Sunday night on '60 Minutes' they had a segment on Turkmenistan. I don't know if you had a chance to watch it. It was hilarious!
You know, there's this guy called Sapar Murat Niyazov, who is the president of this God-forsaken country which happens to be Iran's northeastern neighbor.
Tovarich Niyazov was Turkmenistan's Communist party chief under the Soviets, and after their collapse in the early 1990's, he managed to maintain his position by appointing himself president of Turkmenistan. Obviously, his term runs for life, and he is already grooming little Niyazovs to take over the post after his demise.
He calls himself Turkmenbashi, which I guess means 'chief of all Turkmens'. He has erected gold statues of himself all over the country, and his likeness adorns every street in every city. One of his gold statues in the capital, Ashg- Abat, is on a rotating platform so that Niyazov's outstretched arm always point to the sun.
He has recently started renaming the months of the Gregorian Calendar. So far, January has been renamed 'Turkmenbashi' and April is now called 'Gorbansoltan' named after Niyazov's beloved mother!
Folks, I am not making this up!
True to the style of all great dictators, Niyazov has written a book too. Its called 'Ruh-nama'. It is the spiritual and behavioral guidebook for all the good citizens of Turkmenistan. Pages of this book are read aloud at public squares every night.
Turkmenistan sits atop one of world's largest reserves of natural gas, yet 70% of the population live below poverty. They have the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy among all ex-Soviet states.
Afghanistan's prolific poppy growers love to transit their illicit crops through Turkmenistan. Corrupt Turkmen officials (including Niyazov) are paid huge by the narco-traffickers to look the other way while the drugs make the transit through Turkmenistan to reach the markets in Europe and beyond.
Oh, and one more thing. Turkmenistan's so-called parliament is called 'Khalgh Maslahaty'. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
It seems to me that our beloved Iranian Plateau, bounded by Mesopotamia to the southwest, Transoxiania to the northeast, Indus Valley to the southeast, and the Caucuses to the northwest, has produced and still produces the garden variety of super-lunatic rulers. There must be something in the air or maybe in the soil that causes clowns like Saddam, Molla Omar, Trkmenbashi, etc. to surface and usurp power and rule with impunity.
There has been 5000 years of continuous civilization in our neck of the woods and yet we manage to endure ridiculous despots that seem to have jumped out of some grotesque comic book somewhere. I am reminded of a scene in an old Woody Allen's Bananas. After a coup d'etat in a fictional South/Central American country, the junta leader is addressing the public and decreeing the new laws of the land:
“From now on everybody under the age of 25 will be declared 25 years old. All citizens must wear their underwear over their clothes so that we may check for Cleanliness of your undergarments. And, from now on the official language of this republic will be Swedish!”