Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow: Turkmenistan’s Unusual Dictator

On April 28, 2013 by Tim Newman

Saparmurat Niyazov

I wrote a post recently about Saparmurat Niyazov, one of the craziest despots in living memory. His reign over Turkmenistan was cut short by an eagerly awaited heart attack in 2006.

His successor Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow spent some time partially dismantling a few of Niyazov‘s more mental, whimsical laws but it seems he was quite possibly just as megalomaniacal as the previous tyrant.Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow - With Guest Pigeon

Gurbanguly is currently in his second term, having been voted in with a dubious 97% of the votes. He wasn’t the only candidate though, there were another seven horses in the presidential race last year.

So, what happened to them? Amazingly, all seven opponents implored the masses to vote for Gurbanguly rather than themselves, and they had nothing bad to say about the man. Something smells a bit iffy.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow - Nice Hat

Mr. Berdymukhammedov is described as a former dentist with a short temper, vain, corrupt, and a pedant obsessed with cleanliness. He’s also reported to be a fitness addict.

He started his reign positively by reopening some internet cafes that the previous president had banned, and by taking down some mad revolving gold statues of Niyazov.

However, it seems he’s now replacing the old pictures and statues with pictures and statues of himself, so no progress there, then. Turkmenistan is ranked by Reporters without Borders as the third worst country for press freedom.

Last year one of the few, brave human rights activists in the country arrived home to find a severed sheep’s head outside her front door.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow - Fitness Fanatic - Turkmenistan

Berdymukhammedov is determined to turn the five million strong country of Turkmenistan into a proud and successful sporting nation.

When their athletes came home from the 2012 London Olympics, he was royally annoyed that they’d been failures. This is what he had to say in a televised speech last August:

“Despite the fact that our sportswomen and sportsmen had all the training opportunities to perform better in the Olympic Games and all international competitions, their performance [at the London Olympic Games] was really bad. They did not win any awards.”


Turkmenistan - 2012 Olympics - Mergen Mamedov - Hammer

Already his portraits adorn almost every building in Ashgabat, a police unit has been named after his father, a statue of his grandfather has been erected at the country’s military academy, and a school has been named after him.

He’s penned several books on everything from horses to cookery, and his exploits dominate every news bulletin.

Last week, he joined a car race at the last minute, and wow, what a surprise, he won the race! Nothing suspicious about that.

Turkmenistan - Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov - Car Race

Here’s a video of him miming the acoustic guitar incredibly badly. His predecessor frowned on lip-sinking, but I’m sure miming is OK:

Another of Saparmurat Niyazov’s laws is flouted here as Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow enters a circus full of smiles:

At an official gathering, someone said this:

“Wherever you tread, the soil turns into an orchard of paradise, and new villages, museums, factories, and kindergartens rise there.”

I’m sure that’s all 100% true.

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