Turkmenbashi, President for Life of Turkmenistan (1991-2006)

Profile Of Your Leader

Turkmenbashi, born Saparmurat Niyazov, was one of the world's most eccentric and bizarre despots, as well as one of it's most repressive. During his reign, which lasted from independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until his sudden death in 2006, he displayed an inflated ego like few other world leaders in history. His cult of personality extended to all areas of life in Turkmenistan. In addition, he kept many of the repressive Stalinist policies of the former Soviet Union, such as censorship of the (exclusively state-ran) press, and jailing foreign journalists. In 1995, Niyazov changed his name to Turkmenbashi, which means "Father Of All Turkmen". Around this time, his policies grew more and more absurd. He renamed the month of september after his autobiography, changed the Turkmen name for bread to the name of his mother, and shut down libraries, the only books allowed being the Quran and his autobiography in schools and mosques. Turkmenbashi became, rather absurdly, less a dictator and more of a mythical god king. The bizarre stunt that would bring him the greatest fame would be the construction of a massive gold statue of himself in the capital city, which would be rotated constantly so that the sun would always shine on his face. In addition, he banned the wearing of makeup for TV news anchors, outlawed car radios, and built an ice skating rink in the middle of the desert outside the capital. Rather tragically, he ordered the closing of all hospitals and medical clinics outside the capital of Ashgabat, as he believed it would draw people to his grand city. Though obviously little information leaves the country due to censorship policies, it can be assumed this decree had devestating consequences. He was replaced upon his death in 2006 by Gurbanguly  Berdimuhammedow, who continued his reign of terror, albeit with less absurd laws.

Audiovisual Element

This rare clip of Turkmenistan state television is sourced from the documentarians at Journeyman Pictures, who have been inside Turkmenistan on numerous occasions. It shows the careful attention paid to depictions of Turkmenbashi, as well as the cult of personality around him, which depicts him as a semi-mythical figure.

Turkmenistan Rap

Turkmenbashi means father of all turkmen

but when I look around our nation all I see are starving men

Turkmenbashi keeps all the wealth to himself

The only book allowed is the Ruhnama on my shelf

Turkmenbashi lounges around in his lavish mansion

But to pay for it he takes away my pension

Turkmenbashi with his statues of gold

But the great leader won't support me when I'm old

Turkmenbashi wrote a law that banned wearing a beard

C'mon man, that's just plain weird

Turkmenbashi threw my dad into jail

A nation that jails dissenters is destined to fail

Turkmenbashi the sun shines on you every day

But what would happen if you couldn't get your way?

Essential Question

How does repressive policy spread from one regime to another? Is it easier to preserve a hardline state or to build one from the ground up?


"World Report 2015: Turkmenistan." World Report 2015: Turkmenistan. Human Rights Watch, 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.

"Turkmenistan's Iron Ruler Dies." BBC News. BBC, 21 Dec. 2006. Web. 25 May 2015.

"Saparmurad Niyazov." World Geography: Understanding a Changing World. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.

"RFE/RL Correspondent Freed under Presidential Amnesty - Reporters Without Borders." RFE/RL Correspondent Freed under Presidential Amnesty. Reporters Without Borders, 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 May 2015.

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