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Curse Thine Enemy: Turkmen Keep President's Foes In Ramadan Prayers

State-run TV showed Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov demonstrating his blade-and-gun skills for a group of uniformed men at this 2017 event.

ASHGABAT -- Religious sermons in Turkmenistan’s state-controlled mosques often find a way to praise the president and wish him health and success.

But imams in the authoritarian state appear to be taking things a step further this year by urging their flocks to curse enemies of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in their Ramadan prayers, a call that contradicts the values of the Muslim holy month.

An RFE/RL correspondent that attended prayers in several mosques in the capital said that one imam called on his congregation to love the president and to pray for the downfall of his foes.

“May Allah save [the president] from all misfortunes and may his enemies fall at his feet,” the correspondent, who works in anonymity due to tight restrictions on journalists and fear of repercussions, recalled the imam saying on May 17.

The correspondent reported that the sermon began with tributes to Berdymukhammedov, who is referred to as Arkadag, the protector, in Turkmen.

The new Hezreti Omar Mosque in Ashgabat
The new Hezreti Omar Mosque in Ashgabat

“The imam pointed out that all our achievements and happy life are due to the wise policies of Arkadag,” the correspondent said.

“The imam prayed to God that he grant Berdymukhammedov good health and long life, that Allah save him from all troubles and misfortunes, and that God punish all his enemies and foes.”

Like all other institutions in Turkmenistan, mosques operate under strict government control, imams are appointed by the state, and sermons are approved by authorities.

In the isolated country, officials and ordinary people alike avoid speaking to foreign media out of fear of reprisal.

RFE/RL's correspondent said the mosque-goers he spoke to felt unease about the calls to curse the president's enemies, but that voicing criticism was not an option.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

    RFE/RL's Turkmen Service is the only international Turkmen-language media reporting independently on political, economic, cultural, and security issues from inside one of the the world’s most reclusive countries.