Profoundly embarrassed by a botched cover-up over President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s epic fail as a racehorse jockey, Turkmen authorities are engaged in frantic, if futile damage control efforts.
The opposition-oriented Gundogar.org website reported April 30 that Turkmen security agents were swarming all over Ashgabat airport, reportedly stopping people as they prepared to board departing flights and taking “aggressive measures” to prevent the spread of images and video of Arkadag’s horsecapades.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Regnum news agency reported May 1 that Turkmen “specialists” were going to great lengths to determine the source of the video, which first appeared here on EurasiaNet.org. Regnum quoted a Ministry of National Security official as saying security officers had “checked out every last one of our citizens” who were at the track and now they were turning their attention to the foreign attendees.
“They are trying to determine the spot in the guest bleachers where the filming took place and the possible cameraman who might have uploaded the footage of the fall to the internet,” the Turkmen official told Regnum.
As readers will recall, Berdymukhamedov “won” a high-stakes horse race on April 28, but his efforts to convince the world that he is the reincarnation of Willie Shoemaker hit a brick wall when he went flying off his mount and did a face plant on the track shortly after crossing the wire.
Turkmen state-controlled media pretended as though nothing had gone wrong, reporting only that Berdymukhamedov had won the race and the $11-million purse that went to the winner. At least one Western media outlet swallowed the twisted Turkmen account.
There are lots of lessons to be learned from the Turkmen government’s handling of Berdymukhamedov’s pony ride:
-When it comes to kooky despots, Berdymukhamedov is the only clear rival to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The clip of Berdymukhamedov’s fall is a case of life imitating art, evocative of the race scene in the Sacha Baron Cohen 2012 satire, The Dictator. Berdymukhamedov’s evident need to be seen as the man who is the best at everything is as pathetic and bizarre as Kim’s budding friendship with Dennis Rodman.
-Turkmenistan’s cult of personality has stripped officials of common sense, and has fostered the rampant spread of ineptitude. After his wipe out, when he is sprawled out on the track, and it is unknown whether or not he has suffered a serious spinal injury, Berdymukhamedov is surrounded by minions dressed in black, who proceed to mindlessly lift him up and aimlessly carry him around. Basic medical procedure should have called for Berdymukhamedov to be kept motionless until he could have been placed on a backboard with his neck stabilized before any attempt was made to move him. If he had been seriously injured, all that movement could have killed him. It’s worth noting here that Berdymukhamedov and his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, have systematically neglected Turkmenistan’s health care system, effectively starving the country of skilled medical personnel.
-Western diplomats and business executives are enabling Turkmenistan’s personality cult. It’s sad to think that Turkmen authorities almost got away with totalitarian fraud. Security officials did their best to confiscate and delete all photos and video taken of Berdymukhamedov’s accident by those at the racetrack. You can’t blame the Turkmen for trying. After all, that’s what totalitarian regimes do: lie all the time. One of most disturbing and damning aspects of the incident is that virtually all of the hundreds of foreigners at the track, including many Western diplomats and business executives, appeared willing to go along with the Turkmen efforts to alter reality.
So while Turkmen security types keep searching for the source of the video showing the emperor without his clothes, those Western diplomats and business executives who were present should be examining their consciences. It was only through a fortunate coincidence that EurasiaNet.org got its hands on the video. That most foreigners present didn’t do something to correct the record after the Turkmen media attempted to airbrush history is shameful.