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    Most eccentric reforms of the late Turkmen leader

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    The late Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who died early Thursday of cardiac arrest, promoted his personality cult during 21 years of authoritarian rule and carried out many eccentric reforms.

    MOSCOW, December 21 (RIA Novosti) - The late Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who died early Thursday of cardiac arrest, promoted his personality cult during 21 years of authoritarian rule and carried out many eccentric reforms.

    Niyazov, who styled himself Turkmenbashi, or head of all Turkmen, and was declared president-for-life in the impoverished Central Asian ex-Soviet republic, ordered golden statues of himself to be set up in the main streets and squares of the capital, Ashgabat, and in the middle of the desert, and used the country's natural gas wealth to fund his lavish lifestyle.

    Niyazov ruled Turkmenistan with an iron fist and managed to crush the opposition in the country by means of mass purges.

    Cities, villages, plants, farms, streets and schools were named after Turkmenbashi and his parents.

    The dictator penned a book on his philosophical teachings entitled Rukhnama (The Book of Spirit), worshipping the role of motherhood and associating it with the motherland. The eccentric leader's mother died in an earthquake in 1948.

    Rukhnama, which was declared the main book of Turkmen people, was translated into some 30 languages, including Zulu. All Turkmen bookstores were obliged to sell the book, which was also displayed in government offices. Rukhnama was a key part of the school curriculum, and its teachings were even included in driving tests.

    September and Saturday were renamed after Rukhnama. Niyazov renamed other months and days in the calendar, calling January after himself, April after his mother and May after his favorite poet.

    Niyazov ordered the construction of an ice palace in one of the world's hottest deserts, and intended to spend $18 million on the construction of a desert zoo as a home for Antarctic penguins.

    His ministers were forced to run uphill on a special 28-kilometer "path of health" near Ashgabat to keep fit, and he eliminated the national opera, ballet, circus and folk dance ensemble. "I do not understand ballet," was the explanation he gave for his decision.

    Seeing a student with gold dental crowns, which are considered a sign of prosperity and are highly popular in Muslim countries, Niyazov said: "Young people should have strong and healthy teeth, like dog's teeth, to crack bones."

    The president said he was proud of having white teeth.

    After that, all students and state officials were ordered to remove dental crowns.

    It was also forbidden to listen to car radios, to mention any infectious diseases, including AIDS, and for young men to wear beards and long hair.

    Kissing the president's ringed fingers were made compulsory, but Turkmenbashi said he was leery of praise.

    "Songs of praise make me want to sink through the floor," the dictator said, and even established a special award for TV reporters who praised him least of all.

    The funeral of Niyazov, who used to call himself "a new spirit of Turkmens" and their "rescuer" in his lyrical verses and stories, will take place Sunday morning, December 24, in the presidential palace.

    He will then be taken to a mausoleum, which has already been built in his home village, Kipchak.

    Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will head the Russian delegation at the funeral.

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