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Closing The Book On Turkmenbashi's 'Rukhnama'

A monument to Rukhnama -- a book of moral and spiritual guidance for the Turkmen people in the capital, Ashgabat.
The late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov (who liked to be known as Turkmenbashi, or "Leader of the Turkmen") is remembered for an authoritarian style and eccentric personality cult embodied by "Rukhnama," his spiritual guide for the soul. Penned in 2001, the work was required reading for high school and university students -- and even for anyone seeking to pass a driving exam.

In recent years, current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been slowly closing the book on his predecessor's legacy, including "Rukhnama" (also spelled "Ruhnama"). Now it seems that this tome of spiritual and moral guidance --- translated into 40 languages -- will not make it onto this year's public-school curriculum.

To mark what appears to be its final chapter, RFE/RL takes a look at a few life lessons that Turkmen students will no longer be required to learn.

1. Ticket To Heaven

A couple of months before Niyazov's death in December 2006, he suggested that those who read "Rukhnama" would go to heaven.

"A person that reads 'Rukhnama' becomes smart...and after it, he will go straight to heaven," Niyazov said in March 2006.

2. Know Your Origins

Turkmenbashi dedicated a significant portion of his book to Oguz Khan, the legendary semimythological leader of the Turkmen nation.

"The ancestor of the Turkmen people is Oguz Han" and "the style of our nation's culture and life originates with Oguz Han," he said.

3. Reading Makes You Smart

If you keep up with your reading you will eventually be seen as a practitioner of the sciences.

Niyazov’s message to the young: "Today's Turkmen, you will be seen as scientists if you keep reading."

4. Cosmic Portal

"Rukhnama" was once promoted by the Turkmen state as being equal to Islam's holy book, the Koran.

But it seems it was also a kind of portal. "'Rukhnama' must be the center of this universe," Turkmenbashi admonished.

5. Like Nation, Nations Will Like

Despite the poetic and sometimes incoherent prose of "Rukhnama," Niyazov did not stray from giving others a lesson in diplomacy and devotion to one's country.

"If everybody likes their own nation, then the nations will like each other," he concludes.

As an extension of the nation, Niyazov infamously cracked down on Turkmenistan's opposition following an alleged assassination attempt against him.
Turkmen medical workers reading the Rukhnama in Ashgabat
Turkmen medical workers reading the Rukhnama in Ashgabat

6. Solid Foundation

Philosophical, abstract, and difficult-to-grasp ideas are uniting themes throughout "Rukhnama," but most dictionaries would disagree with Niyazov's definition of a nation.

"Nation is the transformation of human groups in the context of certain spiritual foundations," he wrote. "A nation is shaped materially according to these spiritual foundations."

7. Reinventing The Wheel

Writing a book that strings "the past, present, and future on a single rope" is no easy task. So who would notice a few facts that border on the improbable?

This may explain why the father of the Turkmen nation boldly stated that the Turkmen people invented white wheat, mechanical robots, and the wheel.

8. The Apple Of His Eye

Berdymukhammedov's love for all things equine may actually stem from Niyazov's obsession with Turkmenistan's famous horse breed, the Akhal-Teke. Just as Berdymukhammedov's unbridled obsession with horses led to equestrian beauty contests and several books in English, Niyazov's writing on the Akhal-Teke is quite enamored.

"I caress his head. I comb his mane. I look into his eyes that are like apples."

9. Smile

One sentence taken from "Rukhnama's" fifth section, "The Spiritual World of the Turkmen," aptly encapsulates the propagandistic authoritarian rule of Niyazov.

"Let me see what I've done for you in your smiling faces!"

10. Devotion To The Motherland

"Rukhnama" includes seven poems that highlight the glory of being Turkmen. Perhaps the English translation does not do their meaning justice, but this stanza gives you an idea of their devotion to the Motherland:

Oh my crazy soul! Conceiving wishes and peace I find in my Motherland,
Determination, learning, diligence, fame, glory, I find in my Motherland,
The winter over the raging spring I find in my Motherland.

-- Deana Kjuka

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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