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Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov [sap-ar-moor-at ni-yaz-obv] (Turkmen Saparmyrat Ataýewiç Nyýazow; Russian: Сапармурат Атаевич Ниязов) (born February 19, 1940) has been the most powerful figure in Turkmenistan since 1985.
Criticized as one of the world's most authoritarian dictators, he is also known for imposing his personal eccentricities upon the country.
Saparmurat Niyazov or "Turkmenbashi"
Term of office: June 21, 1991 –
Preceded by: (none)
Date of birth: February 19, 1940
Place of birth: Ashgabat
First Lady: (unknown)
Political party: Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
2 Personality cult
3 Presidential decrees
4 Presidential policies and foreign relations
5 External links
Orphaned at an early age, Niyazov's father died fighting the Germans in World War II and the rest of his family was killed in the massive earthquake that leveled Ashgabat in 1948. He was then raised in a Soviet orphanage before being taken into the home of a distant relative. In 1962 Niyazov joined the Communist Party where he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR (later known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan) in 1985. Niyazov supported the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and retained control of the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. He became Turkmenistan's first president.
On October 22, 1993, he styled himself Turkmenbashi (Türkmenbaşy or Туркменбаши), meaning "Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens", in the style of Kemal Atatürk, "Father of the Turks." On December 29, 1999, he was proclaimed President for Life by the country's rubber-stamp legislature, the Majlis.
Niyazov is an authoritarian leader and is known for his massive personality cult. Believing Turkmenistan to be a nation devoid of a national identity, he has attempted to rebuild the country in his own image. He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, Turkmenbashi after himself, in addition to renaming several schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and his immediate family. In 2002 he renamed bread from chorek, the traditional Turkmen word, to Gurbansoltan edzhe, his long dead mother's name. Niyazov's face appears on all Manat banknotes and large portraits of the president hang all over the country, especially on major public buildings and avenues. Statues of himself and his mother are scattered all over Turkmenistan, including one in the middle of the Kara Kum desert as well as a gold-plated statue atop Ashgabat's largest building, the Neutrality Arch, that rotates to face the sun. Niyazov has commissioned a massive palace in Ashgabat commemorating his rule. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want", Niyazov said.
The education system indoctrinates young Turkmen to love Niyazov, with his works and speeches making up most of their textbooks' content. The primary text is a national epic written by Niyazov, the Ruhnama or Book of the Soul. This book, a mixture of revisionist history and moral guidelines, is intended as the "spiritual guidance of the nation" and the basis of the nation's arts and literature. With Soviet-era textbooks banned without being replaced by new publications, libraries are left with little more than Niyazov's works. In 2004, the dictator ordered the closure of all rural libraries on the grounds that he thought that village Turkmen do not read. In Niyazov's home village of Kipchak, a complex is being built to the memory of his mother, including a mosque (est. at $100 million) conceived as a symbol of the rebirth of the Turkmen people. The walls of this edifice will display precepts from the Ruhnama along with Qur'an suras.
Niyazov's other efforts to transform Turkmen culture include introducing a new Turkmen alphabet based on the Latin alphabet to replace Cyrillic, defining the stages of life, and renaming the days and months after national heroes and symbols. January was renamed to Turkmenbashi, and April is named Gurbansoltan Edzhe, after his mother.
As President-for-Life of Turkmenistan, Niyazov has issued many unusual decrees, such as:
banning news readers from wearing make-up as Niyazov had difficulty telling male and female readers apart
banning ballet and opera, describing them as "unnecessary"
banning public smoking in 1997 when Niyazov quit smoking after major heart surgery
banning lip syncing when performing songs
in 2001, forbidding young men to wear long hair or beards
ordering that young people not be permitted to get gold tooth caps or gold teeth, suggesting instead that they chew on bones to preserve their teeth.
in August 2005, banning recorded music on television, in public places, and at weddings in order to protect "true culture, including the musical and singing traditions of the Turkmen people"
closing nearly all public libraries and many hospitals outside the capital
Presidential policies and foreign relations
Niyazov is often noted for his unconventional policies. For example, in August 2004, he ordered that a giant ice palace be constructed in the middle of the desert country, although many observers have said that without some form of technical assistance it will be an impossible dream.
Only two religions are permitted to operate houses of worship in Turkmenistan: the Russian Orthodox Church and government approved Sunni Islam mosques. Non-Turkmen cultural organizations are banned from operating in the country.
After an alleged assassination attempt against him on November 25, 2002, the Turkmen authorities proceeded to arrest massive numbers of suspected conspirators and members of their families. Some critics claim that the attempt was staged in order to crack down on mounting political opposition from inside the country and abroad.
The summer of 2004 saw a leaflet campaign in the capital, Ashgabat, calling for the overthrow and trial of Niyazov. The authorities were unable to stop the campaign and the President responded by firing his interior minister and rector of the police academy on national television. He accused the minister of being incompetent and declared "I cannot say that you had any great merits or did much to combat crime."
In late 2004, Niyazov met with former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to discuss an oil contract in Turkmenistan for a Canadian corporation. In March 2005, news of this meeting caused an uproar amongst opposition circles in Canada, who claimed the affair could damage Chrétien's legacy.
In 2004 Niyazov dismissed 15,000 medical workers, replacing them with army conscripts. He followed up this action on 1 March 2005 by ordering the closure of all hospitals outside of Ashgabat. He pronounced on February 28, 2005: "Why should we waste good medical specialists on the villages when they should be working in the capital?" Niyazov is reported to be seriously ill and requires assistance to walk.
To the surprise of observers, in 2005 Niyazov promised to hold elections by 2010.