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Lots Of Personality: Central Asia's Vanity Projects


The finishing touches are being applied to what has been described as the world's largest teahouse, in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

The finishing touches are being applied to what has been described as the world's largest teahouse, in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

Although Central Asia boasts some of the world's oldest and most beautiful heritage sites, it is fast becoming equally well-known for ambitious, modern construction projects. As the region's authoritarian leaders have maintained their grip, building complexes have cropped up that seek to amplify certain leaders' personality cults.

With Dushanbe aiming to break a world record with a humongous new teahouse, we take a look at eight of the highest-profile "vanity projects" in the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, starting with the aforementioned hot-beverage outlet.

1) World's Largest Teahouse
Already home to the world’s biggest flagpole and flag (see below), Tajikistan now hopes to unveil the world’s largest teahouse. These photos by Eurasianet of the teahouse in construction show what promises to be a beautiful multidomed structure with hand-carved designs in wood. Built at an estimated cost of $60 million (or 1 percent of the country's GDP), the opening of the teahouse is scheduled to coincide with Tajikistan’s independence day in September.

Construction is under way in Tajikistan on what will reportedly be the world's largest teahouse.

Construction is under way in Tajikistan on what will reportedly be the world's largest teahouse.


2) Berdy On A Horse
When it comes to personality cults, no one really holds a candle to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, whose face adorns buildings, office walls, and schools across the country. Known as "Arkadag" ("the Protector"), a self-bestowed title, Berdymukhammedov has a mounting fondness for equestrian statues to highlight the Akhal-Teke -- Turkmenistan’s prized breed of horse. Clearly, there was no better way to immortalize this passion than to build a white marble statue of Berdymukhammedov on a horse with a dove suspended in midair beside his outstretched arm.

A statue of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov astride his horse in the attire of a traditional tribal chief.

A statue of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov astride his horse in the attire of a traditional tribal chief.


The strategy has suffered its setbacks. Just recently, the Turkmen leader took a nasty tumble during a horse race, which did little for his dignity.

3) Dushanbe's Outsized Library
According to Tajik officials, Dushanbe’s $40 million library is the largest in Central Asia. When it was first opened in the fall of 2012, the library only had one quarter of the 10 million books that it is capable of storing and Tajik citizens were asked to donate their own books. However, many wonder if the library is fulfilling its original purpose given that its most-popular feature is the electronic reading room equipped with 170 computers.

WATCH: Tajikistan's $40 Million Library

4) Turkmenbashi Lives On
Berdymukhammedov’s late predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, built a 12-meter-high, gold-plated statue of himself that rotated throughout the day so that "Turkmenbashi" ("the Father of all Turkmen") would always face the sun. Although the statue was removed in 2010 from atop the 75-meter Arch of Neutrality in the center of Ashgabat, the Turkmenbashi found a new home on a Monument of Neutrality that is located on the outskirts of the Turkmen capital in late 2011.

The Turkmenbashi statue that now stands on top of the "Monument of Neutrality" in Ashgabat.

The Turkmenbashi statue that now stands on top of the "Monument of Neutrality" in Ashgabat.


5) World's Largest Flagpole
Tajikistan has had a tough time keeping its flag flying on what "Guinness World Records" says is the largest flagpole on the planet. Located in front of President Emomali Rahmon’s opulent Palace of Nations complex in downtown Dushanbe, the flag was ripped apart a few months ago by strong winds. All Central Asian countries celebrate a National Flag Day, apart from Kazakhstan.


6) Wedding Palace
Getting married in Turkmenistan is no easy task, thanks to a lengthy list of requirements that all couples must fulfill on their special day (including planting trees and visiting an earthquake memorial site). Newlyweds can also celebrate their nuptials with family and friends at the "Toy Mekany," or "Wedding Palace." Since it was opened in October 2011, couples register and traditionally rubber-stamp their union by having a wedding photo taken there under the watchful gaze of a portrait of President Berdymukhammedov.

Turkmenistan's "Wedding Palace" in Ashgabat

Turkmenistan's "Wedding Palace" in Ashgabat


7) Nazarbaev’s Lucky Handprints
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's personality cult is pretty low-key in comparison to his neighboring leaders. He has nevertheless managed to have two statues erected in his honor, a museum dedicated to his legacy, a university named in his honor, and several sets created of bronze, Hollywood-style handprints. Kazakhs have taken to placing their own hands into the moldings to make wishes. One set of gilded handprints atop the famous Baiterek Tower in Astana has also become a popular adornment for tourist photos.

A gilded handprint of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev inside the 97-meter-high Baiterek Tower in Astana

A gilded handprint of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev inside the 97-meter-high Baiterek Tower in Astana


8) Palace Of The Nation
Described as a neoclassical structure with 64 faux Doric-columns, Tajikistan’s Palace of the Nation is an extravagant presidential complex filled with parks and fountains. Home to administrative offices and President Rahmon, the building reportedly cost a whopping $300 million to build and a 19th-century synagogue was controversially demolished to make space for it.

Source


-- Deana Kjuka

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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