Thursday, October 12, 2006


Before I forget, a friend of mine from back in college called me completely out of the blue a few weeks ago and said she was here for two nights before leaving for the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. I met her at the airport after work -- on a Friday, mind you -- and I took her around town: we had dinner at Teaism in Dupont Circle, where incidentally they make a fine seaweed salad, and I walked her to the Pentagon because it was three blocks from her hotel. She was here for the remainder of the weekend but I never heard from her again and I assume she got there fine.

Except it's not fine, because here's what a book I have next to my bed has to say about Turkmenistan (I suspected this but didn't really appreciate the gravity of the situation):
[Honcho For Life] Saparmurat Niyazov insists that his countrymen refer to him as "Turkmenbashi": "Father of the Turkmen." He has gone to great lengths to intricately weave his personal history with the general national identity so that is it impossible to talk about one without talking about the other. Even before Turkmenistan became independent, Niyazov insisted that instruction in schools be carried out using the Turkmen language rather than Russian. . .

In December 1999, parliament amended the constitution to allow Niyazov to remain president for life. The following day Niyazov outlawed opposition parties for a period of ten years. . .

He has engaged in an escalating series of purges, which accelerated in the summer of 2001 and got so bad that the most qualified people for high-level positions turn down the promotions they are offered because accepting a high-level post means almost certain imprisonment down the line. Niyazov has also used public show trials and humiliated his enemies and imagined enemies on live television. . .

He renamed the month of January "Turkmenbashi," after himself; April "Gurbanosoltan Edzhe" after his mother; and September "Rukhnama" after the book he wrote.

He renamed all the streets in the capital with numbers and ordered citizens to fly the national flags over their homes.

He renamed the Caspian port city of Krasnovodok "Turkmenbashi."

He banned ballet, opera, and circus for being alien to Turkmen culture and he shut down the Academy of Science.

His face appears on every bank note.

His image is permanently displayed -- in gold -- in the upper right corner of the television screen during all broadcasts.

He ordered the erections of monuments of himself throughout the country including one of his mother holding him as a baby.

He spent $7 million on a seventy-five-meter-high Arch of Neutrality on top of which is a twelve-meter statue of himself that revolves during the day so that he is always facing the sun.

His face also appears on vodka bottles and tea boxes.

He created two brands of cologne, one of which is named after himself and the other after his mother.

In 2005, he banned car radios and lip-synching and forbade the playing of recorded music on television or at weddings.

He ordered doctors to stop taking the Hippocratic Oath and instead swear allegiance to him.


Anonymous mikeswanson said...

Since we went to separate colleges I doubt I know this person, but I was wondering if she is going to that country for a reason, if she speaks Turkmen, and what her major in college was (if she has a degree). This is for my own personal interest, as the people I've met who were going into the peace corps didn't speak the local language, nor were trying to learn save for when they arrive, and were surprisingly ambivalent about their assignment. Granted this amounts to only two people, but provided they got an assignment, their majors didn't seem to much match the project they were assigned. Nor could they tell me how their work would benefit the country. I'm trying not to make the facts fit a pattern here, as I have no reason not to hold the Peace Corps in high esteem, but any information I could gather along these lines would help me decide whether its a worthwile program. If you'd give me your e-mail address again I wouldn't have to post personal messages on your blog (narcing on you at times).

3:40 AM  

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