Happy Father’s Cult Day! (Whoops, we mean Turkmen Independence Day…)

Today, Turkmenistan celebrates the life of Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov, father of the president, Gurbanguly. No, wait, today is the country’s Independence Day, the 21st one in fact! What’s going on?

Opening of the monument Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov in the village of Yzgant (screen capture from Mir24.tv).

Close up of the monument (screen capture from Altyn Asyr state television).

Today, Turkmenistan celebrates the life of Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov, father of the president, Gurbanguly. No, wait, today is our Independence Day, the 21st one in fact! What’s going on?

Our nation is not bereft of historical legacies to celebrate. We’re quite possibly related to the Seljuks and the Qajars; legend has it that Atatürk’s mother (Zübeyde Hanım) was a Turkmen, and a step-mother of the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah was one (she was simply called, “Turkamaniyyih”). The 18th century poet-philosopher Magtymguly Pyragy is our most well-known contribution to world literature.

But you wouldn’t know any of this if you were in Turkmenistan right now. History has taken a far back step to propaganda, as the regime celebrates “the first year of independence in the Era of Happiness of the Stable State”. The “Era of Happiness”, by the way, formally began after Berdimuhamedov “won” this year’s presidential election. We’re still a few months away from 17 February 2013, the actual one year anniversary, but whatever, what does logic or the calendar matter any more?

Besides, we have more important figures to celebrate than Pyragy; we have Berdimuhamedov’s father, Myalikguly. A few days ago, he gave a speech commemorating a new monument dedicated to the latter’s honor in the village of Yzgant [Ed.: Turkmen news story can be read here]. I should note that nary a word was spared for Niyazov, whose memory (but not his actual legacy) seems to recede that bit more everyday here in Amnesiastan.

Myalikguly addressing an audience (screen capture from state television).

Who is Myalikguly?

Myalikguly is actually our president’s stepfather.

According to our president, Myalikguly was a visionary who had prepared the way years ago for, well not exactly our independence, but our Era of Happiness. I must confess, I (like most of my countrymen) know next to nothing about the man. Here’s what I’ve learned from the Russian Wikipedia entry on him (yep, there’s a Russian entry, no other language at the moment), which has been created and largely edited by the suspiciously-named user Altyn Asyr (which means “Golden Age” in Turkmen, the official slogan of the Niyazov regime; I should note, however, that this user has allowed some critical content in this entry, e.g., the reference to Berdimuhamedov’s personality cult):

Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov started his career in the youth organization of Geoktepe etrap and served as a elementary school teacher of the village Babarap. At some point (I can’t tell whether before, during or after, but it seems after), he served in the military unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a platoon commander and instructor in political work with the staff [an intriguing choice of words by the Wikipedia user: “инструктором по политической работе с личным составом”]. He graduated the Turkmen State University with a degree in history and also took evening courses in sociopolitics at the University and Higher Military Command School of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs in the city of Ordzhonikidze. He also attended a training course in the same ministry’s Ryazan School in Kiev High School.

Myalikguly was seven times granted state awards, including “For Distinguished Service in the Interior Troops.” He completed his service with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1982. However, he continued his career in various positions with “structural units” [структурных подразделениях] in the Ministry of Education, then went on to manage the maintenance department of the Ministry of Agriculture, which according to the Wikipedia user was responsible for providing produce for civil defence.

And there you have it. I’m struggling to see precisely what was “visionary” in this career, but they say squinting is bad for one’s eyesight. Clearly, Myalikguly’s son is trying to generate a sort of moral legitimacy for himself to justify why he should be our “Arkadag” (Protector/Guide). In fact, lately Berdimuhamedov’s been going on a naming spree for Myalikguly, including the “Palace of Culture” in the same town, and a military unit (kapow!).

Turkmen Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

–Ozymandias (Byron)

Ah, Niyazov, where are you now? Perhaps more than anything else, totalitarianism is the regime of amnesia.

Niyazov is mistakenly remembered by many Turkmen as the man who gave our nation its independence. In fact, he was deeply hesitant about the Soviet Union’s break-up, and even supported the coup against Gorbachev. Thisis say nothing of the Turkmen people themselves, by the way, who in a 1991 referendum voted 97% against secession (and only later in that year, in a second referendum, voted 95% in favor of it). In fact, we were the last republic to formally leave. More critical historians tend to date the beginnings of Turkmenistan’s independence movement to Gaygysyz Atabayev, the first leader of the Turkmen SSR, who played a decisive role in the development of what became our present state borders in 1924.

Ever since the Czarist conquest of “Turkmenia” in 1870-1900, our people longed for independence. What an irony and tragic fate for the Turkmen nation that we esteem a once obedient servant of the Kremlin as our savior! But no matter, now we have the Arkadag to wipe clean the ambiguities of memory, to protect us from our own past…

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