Which country has a capi tal where the main roads are empty and lined with golden statues, presidential elections are won contentiously by the same person with a 98 percent majority and political enemies are secretly abducted? The answer is Turkmenistan, the forgotten dictatorship of Central Asia.
After belonging to the Soviet Union for 69 years Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in 2006 and power was succeeded to Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedow. The Central Asian dictatorship has during Mr Berdymuhamedow’s repealed some odd policies and made some major reforms. For example circus and ballet is yet again legal and Turkmenistan is no longer a one- party state. However the latter is only for show according to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and many more.
On paper Turkmenistan might seem to become less authoritarian as old policies are repealed and internet has been introduced to its population, but this is only a facade. In reality Turkmenistan is surprisingly similar to North Korea. Both in Turkmenistan and North Korea foreign travel is very limited, practicing religion can lead to imprisonment and all available media is state-owned. Furthermore, similar to Mr Berdymuhamedow’s fellow dictator Kim Jongun there is a personality cult around him. Turkmenistan’s vain despot has dubbed himself Arkadag, which translates to the protector, and erected a 3 meter golden statue of him riding a horse on-top of a 20 meter cliff in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital. There is no question about who is the leader of Turkmenistan and whoever is brave enough to question it will most likely end up in jail.
Despite erecting massive statues, limiting internet access and rigging the elections Turkmenistan’s economy has grown a lot. Between 2010 and 2014 the economy grew by an average of 11% per year with most of the growth originating from gas and oil exports. As oil and gas prices has halved during recent years and export routes have been shut down Turkmenistan has sought out new revenue streams. Berdymukhamedov is currently expanding Turkmenistan’s tourism industry. The protector of Turkmenistan is attempting to rebrand himself as a tourist magnate by building Central Asia’s equivalent of Las Vegas. Building has already begun and the first few massive marble hotels are open to visitors.
Turkmenistan is the forgotten dictatorship of Central Asia that is ruled by a vain tourist magnate that is dubbed the protector, an odd mix even in our world.