The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 12

--Sunday, 11 October 98--
Visited the ancient ruins of Nisa about 10 km west of the city. Nomadic tribes of Parthians pushed back the Greek armies of Alexander, established a great empire, one that stretched from the Ganges to the Euphrates. Never subdued by the Romans. The empire eventually faded but the city continued until the 13th century when, after a siege of 15 days, the Mongols completely destroyed the city. It was never rebuilt.

Nisa is an interesting site to visit since it is the ruins of a city founded 2,300 years ago. Unfortunately, the site looks like giant mounds of tan mud with little distinction between its parts. A nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

Classical Music in Ashgabad
I jumped at the chance to attend a concert here in town. It was billed as the opening of the 6th music season of the chamber orchestra "Saz" at the Aina Restaurant Banquet Hall. It is on the street connecting the beginning of Magtymguly with Garogly, beside the Iranian Embassy.

I persuaded Ed to walk there and it was really too far -- it took us 55 minutes. It was an expat experience, not a Turkmen in sight (except for the exception). Expat in this sense includes Americans, Canadians, British, and Russians.

Part I consisted of music by Vivaldi, Mozart and J. S. Bach well played. Part II consisted mostly of music by composers I was unfamiliar with: Khalmamedov, Akhmedov, Redjepov, Jenin (Venetian Carnival), "K. Saint-Sense", Tsintsadze, Dunaevsky. The performance concluded with a rousing rendition of Mozart's Turkish March. The audience was enthusiastic, the orchestra competent, and the acoustics good, especially for a function hall.

The Local Bar
I stopped into Lezzet's (?) tonight on the way home from the concert. It is the first "bar" bar that I have found in Ashgabad but even so the inside had tables and a menu on the bar (in Russian only) -- but no eating customers.

The decor was odd. There was an actual bar, foot railing and all. There was even one bar stool -- exactly one. The room had about eight formica tables and captains chairs. The oddest part was that there were three or four alcoves between the room and the windows to the street. The entrance to each alcove was covered with a red flocked fabric curtain and the alcove itself contained four high-backed chairs and a table. A great place to conduct business, private business, very private business.

There were about seven guys there that knew each other and were very friendly. Several gathered around the three poker machines and vied with each other to press the buttons. I noticed that the wells to hold the coins were filled with cigarette butts and discarded paper. It was a long time since these machines had received a payment or given any.

A collage of the President's statues, images, and emblems.
The Cult of Personality
Images of the President (I mean Saparmurad Niyazov not Bill Clinton) are everywhere, hanging on walls and over entrance ways to government buildings, on bronze busts in hotel lobbies, on every denomination of the currency, on medallions on building fronts, on marble sculptures in hallways, on billboards on rooftops, and on oil paintings here and there.

The President named the airport after himself. He even erected a statue to his mother (holding him in her arms) in a public park. Outside a school, he is carved in granite explaining something to a young child. This is a cult of personality that would have made Stalin blush.

He has a textile factory named after him, a city, schools, a logo on the government TV channel. He even has a motto: "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashi!" which translates as "The People, the Motherland, The Head of the Turkmen." So no one would be confused about who the "head of the Turkmen" is, he renamed himself, "Turkmenbashi." Where is he not? President Niyazov is everywhere! All hail the Head of the Turkmen!

The Turkmen equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance even mentions him:

Turkmenistan, my beloved motherland, my beloved homeland!
You are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart.
For the slightest evil against you let my hand be lost.
For the slightest slander about you let my tongue be lost.
At the moment of my betrayal to my motherland, to here sacred banner, to my President let my breath stop.

This kind of stuff makes America look pretty good.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley