Register marriage: check. Plant trees with the president in special wedding center park: check. Visit earthquake memorial: check. Visit Monument to the Constitution: check. Visit Monument to Independence: check. Visit...
And the list goes on, part of new lengthy requirements laid out for newlyweds by the Turkmen ruler in remarks anticipating the October 28 grand opening of the "Palace of Happiness" hotel complex.
The detailed list of instructions has couples visiting a total of four memorials the day of their registration, far more than the one obligatory visit customary for newlyweds in the region.
Envisioning a "green oasis" of verdant trees lovingly cared for by starry-eyed young couples, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told officials on October 21 that "it wouldn't be bad if couples continued to visit the garden for important celebrations and family anniversaries, and during such visits planted even more trees."
The Turkmen leader clearly hopes the seeds planted will bear fruit -- in more ways than one. Their children, he proclaimed, shall "rest in the shade of trees planted by their parents."
Ashgabat's "Wedding Palace"
Such a romanticized, almost surreal picture of family life and domestic bliss is hard to square with Turkmenistan's reputation for human rights abuse and widespread poverty. The small, resource-rich Central Asian country has one of the highest indexes of social inequality
in the world.
The nation has also been under authoritarian rule for decades. After gaining independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the former head of the Turkmen Communist Party ran the country. Following his death in 2006, Berdymukhammedov, came to power in a carefully orchestrated election.
The new requirements are clearly meant to coincide with events celebrating the nation's 20th anniversary of independence on October 27 as well. The tree-planting ritual "could start a new tradition to build family life and strengthen family values," Berdymukhammedov was quoted as saying in an October 21 Turkmen State News Agency report.
They also fit the over-arching narrative of his leadership: that personal happiness is best nurtured under the close, watchful eye of the government -- even if that means certain civic liberties (like what to do on your wedding day) won't be taking particularly deep root.
-- Kristin Deasy