistan’s Education Ministry dropped the Ruhnama from the school curriculum.
However, nature abhors a vacuum and Niyazov’s cult is gradually being replaced with Berdymukhamedov’s: The current president likes to be called Arkadag (“Protector”) and he stares down on his subjects from portraits plastered all over the country, including in airplanes and taxis. Even newlyweds pose for a keepsake photo with his image.
Berdymukhamedov is also an avid sportsman with an incredible skill: He never seems to lose a race.