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Berdymukhamedov Likes The Limelight Too

Is Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov working on his own cult of personality?
Is Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov working on his own cult of personality?
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov hasn't entirely followed his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov's path when it comes to extreme cult of personality, but it seems he does enjoy being at the center of attention.

In one sign that recalls Niyazov's "Turkmenbashi" title, Berdymukhammedov is frequently referred to in official meetings and ceremonies as "Arkadag," which in Turkmen means protector. Arkadag has yet to be formalized by parliament or any other official decision, however.

Meanwhile, the president's trip to Mary province last week served as an image-buffing exercise, with state television airing scenes of Berdymukhammedov listening to nursery school students singing and praising the president.

When he asked the kids what they wanted to be in the future, they almost unanimously answered that they dream of becoming doctors or dentists. Berdymukhammedov is a dentist by profession.

Berdymukhammedov was also seen having his hand kissed by a nursery-school teacher in front of the kids. Kissing someone's hands is highly unusual in Turkmenistan.

Niyazov -- the self-styled Turkmenbashi, or the head of the nation -- had gone to extremes in establishing a personality cult. He renamed cities, streets, and even a month on the calendar after himself and his relatives, and decorated billboards and buildings with his portraits.

All those portraits and Turkmenbashi's huge gold-plated statue in central Ashgabat were eventually removed after Berdymukhammedov came to power, but it seems the new leader too has an appetite for fame and celebrity.

Berdymukhammedov has since authored a couple of books and had a statue of his grandfather built in his home village. Portraits of Berdymukhammedov are ubiquitous on Ashgabat billboards.

And just as it was during Niyazov's times, all Turkmen newspapers and magazines dedicate their front pages to Berdymukhammedov's meetings, trips, and speeches. Some things never change.

-- Farangis Najibullah