Turkmenistan’s Renewed Personality Cult
When Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov assumed the presidency on Niyazov’s death, many observers thought Turkmenistan would become a more normal country. The signs were encouraging at first; statues came down, the names of the months were restored, and shuttered schools and hospitals were reopened. But over the past few years, Turkmenistan has returned to its old ways. In the presidential election of February 12, 2012, Berdymukhammedov, a former professor of dentistry, received 97 percent of the vote, an impossibly large margin in a truly democratic election. He is also busily constructing his own personality cult. He is now officially called “Arkadag” (the Protector), and he is supposedly writing his own spiritual guide for the nation, to be called either Turkmennama (Book for Turkmens) or Adamnama (Book for Humanity). Villages, streets, and buildings are being renamed for his relatives, and a more specific cult is being developed around the his favorite horse breed, the Akhal-Teke. Although the breed is noted for its toughness, it also suffers from a large array of genetic abnormalities.
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