Thursday, August 11, 2005

Return of Turkmenbashi

I can't get enough of Saparmurat Niyazov, the previously mentioned President-for-life of Turkmenistan, who looks a right bit like a certain Vegas singer. Also known as Turkmenbashi, Leader of the Turkmen, Niyazov has:

* ordered the construction of an ice palace in the middle of his desert country;

* loves melons;

* dislikes gold teeth;

* and is revered by at least one cobbler.

Go to the Turkmeni capital of Ashgabat and you'll find a statue of Turkmenbashi that rotates throughout the day so that it always faces the sun. The man's also a poet-philosopher, having revealed a way to remove "the complexities and anguishes from day to day living" in his book the Rukhnama, which is "on par with the Bible and Koran," required reading for Turkmeni children, and excerpted alongside the words of Mohammed on the walls of Ashgabat's newest mosque.

As for the poetry, Niyazov debuted in 2002 with the collection "Let My Turkmen People Prosper," which was soon translated into Russian and praised by certain elements of the Muscovy literati. Ever modest, Turkmenbashi turned down a request from the People's Council to be awarded the title "Great Turkmen Writer." However, he did allow them to rename January in his honor (and September in honor of his Rukhnama, now widely translated itself). He's also lent his face to the country's currency and vodka bottles.

Here's a nice Turkmeni travelogue with pictures, which at least shows that one American knows that the natural gas-rich Turkmenistan borders Afghanistan and Iran, making it a country not to be forgotten in America. Now if only the NY Times was so well informed, because how is it that the BBC can devote so much space to Turkmenbashi, while since 1996 the Times has only four mentions?