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Saparmurat Niyazov: Turkmenbashi
December 21, 2006 12:36 GMT
Central Asia -- In Focus
An archive of RFE/RL's coverage of Central Asia.
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Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov (left) being interviewed by RFE/RL correspondent Zarif Nazar in Ashgabat in 1992 (RFE/RL) - Sapurmurat Niyazov came to power in the Soviet republic of Turkmenistan in 1985. After the country declared independence in 1991, he became its president. He was elected in an uncontested election in 1992 and named president for life in 1999. In 1993, he took the title
(Head of All The Turkmen).
An honor guard is permanently positioned in front of the statue of President Niyazov in downtown Ashgabat (epa) - Over his 20 years in power, Niyazov developed an extensive cult of personality. His books were required reading in all schools, and the state-controlled media was so full of fawning tributes that he regularly asked journalists to tone down their adoration. In October, five Ashgabat theaters were presenting plays based on his works. "It is hard for me to listen to applause meant only for me," Niyazov said.
Niyazov (right) prays with local clergy at the opening of a gas-compressor station in September 2005 (TASS) - Although generally a poor, arid country, Turkmenistan has the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources. It produces
about 60 billion cubic meters of gas annually
, but two-thirds of it is sold to Russia's Gazprom, because Turkmenistan's export infrastructure is poorly developed.
Turkmen President Niyazov (left) meeting in the White House with U.S. President Bill Clinton in August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Turkmenistan's relations with the West have been strained because of Niyazov's repressive regime. Governments and activists in Europe and the United States
have lambasted Turkmenistan's record
on human rights and the total suppression of political dissent. Niyazov regularly ordered the arrests of oppositionists and of government officials that came under his suspicion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with President Niyazov in Ashgabat, in April 2002 (TASS) - Niyazov enjoyed close relations with
Russian President Vladimir Putin
, although the two countries sometimes held tense negotiations over
and dual-citizenship issues. In August 2005, Turkmenistan downgraded its membership in the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States to observer status.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (left) shakes hands with Niyazov prior to bilateral talks in Ashgabat in July (AFP) - Despite its general isolation from the West, the Niyazov regime was influential in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caucausus, and the Middle East. There are significant Turkmen populations in Afghanistan and Iran.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left), Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (center), and Niyazov after the signing of a pipeline agreement in 2002 (CTK) - Russia controls virtually all of Turkmenistan's ability to export its energy, a situation that has been further exacerbated by the failure of the Caspian Sea littoral states to reach an agreement on the division of the resources there. Niyazov sought to reduce his country's dependence on Russia by seeking alternative export routes to
The "Ruhnama," the spiritual tome by President Saparmurat Niyazov (TASS) - Niyazov's "Ruhnama" ("Book Of The Spirit") became a staple of the Turkmen educational system and of Turkmen cultural life generally. Officials were expected to know its teachings and to be guided by them. In October, Niyazov published a new volume of poetry, which was described by the state media as "a source of inexhaustible inspiration and creative energy for Turkmen citizens."
President Niyazov (center) at a military parade in Ashgabat in October to mark the 15th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence (TASS) - Niyazov's health had been in question for some time before he died. In February 2005, he had surgery on his left eye and he was scheduled for a second operation in January. Doctors at the time described him as "lively and full of energy." On October 20, Niyazov admitted to journalists that he had a heart condition. Four days later, though, doctors also described him as "lively and full of energy."
Turkmenistan celebrates Niyazov's 65th birthday in February 2005 (TASS) - State and public life in Turkmenistan revolved around the personal figure of President Saparmurat Niyazov. He renamed months of the years and cities and towns across the country. The entire country is dotted with monuments celebrating his life and reign. In the immediate aftermath of his death, it was entirely unclear what direction the political system he created would take without him.
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