Turkmenistan dictator presides over week of (his own) happiness

When Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took over as president of Turkmenistan in 2005, there were hopes that the reserved former dentist would take steps to loosen his country’s autocracy and dismantle the over-the-top personality cult that had surrounded his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov. No such luck. In addition to continuing the country’s atrocious human rights record, Berdymukhamedov is ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

When Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took over as president of Turkmenistan in 2005, there were hopes that the reserved former dentist would take steps to loosen his country's autocracy and dismantle the over-the-top personality cult that had surrounded his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

No such luck. In addition to continuing the country's atrocious human rights record, Berdymukhamedov is exhibiting some signs of megalomania including a national “Week of Health and Happiness” that seems entirely devoted to promoting his own hobbies.  

In addition to ordering that his desert country, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees, form an ice hockey league, he took a page out of Sacha Baron Cohen's book by unexpectedly appearing in a time-trial car race last weekend and winning it. It goes on: 

When Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took over as president of Turkmenistan in 2005, there were hopes that the reserved former dentist would take steps to loosen his country’s autocracy and dismantle the over-the-top personality cult that had surrounded his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

No such luck. In addition to continuing the country’s atrocious human rights record, Berdymukhamedov is exhibiting some signs of megalomania including a national “Week of Health and Happiness” that seems entirely devoted to promoting his own hobbies.  

In addition to ordering that his desert country, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees, form an ice hockey league, he took a page out of Sacha Baron Cohen‘s book by unexpectedly appearing in a time-trial car race last weekend and winning it. It goes on: 

In previous outings, Berdymukhamedov has been seen jogging, playing volleyball, riding horses, cycling, practicing judo and taekwondo, and shooting at the firing range.

In the nonsporting field, state media has reported on Berdymukhamedov, a 54-year old trained dentist, removing a tumor from a cancer patient and flying a plane.

Berdymukhamedov was the subject of one of the snarkiest of WikiLeaks cables, which noted that he "does not like people who are smarter than he is. Since he’s not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people."

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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