RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reports that 465,000 public-sector employees, including those working at schools and universities in the country, took shovels in hand on March 10 and spent the day planting 755,000 trees.
Similar initiatives aimed at combating the country’s desertification have been taking place almost every year since 1999, when late President Saparmurat Niyazov initiated the project under the name “Green Belt.”
Each Turkmen ministry is responsible for planting its own trees. However, as past initiatives have shown, not all of the trees survive, either because of the harsh weather conditions or the lack of care, such as regular watering.
According to Mustafa Bilgin, the owner of a Turkish company that is one of the main providers of the trees, the pines he sells to Turkmenistan cost anywhere from $13 to $17 each. That would bring the total cost of the initiative to at least $39 million.
It's not the first time Berdymukhammedov has promised a significant chunk of money aimed at improving the appearance of the gas-rich country. In 2010, ahead of the 20th anniversary of its independence, he announced that hundreds of new buildings, including 240 "major" facilities, would be constructed at a cost of almost $24 billion.
Of course, Berdymukhammedov's big tree-planting initiative did not escape the notice of state-controlled media.
A report broadcast on state television shows Berdymukhammedov -- dressed all in white -- arriving in a white SUV at one of the tree-planting sites in Ashgabat. (Perhaps paving the way for his own personality cult, one of Berdymukhammedov's habits has been to turn his public appearances into gleaming white wonderlands.) While traditional music plays in the background, Berdymukhammedov is shown shaking hands with officials. He then stands by as young women dance and sing to him:
The program also features interviews with the OSCE's representative in Turkmenistan, Ivo Petrov, and Britain’s ambassador to Turkmenistan, Keith Allan. RFE/RL could not confirm the authenticity of the voiced-over translations of both officials' remarks. (When former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Turkmenistan in 2002, his speech, which was also voiced over and broadcast on state TV, was fraught with inaccuracies.)
In the latest video, both translations are consistent -- at least in their mutual appreciation of the Turkmen leader.
-- Deana Kjuka & RFE/RL's Turkmen Service