Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Turkmens mourn autocratic leader after two decades of his rule

Turkmens mourn autocratic leader after two decades of his rule

Saparmurat Niyazov was buried Sunday near a golden-capped mosque he built and named for himself in this impoverished Central Asian nation, an elaborate funeral marking the last grand gesture for a man who devoted much of his two decades in power to his own glorification.
The mourning ceremonies started with a long line of Turkmen mixed with foreign dignitaries streaming solemnly past the man who styled himself as Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmen, as he lay in state in the spectacular marble rotunda of the presidential palace.
"He was everything to us," one woman wept, refusing to give her name.
At 66, the president-for-life outlived his country's average life expectancy by five years, but he left no successor. Now that Turkmenbashi is dead, it was unclear how long his cult of personality would persist.
Most signs indicate that it will, at least for the near future. For the 21 years that he controlled this vast nation and its considerable oil and gas wealth, Niyazov dominated his countrymen's minds as much as he restricted their actions.
His smiling, black-haired visage peers down upon his five million subjects from every town, his book of musings is daily required reading for every schoolchild, and studying it is said to be a direct ticket to heaven.
The secretive acting government has issued only periodic announcements in the days following Niyazov's death.
But all have been variations on the same theme: Any successor will "stand guard on the achievements founded by Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great ... and vigilantly preserve the calm and happy life of our people and support stable conditions within the country," as Security Minister Lt. Gen. Geldimukhammed Ashirmukhammedov vowed in a statement printed in Turkmen official newspapers on Saturday.
Ordinary Turkmen have publicly expressed nothing but undying love and admiration for their deceased leader, and many cried as they filed past Niyazov's body while it lay in the palace in Ashgabat.
Reporters could talk to locals only surreptitiously, and high-ranking government officials were generally inaccessible even to most of the delegations that attended the funeral, a sign that an era of free expression is not imminent in this insular country with no independent news media and only one political party.
One of the officials who ensured that visiting journalists were kept on a tight leash addressed the matter obliquely, even apologetically, on Saturday as reporters gazed at the plethora of golden Niyazov monuments in the capital of the ex-Soviet republic.
"You know, this is the first president of Turkmenistan," he said. "This is a stage in our history."
And one of the most celebrated features of this stage is Turkmenistan's commitment to neutrality _ a policy plank so fundamental that the country's state Russian-language newspaper is called "Neutral Turkmenistan."
Turkmenistan has firmly resisted becoming a pawn in a new version of a "Great Game." The country is of great interest to the West, Russia, China and Iran because of its vast natural gas reserves and its geographical position.
"This region is not so stable, you know," the government official said, pointing at one spot on the horizon. "This side is Iran," then he gestured in the other direction. "This side is Afghanistan. That's why we have our neutrality."
Neutrality for Turkmenistan, in the future as under Niyazov, implies an obsession with its own stability. That, in turn, would indicate that political pluralism, free expression and assertion of individual rights are unlikely to flourish anytime soon.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, the senior member of the U.S. delegation, said he hoped otherwise.
"We are certainly hoping for a peaceful and stable transition, a transition to a government that will try to provide justice, democracy that the people of Turkmenistan deserve," he told journalists in Ashgabat after the funeral on Sunday.
In the meantime, independent Turkmenistan is looking to a future without the only leader it has ever known.
"Turkmenbashi had no equal," said Recep, a man in his 70s. "He was a great man. He needed to be able to live a little longer."
"He's our president. If I didn't love him, whom would I love?" asked a 34-year-old taxi driver named Aman. "He made us independent. Who knows what will happen now?"
Later in the day, a government official demanded to know what Recep had said to reporters, and then asked a photographer to see his picture.


Updated : 2021-04-21 11:13 GMT+08:00