When President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to office in 2007, he steadily began to remove the trappings of the cult of personality of his predecessor, past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.
Among Niyazov's odd excesses was the ubiquitous promotion of Ruhnama, the state cult book of spirituality and rules for living that was touted on every state occasion. It was a required subject in schools, inscribed on mosques to the anger of Muslim clergy, and even placed in Internet cafes.
Eager to point to something that can be said to have changed for the better in Turkmenistan since Berdymukhamedov came to power, many observers have hastened to declare Ruhnama dead and gone.
But it isn't -- quite. Ruhnama has continued to be a subject in school, although not required and only an hour a week is devoted to it. And as Chronicles of Turkmenistan, the independent emigre site has reported, Ruhnama continues to be a required subject for passing entrance exams to college. The Ruhnama book sculpture is still in place; the Ruhnama Institute and other Ruhnama-related monuments are still visible.
As proof, Chronicles cites the ads placed in state newspapers this summer by the Turkmen State University for entrance exams, with the following list of majors and the subjects required for the tests:
o major in mathematics, applied mathematics and informatics, information systems and technology, mathematics, physics, Sacred Ruhnama
o major in biology -- biology, chemistry, Sacred Ruhnama
and so on through the subjects of geography, cartology, psychology, biology and other hard sciences.
It would be one thing if the subject was required for Turkmen language and literature as a kind of historical artifact -- but it is for all of the subjects.
Even the prestigious Turkmen Polytechnical Institute, which trains future geologists and physicists for development of Turkmenistan's vast hydrocarbons, as well as computer scientists, has added on "Sacred Ruhnama" to the list of required subjects.
An explanation might be that newspaper editors are too scared to change the pre-approved copy for the ads that they've run in past years.
Turkmen Muslims began the religious fast of Ramadan yesterday, which will culminate in the Turkmen Oraza bayrami feast August 31. As EurasiaNet reported in November 2010, the Ruhnama inscriptions still remained on the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, named for the past dictator, to the great consternation of imams who believe it defiles the places of prayer.