“Look, Ahalteke horse, look your star has risen, and we believe that it will light your way and will neverdie [sic] out.”
This rather garbled sample quote from Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s book, "The Flight of Celestial Race Horses," is one of several that have been posted in PDF format online as part of a newly launched official government website in honor of Turkmenistan’s famous horse breed, the Akhal-Teke.
Besides its English-language version, the website is also available in Turkmen and Russian and features PDF links to a magazine and two books authored by Berdymukhammedov (the aforementioned "Flight of Celestial Race Horses" and the similarly themed “Akhalteke -- Our Pride and Glory").
The launch of the site is meant to coincide with Horse Day, Turkmenistan’s national holiday, which is marked annually on the last Sunday of April.
Besides his well-documented obsession with the health and happiness of the Turkmen nation, Berdymukhammedov has been preoccupied with horses ever since he came to power in 2006.
In 2011, the Turkmen leader issued a decree ordering beauty contests to be held every year for the country’s Akhal-Teke. This year, during a televised meeting on February 18, he angrily fired the head of the national equine association for failing to develop the country’s horse industry.
Much like Berdymukhammedov’s other initiatives, his apparent undying devotion to the Akhal-Teke is a continuation of a state policy that began during former President Saparmurat Niyazov’s rule. Besides opening a $20 million equine complex, complete with a swimming pool and medical facilities (for the horses), Niyazov was known for presenting these animals as a gift to world leaders.
The image of “Yanardag, a golden horse of the Golden Age,” was also established by Niyazov as Turkmenistan’s state emblem.
The content of the new government website seems to underline the continued symbolic importance of the horse for the Turkmen government.
Written in idiosyncratic English by “true connoisseur and expert, supporter of Ahalteke breed Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov,” “The Flight of Celestial Race Horses” is filled with what seems like a never-ending stream of badly photoshopped photos and peculiar, adulatory captions.
Here is a selection of some of the book's highlights (spelling and grammar mistakes included):
“Horse is a friend of the man because it always had its own name.”
“The major goal of the revival epoch that constantly stressed out the Head of State is to arouse creative energy of people, that energy which moved him for all heroic history.”
“Ahalteke horses have amazingly skin and short fighting hair.”
“The book helped every Turkmen to understand more deeply himself, comprehend sources of cheerful character and evaluate that heavenly gift, given by nature in the form of swift and gracious creature on land.”
Perhaps the most memorable quote, however, can be found on page 116, which offers an extremely flattering and reverent description of Turkmenistan's authoritarian leader:
“Riding on horse, driving plane steering wheel, sea liner, driving powerful KAMAZ, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov not just demonstrates wonderful physical shape and high professional skills in every business, he fixes in people’s minds the image of modern jigit, who has to do a lot. He must be well-educated, physically strong and esthetically erudite. It is not just good desires.”
(The word “jigit” can be roughly translated as “strong man.”)
PHOTO GALLERY: Berdymukhammedov And His (Photoshopped) Celestial Horses
Not surprisingly, this new website is being seen by many as a somewhat clumsy propaganda tool for the regime in Turkmenistan, notorious for being one of the most closed societies in the world, for its abysmal press freedom, and its low human rights ranking.
The Turkmen government has complete control over public life, while reports of politically motivated imprisonment and widespread torture continue to worry human rights organizations who are denied access to the country.
Using the Akhal-Teke to help bolster Berdymukhammedov's image is perhaps a shrewd move on the part of the authorities, given that the horse has such a special place in Turkmen society. (Although horse meat is a common delicacy throughout Central Asia, eating horse meat in Turkmenistan is considered a cultural taboo, such is the animal's exalted status in the country.)
Nurberdi Nurmamed, a civic activist from Ashgabat and the leader of the first unregistered opposition party in Turkmenistan, suggests that helping to boost the president's prestige is perhaps one of the few practical uses left for the Akhal-Teke, whose role in Turkmen daily life has gradually diminished since the advent of industrialization.
“Now, the horses -- especially the Akhal-Teke -- are used as part of the cult of our president," he says. "It would not be an exaggeration to say that now they are only used for this purpose."
-- Deana Kjuka and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service