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These deadpan words belie the excitement surrounding the construction of what is, in the official Turkmen website’s words, “an atypical object”: an ice palace in one of the world's hottest deserts.

“Let us build a palace of ice,” announced Turkmen President Niyazov in 2004, to which most Turkmens’ understandable reaction was, “Let us not build a palace of ice”. Turkmenistan already has enough to worry about. It’s a country of huge natural resources but minimal opportunities to exploit them. It’s a small, isolated ’stan, allowing free rei(g)n to its ex-Communist leader, once elected, now impossible to shift, and that’s where the fun really starts.

With apologies for any repetition to those who are already gleefully up to date with President Niyazov’s journey from run-of-the-mill Soviet corruptnik to full-blown bulging-eyed dictator, here are a few highlights:
* He long ago assumed the title “Turkmenbashi”, meaning “leader of all Turkmen”. Like Tony Blair, he believes that education is crucial to his country’s future; though—to be fair—unlike Tony Blair, this means that his country’s schoolchildren must increasingly learn only about him.


President Niyazov, the Turkmenbashi. Steady, ladies, he's married—to Turkmenistan!

* On top of a 23-metre building in the centre of Ashgabat, the capital, is a revolving 12-metre statue of the Turkmenbashi. This is but one of many, many statues of the Turkmenbashi.

* The Turkmenbashi’s book, Ruhnama, “a collection of his thoughts on Turkmen identity, history and destiny” and “a spiritual guide for his nation”, as well as being in every home, school and workplace, is also in every mosque in the country, displayed next to the Qu’ran. Particularly spiritual passages from it will adorn the outside of his ongoing pet construction project, the biggest mosque in the world.



* “‘If I was a worker and my president gave me all the things they have here in Turkmenistan, I would not only paint his picture, I would have his picture on my shoulder, or on my clothing,’ Niyazov said... ‘I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the street - but it’s what people want.’” (Observer)

* All recorded music is banned, on TV and radio, at weddings and parties; pretty much everywhere, although this is simply intended to protect the musical traditions of the Turkmen by ensuring all music is performed live. The Turkmenbashi is unimpressed with lipsynching.

* Meetings in his office are televised and broadcast weekly on the three state TV channels. (Observer)

* At a state banquet, Niyazov, “discontented with US foreign policy”, forced the American envoy to Turkmenistan, Steven Mann, to drink a jugful of vodka in one go. “Undaunted, Mann is rumoured to have risen to the task.” (The New Great Game, Lutz Kleveman)

* There is a huge fountain in Ashgabat which includes a large model of Ruhnama that opens every night to reveal a video screen showing the Turkmenbashi reading extracts from it aloud.



* He renamed the months of the year (though they correspond exactly with the Western calendar to avoid confusion):
January: Turkmenbashi (named after him)
February: Baidag (“the month of the banner”)
March: Novruz (a Muslim holiday)
April: Gurbansoltan Edzhe (named after his mother)
May: Makhumtuli (classical medieval Turkmen poem)
June: Oguz (after Oguz Khan, the father of the Turkmen)
July: Gorkut (the hero of another epic Turkmen poem)
August: Alp Arslan (another Turkmen founding father)
September: Ruhnama (there’s that bloody book again)
October: Garashsyzlyk (the month in which they celebrate Turkmenistan’s independence)
November: Sandzhar (yet another celebrated Turkmen ruler)
December: Bitaraplyk (the month in which they celebrate Turkmenistan's neutrality)
* “In 2001 the Humanitarian Association of the World’s Ethnic Turkmens voted to suffix Niyazov’s name with Beyt (‘great’), much to the president’s dismay. ‘I am afraid of ever more titles - some even say I am a prophet,’ he complained.” (Observer)

* When Turkmens take their driving test they also have to take a written exam on their knowledge of Ruhnama.

* He has set out in legislation the official ages of man:
0-13: childhood
14-25: adolescence
25-37: youth
37-49: maturity
49-62: prophet
62-73: inspiration
73-85: white-bearded elder
85-97: old age
97-109: Oguz Khan (father of the Turkmen)(see above)
* A copy of Ruhnama was recently blasted into space. It will orbit the earth in a small satellite containing a Turkmen flag and the presidential standard for 150 years.

* “Niyazov appeared in a 90-minute live broadcast from one of his palaces last September to read from his new poetry collection, The Spring of Inspiration. He also interrupts government meetings to recite his poems, including a session last May when he told his military leadership that he had some verse about the dangers facing the country: ‘Be vigilant and be cautious, that is my request to you / Even when you and your country are facing luck / And you are as mighty as King Solomon / And when you feel yourself strong / Be aware, for there are many traitors with traps to set’(Washington Post)

* Seriously, there’s a lot of statues.



* The Betrayers of the Motherland decree makes it a crime to disagree with the policies of the president.

* Turkmenistan's population is still very poor. On the plus side, the Turkmenbashi is also building a huge aquarium near the Ice Palace.

* He promised in 1992 that all Turkmen families would own a house and a car within 10 years. In 2003 he started to make good on this promise by handing out free Mercedes cars to his top officials. After that the project appears to have stalled a bit.

* Last year the Turkmenbashi closed all the hospitals in the country except those in the capital. This was said to be part of his “radical health plan”, but is almost certainly because the money that should have gone into them has instead been poured into the creation of, for example, statues. (Suspicions had already been raised the previous year when he fired 15,000 health workers nationwide and replaced them with army conscripts.)

* The Turkmenbashi, having previously had himself declared “president for life”, suddenly and unexpectedly announced last year that there would be a presidential election. He said the country’s destiny “should not depend on just one person”, and urged young candidates to come forward and contest the presidency. Critics couldn’t help noticing that (a) this was very shortly after the president of nearby Kyrgyzstan was deposed by a popular uprising, (b) the last opposition leader in Turkmenistan is still in prison, accused of a spurious assassination attempt, and (c) the election is pencilled in for 2009. Breath is not being held.
When you read the words “ice palace”, it’s understandable if your heart leapt; after all, a man so clearly prepared to sacrifice not only his country’s natural wealth but the very wellbeing of his people to his off-the-scale megalomania must be about to build some kind of crystalline mega-fortress, the like of which the world has never, etc. Something that would at least eclipse this 2004 effort in Minnesota (actual ice; click to enlarge):



So, technical achievements notwithstanding—after all, it’s no mean feat to create, among its attractions, a full-size ice rink in the middle of the desert—it still can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment when you discover that the Ice Palace actually looks like this:



That exciting press release in full!
EDIT: The exciting press release is no longer there, quite possibly because the Turkmenbashi has since [SPOILER] died.


Almost all the information here lifted wholesale from the BBC

Profile of the Turkmenbashi from the Observer

EDIT: The Turkmen government website is currently unavailable. I've a horrible feeling our unprecedented interest in its content may have exceeded its bandwidth. If so, I will happily convey my apologies in person to the Turkmen ambassador.

Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:18 am (UTC)
My god. He's madder than I am.

And that's no ice-palace. That's an ice-industrial-estate.
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:10 am (UTC)
OMFG, chiller, look:

In 2002 he renamed bread from chorek, the traditional Turkmen word, to Gurbansoltan edzhe, his long dead mother's name.

He renamed bread. BEST. DICTATOR. EVER!!!!!!!!!!
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:13 am (UTC)
I'm going to rename FIRE.
ruudboy
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:30 am (UTC)
Best decree ever: Ordering that young people not be permitted to get gold tooth caps or gold teeth, suggesting instead that they chew on bones to preserve their teeth
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:32 am (UTC)
The more I look, the less I believe it:

Muskmelon Day
giant shoe
ruudboy
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:34 am (UTC)
Are you having a good Young Day by the way?
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:36 am (UTC)
Ahh, yes, the final Young Day in the month of Turkmenbashi, 2006! I always say, though, Young Day is the worst day.

Hahahaha, Friday is just Friday. Superb.
webofevil
Feb. 1st, 2006 08:30 pm (UTC)
Because everyone loves Fridays!
ruudboy
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:37 am (UTC)
giant shoe

I hereby decree that the word 'lickspittle' shall be replaced in all its occurrences by the word 'Nepesow'.
strictlytrue
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)
Two things particularly caught my eye:

December: Bitaraplyk (the month in which they celebrate Turkmenistan's neutrality)

That's got to be a real doozy of a holiday.
"And to all of you at home: a very average Bitaraplyk!"
"Wow Mum! This is the most ordinary Bitaraplyk ever!"

And,
A copy of Ruhnama was recently blasted into space. It will orbit the earth in a small satellite containing a Turkmen flag and the presidential standard for 150 years.

Now, presuming that Turkmenistan doesn't have its own space programme (and given the above, I wouldn't put it past them) I'd love to know how they convinced the Russians to waste valuable payload space on that.


webofevil
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:08 am (UTC)
> I'd love to know how they convinced the Russians to waste valuable payload space on that.

The book piggy-backed on a mission launching two Japanese satellites. It was indeed a Russian rocket, launched from Kazakhstan, so just around the corner.

Russia and Turkmenistan are usually great pals, due to the latter's location and resources: Turkmenistan is handily situated if the Caspian Sea region ever truly gets its oil-producing arse in gear, and is sitting on the world's fifth largest supply of natural gas, it says here. (Yet its living conditions, average life expectancy, literacy rates etc are plummeting.) Consequently, if the Turkmenbashi wants his inane burblings zooming around the planet in a metal shell long after he's dead, he can have it.
simonbelcher
Jan. 31st, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
The fault
But the fault seems to lie squarely with "Chengis Khan" who burned all the "homes of science".

http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/ruhnama/ruhnama-eng.html

Section 3 page 109

It has so been written ;-)

And no - I didn't read it all - this little gem came out of a quick browse. Completely barking!
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:44 am (UTC)
This man is my hero. He is ruling his empire EXACTLY the way I play Sim City. Admittedly I use the cheats that give me infinite cash.

Come on, if you were a dictator, you'd do the same thing. ADMIT IT.
ruudboy
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:48 am (UTC)
I'd make much better use of the .tm TLD than he seems to have done. Imagine things like starwars.tm for example. He could make a fortune from that.
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:51 am (UTC)
Good point. You can be my Minister of Technological Innovation.
webofevil is my Minister of Raconteurism.
chiller becomes Minister of Plotting and Scheming Toward
Regional Domination. (we'll go global IF and ONLY IF chiller
proves herself. Otherwise, I'll be appointing a Minister of
Beheadings.
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:57 am (UTC)
I'm going to have to fill you in on my whole nanocommunications paired-particle model.

Regions aren't going to be a problem.
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
As long as it doesn't eat into my statue budget, I'll be all ears.
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:10 am (UTC)
When this works everyone in the whole world will be a willing statue-building mango-hymn-singing tool.

Or, yanno. Dead.
strictlytrue
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:43 am (UTC)
Come on, if you were a dictator, you'd do the same thing. ADMIT IT

It's a very sad (but unsurprising) fact that when I play God sims like Civ, I am an extremely benevolent ruler, and spend most of my time building infrastructure and making sure that everyone is happy, well-fed, has hospital care etc. etc. I'm not sure I'd like a holiday named after my Mum.
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:45 am (UTC)
Actually, yes, I do those things, but because I always cheat and get all the cash, I must admit that I also do all the megalomaniacal things, too.
turkmenbashi
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)
All this perfectly normal. Sharing border with Uzbekistan? Now that is crazy.
ruudboy
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:52 am (UTC)
Are we absolutely sure that this is a real country. If you were inventing a country for comedy reasons, its website would look a lot like this one.

The factory monthly produces more than two million square metres of high-quality grey cloth.

Grey cloth? Best major export ever!


Construction of a new tall building has started in the centre of Ashgabat, in Neutrality Avenue...
offensive_mango
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:01 am (UTC)
May the Ahalteke Horse Be Never Tired!
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:11 am (UTC)
Wow. And obv you can't tell from the pictures.

(Deleted comment)
chiller
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:20 am (UTC)
Awww, but he's only little! How much harm can he do ...
carakins
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:52 am (UTC)
When Turkmens take their driving test they also have to take a written exam on their knowledge of Ruhnama.
I'd have passed first time (rather than embarrassingly late) if we could have done that here.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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