2006 – a good year for dead dictators, first Pinochet, now Saparmurat Niyazov, self-styled “Turkmenbashi” and president for life of Turkmenistan.
He’s the one who renamed the months and days of the week after his friends and family,ordered an ice palace to be built in the middle of the Gobi Desert in the middle of August (just for the hell of it), renamed bread after his mother, re-wrote the country’s official history, re-invented the Turkmen alphabet, banned all recorded music, prohibited female newsreaders from wearing makeup on television, and ordered the closure of all libraries outside the capital, as countryside folk don’t read. He made George III look entirely rational, in fact. (Seriously – check out his Wikipedia entry…).
Central Asia remains remarkably unstable post-USSR, and has been the focus of innumerable Western efforts to get in with the various ex-Communist dictators who run the “-stans”, thanks both to the vast mineral reserves of the region and the handy strategic position Central Asia occupies when you’re fighting a war in the Middle East.
Turkmenistan is particularly strategically important for The War Against Terror – its southern borders run along Iran and Afghanistan, while most of its northern border is with Uzbekistan – former Western ally, now an ever more unstable and repressive regime. With no heir apparent after more than 20 years of Niyazov’s rule, anything could happen in Turkmenistan…