Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov: President of Turkmenistan

Gurbanguly M. Berdimuhamedov was born in 1957, in the Babarap village of Geok-tepe district (Ashgabat province) of Turkmenistan. The president appeared to be different from his predecessor in many ways, but most notably in his family origins. Raised in a large, conservative, but atheistic family in Geok Depe, he seems to have been infused with a strong set of traditional family values. These values were reinforced by strong female and male role-model parents who were concurrently loyal to their ethnic Turkmen roots, loyal to the Soviet state, and well-educated. His official biography, published after he took office in February, credited his father with encouraging his only son to employ moderation and a gradual, well-considered pace in his decision-making processes.

He was appointed Executive Director of Healthcare Development Foundation of Turkmenistan and Acting Rector of Turkmen State Medical Institute. In April 2001 he was appointed Deputy Chairman of Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. On December 21, 2006, by the decision of the State Security Council of Turkmenistan, he was appointed Acting President of Turkmenistan and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of Turkmenistan. On February 11, 2007, on nationwide election out of six candidates, he was elected President of Turkmenistan. On February 14, 2007, in the XIX session of Halk Maslahaty (Peoples Council) supreme authority of Turkmenistan. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov officially assumed a post of the President of Turkmenistan. On February 12, 2012, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was re-elected for a second term.

His capacity to navigate complex subject matter is marvellous if we look at the quality of his briefing papers and his familiarity with the topic. Those who worked with Berdimuhamedov when he was health minister report he was a professional interlocutor who was engaged, positive, and receptive to proposals and suggestions, particularly those in the areas of health and education.

The Turkmen government under Berdimuhamedov has introduced a new slogan – “New Revival” – intended to characterize a “new” era. The new slogan begs the question of why the country needs a new revival after a golden age. As explained in the Turkmen press during the first days of Berdimuhamedov’s rule, the nation “needed new revival after the nation suffered the sudden demise of Turkmenbashy, the Great Leader.” There was a need for “New Revival” for those who felt the nation had been left without its “caring father.” Also, the practice of rebuilding the ancestral village of the sitting president, carried out by Niyazov, has continued under Berdimuhamedov for his village.

Concerning the substitution of Niyazov’s iconic family members, it seems attempts to sanctify members of the Berdimuhamedov’s family have to date remained cautious. Only Malikguly, Berdimuhamedov’s father, seems to have an active role in creating a new national ideology. In Turkmen schools, the Niyazov placards and photos have been replaced by those of Berdimuhamedov, depicting the life path of the president, especially his educational achievements, including his diploma from the Turkmen Medical Institute and his PhD in dentistry from a medical institute in Moscow.

Turkmenistan President Berdimuhamedov appears to be following in the steps of his predecessor by establishing his personality. When Berdimuhamedov first became president, the Democratic Party, which supports the concept of one strong ruler, was assigned the task of building up the new leader. Party activists did this in part by travelling around Turkmenistan and praising the president. Berdimuhamedov’s omnipresence was also conveyed through the public display of his portrait throughout Ashgabat and the rest of the country. His portrait is on billboards at major street intersections, in conference rooms in government buildings, and banquet halls at government-owned restaurants and hotels. On Turkmenistan Airlines flights, Berdimuhamedov’s portrait hangs in the front of the cabin. There are even portraits at a local gym of Berdimuhamedov doing karate. In June 2010, Berdimuhamedov presided over the opening of the newly-built central mosque in Mary city, which was named for the president.

Berdimuhamedov is also an expert and subject specialist over a wide range of issues. He has written books on the Ahal-Teke horses. medicinal plants, and the “Epoch of the New Revival,” which is what the state press has named Berdimuhamedov’s presidency. The television news shows him almost every day chairing government meetings, where he appears to strictly assess the work of each Deputy Chairman of his Cabinet. He is also frequently shown demonstrating his expertise in riding horses, participating in other sports, and inspecting the wide array of new projects being constructed around the country. News anchors and commentators credit almost every positive development to “our esteemed president.” When new South Korean-built buses first appeared on the streets of Ashgabat, they were labelled with the phrase “gift of the respected president.” Berdimuhamedov, his accomplishments, and past speeches are often the central focus of speeches and addresses by Turkmen officials at events, even if the event has little to do with the president.

He has not erected statues of himself, as his predecessor Niyazov did, nor has he put his face on any of the new money that was minted in 2009. The president’s picture does not need to be seen everywhere for his presence to be felt ubiquitously. Although there are, no doubt, some individuals who influence with Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan’s Government is a one-man show and that seems to be the system most Turkmen expect. The president’s influence is felt in all aspects of life from celebrations like weddings and New Year’s to everyday activities, such as going to the gym.

When Berdymukhammedov was elected president, receiving nearly 90 per cent of the votes cast, the Turkmen exile community and many citizens hoped for a relaxation of the tight control exercised by Niyazov. There were some improvements: Berdymukhammedov restored the pensions abolished by his predecessor, eased restrictions on travel abroad, and reinstituted the 10th year of basic education that had been dropped on Niyazov’s order.


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