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Keeping People's Spirits Up -- A Shot Of Turkmenbashi Or The Kyrgyz Hose


Despite his being dead for more than seven years, a brand of vodka bearing the name and visage of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is still hugely popular in the Central Asian country.

Despite his being dead for more than seven years, a brand of vodka bearing the name and visage of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is still hugely popular in the Central Asian country.

The Vienna-based Turkmen opposition website chrono-tm.org (Хроника Туркменистана) posted an article recently which noted that -- while the process of removing the numerous, and at one time ubiquitous, statues, portraits and other items bearing the resemblance or name of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov continues in Turkmenistan -- there is one product associated with the former dictator that is thriving, namely vodka.

At one time, the name "Turkmenbashi" (Head of the Turkmen), which Niyazov preferred to be called, could be found everywhere in Turkmenistan -- in streets, factories, villages and, of course, in the country's biggest Caspian Sea port, which is still called Turkmenbashi City.

But Niyazov has been dead for more than seven years and his successor is trying to carve out his own despotic legacy without any competition from the memory of the founder of Turkmen isolationism.

For that reason, much of the cult of Turkmenbashi is gone now but not, according to chrono-tm.org, the gift pack of a variety of vodkas called "Beyik Turkmenbashi Sovgadi" (The Gift of the Great Turkmenbashi). The article claimed vodka with Turkmenbashi's name "not only isn't disappearing, but it is showing up more and more often in various types and names."

And it must be good because, according to the article, the "Gift of the Great Turkmenbashi" is selling for some 152 manats, or $53. For many in Turkmenistan that is a month's salary.

On a more sober note, the website, which by its nature is generally critical of the Turkmen regime, offered the opinion that the popularity of Turkmenbashi vodkas is "probably because many people in the country think that living standards were better in the days of Turkmenbashi."

If $53 seems too much, there are other options.

I was shocked to learn that last week Kyrgyz border guards found a hose stretching across the bottom of the Chu River that was carrying petroleum from Kazakhstan, on the north bank of the river, into Kyrgyzstan.

Shocked because I thought those hoses were only used to smuggle alcohol from Kazakhstan across the Chu River into Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz border guards found one such "import route" across the bottom of the Chu in August, bringing "spirt," or grain alcohol, into Kyrgyzstan.

In February they found another hose crossing the Chu in a different area, this one 500 meters long, pumping alcohol from Kazakhstan.

Reports did not say what "river-bottom" booze is selling for in Kyrgyzstan.

-- Bruce Pannier

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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