Wow, I just saw on the news that Saparmurat Niyazov, or as he calls himself, Beyik Turkmenbashi died last night of a heart attack. His country, Turkmenistan was ruled by this eccentric man for 24 years and was featured in an article in the Sunday Times Magazine last weekend! I was planning on blogging the article but it is really weird that he died just as I was about to. One could become paranoid.
Turkmenbashi was a strange man, maybe even a little loopy and crazy. He banned make-up because he said Turkmen women were beautiful enough, dogs were banned in the capital city he was building in desert and he even built an ice rink in a desert where the temperture can reach 50C.
He reinvented the calendar and ordered his people to gnaw bones. He is gilding the desert in gold and marble, and the driving test is a questionnaire on his philosophy of life. Waldemar Januszczak infiltrates the world according to the leader of Turkmenistan
In 2002, he decided his country needed a new calendar. So he invented one. January was renamed after himself: Turkmenbashi. April was changed to his mother’s name, Gurbansoltan. And September became Ruhnama, the title of the large pink philosophy book he wrote, the one you have to answer questions on to pass your driving test.
The Ruhnama, or Book of the Spirit, explains the thinking behind all this. The president took 10 years to write the national book, and everyone taking any sort of exam, from schoolkids to prime ministers, is required to answer questions on it. You can’t miss the Ruhnama. It’s lollypop pink and lime green. To my eyes it looks as if it should contain a collection of Telletubby stories rather than the collected thoughts of the world’s most eccentric dictator.