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Turkmen Leader Hoards Asian-Games Anthem Glory

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov plays a children's song on an accordion in 2010.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov plays a children's song on an accordion in 2010.

Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has dominated his country's political scene -- and official life, in general -- since succeeding another authoritarian leader in 2006.

Now he's dominating its pop music scene, too.

The 59-year-old former-dentist-turned-"protector" was declared the winner of a nationwide contest for an anthem to accompany the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games that Turkmenistan will host in September.

State media announced that the winning composition -- Go Forward, Only Forward, Homeland Turkmenistan -- was penned and performed by the president. Initial reports did not say how many entries it beat out for the honor.

He's had a good run with the song, thanks to his autocratic powers and a stranglehold on state media.

Described as a "patriotic song-appeal," the work was first performed by Berdymukhammedov at the inauguration in Mary Province in 2015 of a concert hall built in the shape of a giant tent. Some 4,000 VIPs and other attendees were reportedly gathered that night in an effort to set a Guinness world record for a crowd singing in the round.

Berdymukhammedov was shown performing it again on April 7 in the resort city of Awaza. State media called that appearance -- at a concert of Turkmen and foreign pop songs in the same city where Berdymukhammedov had earlier chaired a meeting to discuss preparations for the Asian Games -- a "major surprise."

There were hopes in some quarters that Berdymukhammedov would break with years of personality cult in the isolated former Soviet republic when he took office following the death of longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

But they have given way to mounting evidence of more of the same, including statues of himself and of his father and grandfather, victories on the horse track and auto-race tracks, and even a recent song tribute to Berdymukhammedov's mother for giving "birth to a hero."

Berdymukhammedov made his public debut as a singer in 2011, when he performed a love song titled My White Flowers For You.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, with reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
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