Secondary school students in Turkmenistan returned from their New Year’s break to find a surprise waiting for them: a new collection of required reading material written by, or about, the country’s current president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
The Turkmen opposition website “Khronika Turkmenistana” reported about
the additions to the curriculum on January 14, when secondary school students returned to class after the break and were being introduced to Berdymukhammedov’s literary works that included “The Bird of Happiness” (I’m not making this up), “Living Legend,” and “A Good Name Remains Forever.” Also on the list is a book by author Tachmamet Jurdeko about the president, entitled “Dreams Come True,” and poems about Berdymukhammedov penned by poet Gozel Sagulyyeva.
For those not familiar with Turkmenistan this might seem conceited and
bizarre but actually this is a case of history repeating itself.
The now deceased former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who preferred to be called “Turkmenbashi” (the head of the Turkmen), also fancied himself to be a writer. Niyazov set the precedent for the new 2014 required reading list years ago when he wrote, or at least claimed to have written, “Rukhname” ("Book of the Soul") that was something between a holy text and a guide to good manners. I have a copy. I can never read more than a page or two at a time, so my heart goes out to Turkmen students who are now required to read former dentist Berdymukhammedov’s books.
The disturbing part of this reintroduction of books glorifying the president is the thought that Berdymukhammedov might continue along the same path as Niyazov, which he in many ways already appears to be doing.
Niyazov didn’t stop at books. There were television programs about him and of course Turkmenistan is probably best known to the outside world for the statues to Niyazov that were everywhere as well as portraits in every government office.
Still, perhaps there is method to this seeming madness. I’m thinking mathematics, science, and geography are probably looking a lot more interesting to Turkmen students.
Some comments on this topic from RFE/RL's Turkmen Service website:
Atsyz wrote, parodying the patriotic text that appeared on Turkmen newspapers during Niyazov's time:
O my beloved Turkmenistan, dear homeland,
Let my soul be devoted to you,
Let my hand be dried up if I insult you,
Let my tongue dry up if I read Gurbanguly's book
Lugansk from Ukraine wrote:
Ugh, this is starting again. Why does one need to bother people by publishing someone else's work under his [Berdymukhammedov's] name? If it will be part of the school curriculum then you see this becoming a circus. Everyone will be forced to purchase and read it. Later it will be compulsory even for those who want to get a driver's license (to know the texts by heart). Oh dear Allah, give some intelligence to those that are president of Turkmenistan. These people are worse than children in their behavior.
-- Bruce Pannier (Muhammad Tahir and Yovshan Annagurbanov of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service helped in the preparation of this article.)