Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov may oversee one of the world’s most repressive security states, but the Turkmen president -- commonly referred to in official circles as "arkadag" (protector) -- knows how to throw a party.
Not one to shy away from ostentatious public celebrations of his accomplishments, Berdymukhammedov turns 55 on June 29 and will have a series of commemorations in his honor performed throughout the day.
WATCH: Homage to the Protector of the Era of Supreme Happiness (Turkmen state TV)
The day is still early, so it’s possible that Berdymukhammedov could out-do a previous performance, where he took to the stage and dazzled the crowd with a song.
WATCH: Berdymukhammedov croons
From where he sits, it has been a pretty good year for the Turkmen president. In mid-February, Berdymukhammedov was reelected
to a second five-year term with a staggering -- some would say unbelievable -- 97 percent of the vote. No Western observers were present for the poll, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States delegation reported no irregularities, and the president was serenaded
by adoring passersby and polling-station workers as he cast his ballot.
His reelection ushered in
the “Era of Supreme Happiness” in Turkmenistan, thus ending the “Great Era of Rebirth” -- the moniker given to Berdymukhammedov’s first term in office.
Just a few weeks ago, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India signed a long-awaited deal on a 1,735-kilometer natural-gas pipeline that is expected to generate a handsome return for gas-rich Turkmenistan. Already a gas powerhouse, in October 2011 an auditing firm
found that the country’s South Iolotan field has between 13 trillion and 21 trillion cubic meters of gas, nearly double original estimates.
Turkmenistan’s gas wealth has allowed the government to be unflinchingly heavy-handed in the way it controls media and information in the country. Turkmenistan ranks just above North Korea and Somalia in Reporters Without Borders’ 2012 Press Freedom Index
and scores equally bad in nearly every other major study of such things.
In 2011, RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was arrested, tried, and convicted
of "influencing or abetting an attempted suicide by a family member.” The charge masked what most observers agree was official retribution for his reporting for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service on a deadly blast at an arms depot in the city of Abadan.
Turkmenistan state TV, under strict control of the ruling party, has been reporting on Berdymukhammedov’s birthday wishes from other heads of state including Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, and Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych. The celebration is a national one, with creatively named events taking place across the sparsely populated country.
In the eastern province of Lebap, visitors can head to the Seyitnazar Syidi Theater to see a performance of "The Heart of the Protector Beats for his People." If you’re in the capital, Ashgabat, you can take in “Protector, Let Your Path be Glorious” at the Magtymguly Theater, or maybe "Era of Supreme Happiness and Stable State Brought Glory to the State with Protector" at the Pushkin is more your style.
-- Zach Peterson and Muhammad Tahir
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