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Silly Dictator Story #27: 'Turkmenistan Is A Land Of Health And Lofty Spirit'

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made physical excercise a hallmark of his extravagant personality cult.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made physical excercise a hallmark of his extravagant personality cult.

"These activities are a reflection of our countrymen and countrywomen going through a peaceful white path towards progress," announced the TV presenter on “Golden Age,” Turkmenistan’s state television channel, quoting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

The activities he is referring to are special events meant to mark Turkmenistan’s second annual “Week of Health and Happiness,” which will run from April 1 until April 7 and is officially meant to coincide with World Health Week, marked on April 7.

The reference to the color white is no coincidence. Berdymukhammedov is well known for his obsession with all things white, now a defining mark of his era.

Just like in 2012, university students and government employees have been ordered by the state to put their uniforms and running shoes on and take part in the festivities.

This year's motto is "Turkmenistan is a land of health and lofty spirit."

According to official media, 25 major sporting competitions and exercise sessions will take place with an award ceremony to top off the week in Ashgabat on April 7.

The following television report broadcast on April 2 shows children, university students, and government employees exercising in a highly coordinated manner reminiscent of North Korea’s parades. At the 58 second mark, employees stand in formation spelling out the word “Arkadag,” or "Protector," a formal title bestowed upon Berdymukhammedov by the Council of Elders, a rubber-stamp advisory body.

WATCH: Turkmenistan's "Week of Health and Happiness' (in Turkmen)

However not all employees are as content about the mandatory exercises as they appear on the video.

Annaoraz, a 37-year-old doctor from Ashgabat, told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service that he had to buy a new uniform for the exercises because the institute where he works decided to change it. It cost him around 100 manats ($35) to buy the new uniform.

Besides having a specifically designed uniform, each ministry is obliged to send their own team to the various sports competitions.

"Most of these events are held just for show because we had to perform this exercise several times for the TV crew to record it," explains Annaoraz. "We had to wait several hours for the TV crew. Filming took one or two hours."

A long walk along The Serdar Path, also known as The Path of Health -- an 8-kilometer path of concrete steps through the hills outside of Ashgbat -- is promoted as the highlight of the week. Serdar means tribal leader and was one of the nicknames of Berdymukhammedov’s predecessor, longtime dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.

The ITAR-TASS news agency reports that similar "paths of health" are built in the administrative centers of different regions in Turkmenistan.

Niyazov, who presided over the "Golden Age" era until his death in 2006, was the one who first came up with the idea to mark Health Day, one of numerous public holidays celebrated in Turkmenistan.

In 2000, Niyazov took his whole cabinet for a walk along The Serdar Path to mark Health Day. Note, however, that Niyazov toured the path in his presidential helicopter rather than talking a walk with his countrymen.

Not one to shy away from self-styled adulation, it was Berdymukhammedov who capitalized on Niyazov's idea and made physical excercise a hallmark of his extravagant personality cult.

Turkmenistan has been attempting (and sometimes failing) to reinvent its image as a sports savvy nation over the past few years. An aquatic sports center, a palace of winter sports, a stadium for 20,000, and horse-racing courses have already been built.

-- Deana Kjuka & RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

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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

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