Cycle tourers in Turkmenistan can generally only get their hands on three of five day transit visas, resulting in a quick dash across the country to reach Uzbekistan before the strict deadline. I was joined by my friends Zigor and Maria for the ride, and together we pushed through the desert within five days to the border. Along the way we met loads of friendly people, and despite the near-constant headwind we maintained a steady pace and had a much more enjoyable time than anticipated. As always, its another random mix up of tunes…
The Rough Guide to being a Dictator
Turkmenistan is dominated by the dictatorship of the now deceased President Niyazov. His image is still everywhere, and his wacky reign gives some great guidance for any aspiring totalitarian leaders…
- Draft your own constitution, thereby legitimising your own authority throughout the land. This way you have executive powers to appoint all members of the People’s Council and the Cabinet, as well as the governors and administrators in the country. This will also pave the way to be later declared ‘President for Life’.
- Outlaw all opposition parties and control the press. This way when you receive the ‘Hero of the Turkmen People’ award (from the politicians you appointed) you can saturate the media for weeks with smiling photographs of yourself.
- Gain the honorific title of Turkmenbashi (‘first among Turkmens’), then popularise it as Serdar Turkmenbashi (‘Great Leader of all Turkmens’). This way you can provide both the words and music when you replace the national anthem. Also, when you introduce the manat currency you can also put your face all the new banknotes! Oh, and don’t forget to rename a city after yourself; ‘Turkmenbashi’.
- When your totalitarian dictatorship is criticised internationally, create and control loyal opposition parties such as the ‘Young League of Turkmenistan’ and ‘Peasants Justice Party’. This way you can finally receive that prestigious invitation to the White House!
- If you need major heart surgery do so secretly in a German clinic, then on return outlaw smoking in all public places throughout the country.
- Construct a gold plated statue of yourself in the capital city, complete with a superman cloak. Have the statue rotate 360 degrees every 24 hours to face the sun and reflect light onto the city.
- Once you receive ‘President for Life’ indulge in your megalomania and narcissism. Publish your own book called Ruhnama (Journal of the Soul). Order the book to be displayed in all mosques and churches, and build a colossal pink statue of the Ruhnama in Ashgabat. Be sure to hand out five year jail sentences if any citizens criticising the book, including the imam who complained about words of your book being chiselled on the walls of a new mosque beside those of the Prophet.
- Issue a barrage of weird and wacky decrees. Close down all libraries and hospitals outside of the main cities; ban the wearing of makeup for television news reporters; instruct the education minister to monitor all hairstyles; have all drivers pass a morality test to receive their licence; sack 15 000 health workers and replace them with untrained army conscripts; rename the calendar and days of the week after family members and the date you finished writing Rushnama; ban ballet and theatre and replace them with a massive puppet theatre in Ashgabat; prohibit the listening of car radios and any sound recordings; outlaw all dogs in Ashgabat because of their ‘unappealing odour’; order the removal of all satellite dishes as they are ‘ugly’, and; give any teachers the sack who do not publish praise of yourself.
The Turkmen despot died in 2006, leaving behind a republic dominated with statues and images of Niyazov. It’s amazing what one individual can get away with when natural gas and oil is plentiful…