As President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov nears the end of his fifth year in power and faces president elections next February, his cult of personality appears to be becoming more entrenched. The Council of Elders, a largely ceremonial body now filled with former parliamentarians removed after the downsizing of the legislature in 2009, recently announced plans to bestow a new honorific title on Berdymukhamedov -- "Arkadag," which means "protective mountain" or "protector." The title is reminiscent of the name given to Niyazov, "Turkmenbashi" or head of all Turkmen.
While fearing Islamic extremism, Berdymukhamedov isn't above exploiting religious sentiments for glorification of the state. The president decreed that the national holiday Oraz Bayram, the end of Ramadan, was a day off from work so that people could "preserve its priceless spiritual heritage" and "observe notable traditions and customs." In a televised address, Berdymukhamedov intoned, "Let all your good deeds be counted on this day, let all your prayers about peace and the flourishing of your beloved Fatherland be heard by the Most High."
Turkmenistan declared an amnesty on the feast day marking the end of Ramadan, but failed to publish the list of those amnestied, fergananews.com reported, citing Interfax. While more than 3,700 people were reported by the state media as pardoned, none of them appeared to include political prisoners. As far as is known, numerous political prisoners, including former officials who fell from favor, remain behind bars. The amnesty was said to include foreigners, but it is not known from which countries.
Another manifestation of the president’s personality cult appeared on Melon Day, an annual celebration of the famous sweet gourds of Turkmenistan. This year, the oldest melon cultivator in Turkmenistan bred three special melon strains this year, one named "Ruhnama," after Niyazov's cult book, another named "Arkedag," or "Protector," which is becoming Berdymukhamedov's special title, and a third named "President."
Perhaps the unique pink melons will not be honored with the name "Ruhnama" for long. According to sources in the Turkmen intelligentsia who spoke to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty on condition of anonymity, the Turkmen president will soon release a new cult book to replace Ruhnama, which means "Book of the Soul" with a new "nama" or book which will have a name like "Turkmennama," or possible "Adamnama," or "Book of Humanity." A Turkmen writer has proposed the titles.
Ruhnama is not being retired, however; the president also announced that the 10th anniversary of its publication on September 12. While no longer a compulsory part of the curriculum, it is still used in primary and secondary schools and state university entrance exam notices this year still indicated a requirement of knowledge of the spiritual book. Berdymukhamedov's own books on subjects ranging from medicinal plants to the economy to the famous Akhal-teke horses are increasingly inserted into schools and state media, and he is busy again writing a sequel to the race horse book, says RFE/RL.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Turkmenistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Sifting the Karakum blog. To subscribe to the weekly email with a digest of international and regional press, write firstname.lastname@example.org