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Turkmenistan: Land of the Brave New 1984

Repeat to yourselves: “It can’t happen here.” “It can’t happen here.” “It can’t happen here.”

[Excerpts from the travelogue  Turkmenistan by  Varlamov.ru @ LJ]

Before us is Turkmenistan, one of the most closed and mysterious countries in the world. How did it happen? Everything is very simple: after the collapse of the Union, Saparmurat Niyazov, better known to us as Turkmenbashi (head of the Turkmen) or the Eternally Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, was at the helm.

Turkmenistan was lucky and unlucky at the same time. On the one hand, it turned out to be the richest post-Soviet republic. The country is the 4th in the world in terms of natural gas reserves, and all this wealth went to 5 million people. Such a small Saudi Arabia. All neighboring countries looked at Turkmenistan with envy. In addition, the Turkmens themselves are a kind, calm, non-religious people, which allowed the newly-minted king to do anything with them, without fear of upheavals. So, taking 5 million gullible Turkmens and unheard of natural resources under his arm, the Eternally Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi slammed the doors to the country and began to build his great Empire.

Simultaneously with the country, Niyazov began to build his people. They introduced total censorship in the media, destroyed all dissidents. At the household level, informal hairstyles were banned, a strict uniform was introduced in schools and universities, women were obliged to wear national dresses and plait braids. Banned gold teeth … Do you want to study or work? Change your teeth.

Turkmenbashi abolished ballet, opera, and circus. “I don’t understand ballet,” he remarked. “Why do I need it? You cannot instill in Turkmens a love of ballet if they don’t have it in their blood. I once went with my wife to the opera“ Prince Igor ”in Leningrad and did not understand anything”, – said Turkmenbashi.

In 2006, Turkmenbashi’s heart could not resist looking at all this beauty, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov sat on the throne. Well … as to the throne … There were fair elections, in which he scored 89%. Gurbanguly decided to open the window. He returned the ballet, circus and opera to the Turkmens, allowed them to walk again with gold teeth,

Soon the tower at Gurbanguly was demolished, and now his portraits adorn everything that can be decorated, his statues slowly occupy the squares of the cities of Turkmenistan.

Everything is based on the textbooks of the 30s of the last century. All these wide empty avenues, all the pompous buildings for the nomenklatura, all the government palaces. We’ve all seen this on postcards from the 1930s.

The life of the Turkmen is controlled by TV and special services. The chief recently announced that April would be a month of charging. So everyone should do exercises.

It’s good to be King

I turn on the TV in the morning, and there, on all channels, joyful dummies waving their hands to national music, standing on the carpets. Such incubatory happiness and grace. “Thanks to our leader, Berdymukhamedov, God grant him many years of life that he ordered us to do exercises!” – the face of a joyful citizen in the frame spreads into a smile and barely fits on the TV screen. It seems a little more, and this incubator smile, like a black hole, will first swallow up the TV, then my hotel room, and then the hotel itself, until the whole of Turkmenistan drowns in it, doing morning exercises.

Запретный Туркменистан – Варламов.ру – ЖЖ  Most importantly, any and all dissent is prohibited in Turkmenistan. Even innocent conversations that a person may not like something in Turkmenistan plunge the interlocutor into horror. There is no need to talk about protests. People here don’t know what a protest is. Even in kitchens, they are afraid to criticize the authorities. Over the years of pressure, the Turkmen have learned to find an excuse for any garbage that happens to them.

No one says, for example, to hang portraits of the leader everywhere, it’s just customary. Each chief has a portrait of the leader. What for? Away from sin.

What is a sin and why one should stay away from it, TV tells the Turkmen. TV is taken very seriously here, because it won’t tell anything: TV in Turkmenistan is like a voice from above. Of course, any Turkmen knows that the voice from above is the voice of Berdymukhamedov (may his path be illuminated by the moon and the sun, may the clothes of glory sparkle on him!)

Since 2015, Turkmenistan has banned the import of black cars into the country. Why? According to Berdymukhamedov, black color brings misfortune, so no one should drive black cars. Customs officials told the carriers that the reason for the refusal to import was “the black color does not match the weather conditions of Turkmenistan.” The hatred of the black color reached such an extent that in 2014 police raided cars with black wheel rims.

Arkadag himself, by the way, does not like black cars: he has a white Rolls-Royce, the presidential cortege also consists of white cars, and white company cars are given to high-ranking officials.

New rules appear all the time. In 2007, the import and operation of cars with right-hand drive was banned, in 2009 supercars. Berdymukhamedov himself has a green Bugatti Veyron, but that doesn’t count.

The authorities decided to ban certain categories of the population from leaving the country, and at the same time to draw up a black list of persons who were ordered not to be allowed through the border either there or back.

The authorities are happy to prohibit relatives of dissidents from leaving the country. And Turkmen students are not allowed to study in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, fearing that they will return back, having breathed the air of freedom, and begin to demand respect for human rights. It is also almost impossible for doctors and journalists to leave the country.

A funny point in the law: if a person’s departure “is contrary to the interests of Turkmenistan’s national security,” he will not be released. It is clear that anyone can be brought under this item. And there is an even more convenient point: a person may be denied leave the country if “there are fears” that he may fall into slavery abroad.

During a wedding, newlyweds must be photographed against the background of the president’s portrait. Their wedding album must contain at least three photographs with Berdymukhamedov. No official document has been issued on this matter, but the registry office employees say that this is a mandatory requirement.

The war on pets began under Niyazov, who reportedly hated dogs. Rumor has it that dogs and cats fell into the tsar’s disfavor, as once a homeless dog allowed himself to wander into the forbidden territory near the presidential palace. Yes, in the center of Ashgabat the movement of pedestrians is limited so that their gloomy figures do not cast a shadow on the golden palaces of the leader. One should live in Turkmenistan without casting a shadow.

Turkmenistan – Why are the streets so empty?    After midnight the driver from the tour operator brought me to the airport. Already mentioned in the beginning how spectacular the new airport is. From outside it has the form of a giant bird. The airport is huge and bright… but very empty. It is built to cope with thousands of passengers per hour but in reality, there are only about 100 passengers in the whole airport.

The long aisle to the gate is totally empty. Dozens of gates but all of them… empty.

Only police officers standing there every 40 meters. They were standing around without any slight indicator of threat, and they clearly were bored.

A good host always order.   To see a real city, it is necessary to turn off the main street, where a show ends. In Turkmenistan, all cities are divided into two zones: the one that the road can see the great leader Berdimuhamedov the Turkmen people, and the one that will never bring to light its sun. Turkmenistan as a bad hostess, which hides the garbage under the couch before the arrival of guests.

If you relax and let the Turkmens to show you the same Ashgabat, you will see the huge palaces of white marble, gold statues, fountains and gardens. The only thing that you will be confused, it is the lack of people on the streets, but you explain that just all at work or school. Then you will take away a pure white photograph of the city and will be delighted to show from a friend. Ashgabat and other cities of Turkmenistan are building today so that they can admire from the window of the car or tour bus. The country has created an entire industry show. Let’s see how the Turkmen miracle actually looks.

This event seemed to me interesting just atypical for Russia and the absence of onlookers overlap very broad prospect for the downed pedestrian. I climb on the hill, just going to take a camera in his hands, as the cold heavy hand falls on my shoulder …

– EEEEAAAUUU, shoot nizya! – The hand belonged to some puny little man in rubber slippers, sweat pants and a T-shirt.
– This is why it is impossible? Who are you?
– I? Policeman!

The chief of police of Turkmenistan has arrived!

-Documents can be yours?
– Right now, you are the documents!

I waited a minute, then waved and went. I walk past the police, all look askance at me, I understand that the phone does not get unnoticed, and to abandon the idea. Police became even more, there are many unmarked car – apparently KGBshniki tightened.

Turkmenistan: the reverse side of the moon – Varlamov.ru

And this is an underground passage right near the presidential palace. The photo is not visible, but there is also a puddle, mold everywhere, and everything is slowly falling apart.

Travel Notes and Photos all by – Varlamov.ru

20 miles from the opulence of Ashgabat is the village of Erbent. In 2004 President Niyazov commented on the ugly appearance of the nearby village of Derweze. Three weeks later the residents were evicted and the village razed to the ground. Many of the displaced now live in yurts here in Erbent. The site of Derweze today is a discolored smudge on the desert floor. The City of White Marble: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • DrTedNelson February 2, 2021, 12:53 PM

    I’m going to suggest that a friend move to Turkmenistan. He’ll feel right at home! Comply, citizen!

  • Jewel February 2, 2021, 6:05 PM

    Some ten years ago, I had an opportunity to spend the day with the blog writer of Refugee Watch, which she started when the State Department, in it’s malevolent stupidity, began dumping Muslim Turkmeni refugees in her small Maryland town. Crime rose spectacularly. Stunning forms of fraud, violence and robbery that would make Gypsies blush green from envy. Turkmeni appear to not like assimilation or the Protestant work ethic. So the local police began sending them across the Mason Dixon. Lancaster, which never met a refugee it didn’t slobber over, soon found out that there are some refugees that cause refugees.
    Wait til the Muslim Rohingya move in. Make one of them mad and the whole block will go up.
    Think long and hard. Most of the commercial yogurt made in Amrikiya is made by such muslim refugees.

  • Casey Klahn February 2, 2021, 8:05 PM

    I have visions of happy Turkmenis drinking blind drunk vodka and dancing on the tables.

    Or, was that Azerbaijanis? Anyway, what’s the difference?

  • Zaphod February 2, 2021, 8:51 PM

    As long as he continues to maintain cordial diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of Derbyshire, Long live President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov! Long live the noble republic of Turkmenistan!

  • Zaphod February 3, 2021, 3:19 AM

    Whatever the difference, they should go the fuck #$@% back to wherever they came from if not there already.

  • Tom Hyland February 3, 2021, 7:48 AM

    I forgive my dad for turning off the TV and tossing us kids bodily out into the yard. Airborne. Weeeee!
    TV is THE opiate of the masses. I know Marx said something like that but TV has invaded, conquered
    and forever controls the mind. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets to get back to the tube for an angry fix. I know Ginsberg said something like that, but I don’t care.

  • Vanderleun February 3, 2021, 8:21 AM

    “Most of the commercial yogurt made in Amrikiya is made by such muslim refugees.”

    Well, there goes my morning smoothee!

  • Anonymous February 3, 2021, 9:53 AM

    “Anyway, what’s the difference?”

    Try saying that in Turkmenistan and they’ll never find your body.

  • tc February 3, 2021, 9:40 PM

    I was there in December 2014, while the new airport was being built and the city was under construction for the Pan Asian games. It is a spectacular place; white Cararra clad ‘monumental core’ in the center of the city; we were told 700K lived there but I think maybe more like 200K. Dozens of 15 story tall apartment buildings marching off to the horizon; after dark, 5% of the windows had lights. Laundry hung from the balconies, tenement-style. Sidewalks built of flame-finished imported granite; curbs of granite, light poles of stainless steel that was then enameled in white with gold leaf, which we estimated at more than a million a mile just for the lights. No cars or trucks more than 5 years old. The huge gold leaf statues of the leader. The enormous wedding chapel. The architecture that was designed to mimic the identity of the building: The national medical offices resembled a hypo. The hundreds of people we saw every day, sweeping and washing the street, over and over again. The river that was diverted to run the water feature in the middle of one of the main streets and the central park. The spectacular hotel with hundreds of rooms and perhaps twenty to thirty guests, ourselves included. The terrible food there at the hotel, and the INSANELY GREAT food in the old Russian neighborhood and the vodka that was more vapor than liquid (we went back there three times). Getting shaken down every time the white American with the beard was in the front seat of the white Lexus taxi for $20 American, every.single.time. I sat up front, never got shaken down again. Must’ve been the beard. LED lighting, ever changing, on every building in the core all night long. Women unsafe to walk alone, period. At night, flat-out arrested on the spot. The huge Jumbotrons at the intersections, playing cultural stuff, speeches, volleyball…for no one to watch. Insane amounts of money being spent for show; utterly unsustainable, and thousands were on the edge of poverty, just outside the city. The enormous mosque that no one attends, theoretically capable of handling 10k men (no women allowed, as I recall), the tomb of the first leader and his family (exhumed from their original graves–they died in an earthquake in 1948 (as I recall) and were re-buried near him). The incredible hand-woven Turkmen carpets that in the states would be worth tens of thousands of dollars, that could be bought for a grand or so. Our advance scout called it Las Vegas meets North Korea. He wasn’t wrong. The photos in the story do the place justice, but the scale is unbelievable. Thanks for the time-trip back. Should’ve brought more vodka home.