He deejays, writes and croons ballads, and sinks foul shots -- at least according to state propaganda. Now you can add knife-throwing and sharpshooting to the list of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s purported talents.
State-controlled TV released footage of the Central Asian nation’s autocratic leader demonstrating his blade-and-gun skills for a group of men in fatigues lined up to admire the president’s action-hero prowess and applaud eagerly.
The footage was broadcast on the same day that, according to Berdymukhammedov’s office, he inspected “modern military equipment” at a military outpost in the south of Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat.
“Taking in his hands one of the newest types of combat weapons on display here, the head of government demonstrated his ability to hit the target, which attests to the high level of his military training,” Berdymukhammedov’s office said in a statement.
A full copy of the official report showing the Turkmen president’s target practice could not be immediately located.
But opposition website chrono-tm.org posted an embellished version of the footage, which features the logo of the state-run Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) network. The website, which appears to have spliced in snippets of the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando and added dramatic music to mock Berdymukhammedov’s tough-guy image, said the report aired on August 1:
The original footage of the Turkmen president shows him decked out in military fatigues and sunglasses -- and sporting a scowl that suggested he was all business.
Berdymukhammedov poses with an assault rifle, which he proceeds to use for target practice. The editing resembles that of a previous report showing him playing basketball, when footage of one obviously off-course foul shot abruptly segues to a clip of the ball dropping through the hoop:
It’s not clear from the latest footage where -- or whether -- Berdymukhammedov actually hit the paper target. But a follow-up snippet shows him inspecting the results, dramatically tracing the bull's-eye with his index finger before the center is revealed to be riddled with direct hits. The assembled spectators are then shown applauding.
After switching to a handgun, which he cocks sideways, Berdymukhammedov is shown achieving similar success in his target practice.
From a table of weapons, he then grabs a combat knife, which he switches from hand to hand. He is then shown show tossing three blades with slightly rigid throwing form, hitting the target three times (the last one hits the fedora of the enemy silhouette printed on the paper target).
He finishes up the session by yanking the blade from the target with flair.
After some footage of combat training in the ex-Soviet republic’s arid hills, the report shows Berdymukhammedov autographing the paper target he used for shooting practice.
The former dentist has ruled the gas-rich nation since 2006 following the death of his ruthless and eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen.
Observers say authorities have fostered a growing personality cult around the 60-year-old Berdymukhammedov, who has dubbed himself Arkadag (The Protector).
He has also been eliminating relics of his predecessor’s legacy, including numerous statues nationwide.
In 2015, Turkmenistan unveiled a 21-meter-high marble and gold-leaf statue of Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat. State television frequently airs footage portraying him as a talented athlete and artist, including playing and singing songs he is said to have written himself.
In March, state media broadcast a popular singer’s performance of a song honoring Berdymukhammedov’s mother for giving "birth to a hero."
The following month, he was declared the winner of a nationwide competition for the official anthem of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games, which Turkmenistan is set to host in September.
Rights groups and activists accuse Berdymukhammedov and his government of tolerating no dissent and imposing draconian restrictions on free speech.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service