Monday, September 01, 2014


True Life: I Was A Turkmenbashi Flower Girl

Line up, girls, the president will be here in six hours.
Line up, girls, the president will be here in six hours.
In Turkmenistan, every citizen is expected to be an adoring fan of the head of state, but only a select few get to actually be deployed as official admirers.

Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s first post-Soviet president, was renowned for his eccentricities and for developing a cult of personality even the most strident of dictators could be proud of. Niyazov rigged elections, issued decrees on such things as men’s beards, and appointed himself “Turkmenbashi” (father of all Turkmen).

His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has more than kept the cult of personality theme alive. Among other things, he is an accomplished author many times over, an expert on horses, and the “Protector” of the Turkmen people. In late June, Berdymukhammedov celebrated his 55th birthday, with quite a bit of help from throngs of adoring, perfectly organized countrymen and women.

As a journalist from RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service who had the “honor” of being a flower girl during Niyazov’s reign tells it, the young people chosen to perform in these elaborate displays of affection pay a price -- literally.

The journalist, Akmaral (her name has been changed for security reasons), was in 7th grade when she was chosen to be an official admirer of Niyazov.

“A woman came into our class one day in the middle of school,” Akmaral explains. “She pointed at 10 or so people -- ‘you, you, you’ -- and we had to follow her to the gymnasium.”

There, Akmaral and her classmates were lined up and assigned by a nameless state official to different groups who were to perform different acts of praise should the president ever visit. The children were assigned to sections that included dancers, singers, and Akmaral’s group -- flower presenters.

Being selected meant many things, not all of them good. Beyond being essentially conscripted to be an adoring subject, the kids spent dozens (or more) hours in various rehearsals that usually took place during normal school hours. Akmaral says that while many parents fully support and are even honored by the selection of their children to such groups, her parents objected strongly to local officials -- ultimately in vain -- over all the class time missed and the financial cost to the families.

Akmaral attended a private school, so each hour of class missed for “adoration practice” was ostensibly an hour of her parents' tuition money down the drain. In addition, families bear the cost of the dresses and other costumes for the ceremonies in which their children participate. Akmaral says the costs were usually quite modest, but once she had to pay for a traditional hat that the authorities required the group to wear. The hat had to be ordered from the capital, Ashgabat -- for $150.

"This is why so many people from my school were picked for these things," she says. "We went to private school, so the Culture Ministry thought we had money and could afford things like expensive hats."

The ceremonies themselves can be quite trying for the participants, both physically and mentally. Akmaral says the children often had to stand for hours on end -- usually just waiting for Turkmenbashi to either enter or exit a building -- without food or water.

Now, Akmaral is out of school and working, so she no longer has to skip vacations to present flowers to the country’s president. She says that the people picked for such honor groups are expected to be available for them until the end of primary school, and, once at university, students are often “encouraged” to come out to support the president at official gatherings.

Apparently, living in the “Era of Supreme Happiness” can be a lot of work.

-- Zach Peterson
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
July 19, 2012 05:40
If he is Turkmenbashi - then he should take care of his children.

In Response

by: Aibek
July 19, 2012 11:19
This one is not Turkmenbashi; Turkmen-nazari? But it is the same thing. In Soviet times nobody had to pay for this nonsense so I guess this is capitalism.

by: turkmen from: London, UK
July 19, 2012 17:57
well i personally do not agree with this artcile..
my classmate was chosen as a flower presenter.. and no pain in the *ss as far as I remember. President even gave her a gift. and long repetitions, preparations.... they are not choosing girls to dance if they can't dance, and to be a flower presenter - what do you need to practice ? and for how long ?
about the hat - they do, have to be of the same design as the other girl's hats but $150 is just a joke. show us the receipt ! :)
In Response

by: Najeeb from: Jeddah
July 20, 2012 03:13
As expected, there will always be people who will support stupid and brutal dictators. Saddam, Qaddafi, Assad, they all have their supporters. And here we have one for this buffoon who takes kids out of school forcing them to pay out of their pockets for school and stupid trinkets, all for what... presenting him with flowers and smiling and singing for him! He must have the lowest self-esteem in the world, that it needs many children's lives to be disrupted and destroyed just for him to feel worthwhile and that someone loves him (even though he forces them to love him).

by: Dagger from: Daghestan
July 20, 2012 06:14
i will go to Turkmenistan, and will kiss all of those flower girls :)))) Gurban-Gogo, will be jealous for this. Arkadag will not protect beautiful girls from kisses of Jhonny Cash's of Daghestan. Why not we make a bridge from Daghestan to Turkmenistan, over the Caspian sea :)))

by: Turkmen from: US
July 20, 2012 09:13
I know some girls who were forced to join ministers' dinners after flower presentation. A girl from TDU was dismissed in 2006 just for her parents refused to send their girls to elite dinners at night.
In Response

by: Zach from: Prague
July 20, 2012 11:25
If you have more details and would like to share the stories -- or if you could get us in touch with some of the people you know -- please contact me at We can keep the names hidden if need be. Thanks!

by: Thomas from: Vilnius
July 20, 2012 13:04
This story is irrelevant in the greater news in need of reporting, insufficiently researched and amateurishly written. Furthermore, in terms of "protecting" the identity of the individual referred to, it gives so many clues allowing the thuggish Turkmen authorities to find her in no time.

But the real question is: Why don't your eport on the hundreds of thousands of 17 and 18 year-olds enticed with a multi-media campaign and money to join the US military and brainwashed to fight wars abroad in places they have no cultural or historical knowledge about? They too are stuck. Failure to fight on their part once they realize the deception means prison and the labels of 'coward' and 'unpatriot'. And yet we see no such stories on the part of RFE/RL. Just the same 'ol Cold War mentality of demonizing the East. And yet, all is not fine in the West either.
In Response

by: Aleksander from: Moscow
July 22, 2012 10:35
Thomas, I totally agree with you. When it comes to the brainwashing policy of USA, the western mainstream media is always has been biasedly silent. But we know the reason of it, because almost all of the western media outlets are in the hands of American tycoons or those magnates who in collusion with the Americans.

About This Blog

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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