Niyazov, Saparmurad


Niyazov, Saparmurad
▪ 2007

      Turkmen politician (b. Feb. 19, 1940, Kipchak, near Ashkhabad, Turkmen S.S.R., U.S.S.R. [now Ashgabat, Turkmenistan]—d. Dec. 21, 2006, Ashgabat), was the despotic and idiosyncratic ruler of Turkmenistan for more than 15 years, from 1991 when the former Soviet republic declared independence from the U.S.S.R. As president he promoted an extensive personality cult that included renaming the months of January and April after himself and his mother, respectively. After growing up in an orphanage, Niyazov graduated (1967) from the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute as an engineer. He soon went to work full-time for the Communist Party, and in 1980 he was appointed to head the Ashkhabad city party committee. Five years later he was chosen to head the Turkmen republican Communist Party. When the Soviet Union broke apart, Turkmenistan voted to go independent, with Niyazov at the helm. In 1993 he adopted the name Turkmenbashi (“head of the Turkmen”) to stress his role as the creator of a new nation. In December 1999 the rubber-stamp Assembly gave him the right to remain in office as long as he wanted. Niyazov gradually accumulated the power to make almost all decisions in the country. At the beginning of 2002, he purged the National Security Committee, and he used an alleged coup attempt in November of that year as justification for crushing all real or imagined domestic opposition. In 2005 he closed all medical facilities outside Ashgabat. Niyazov's intention to create a national self-consciousness to unite the Turkmen tribes resulted in the establishment of a national ideology. This was expressed in his moral guide for the Turkmen people, the Ruhnama (“Book of the Spirit”), which became the basis of education at all levels.

▪ 2004

      By 2003 there were not many countries in the world that could be called the personal fiefdom of a political leader, but Turkmenistan was such a place. This Central Asian land, a former republic of the Soviet Union and an important producer of natural gas, was clenched in the grip of its president, Saparmurad Niyazov.

      Niyazov was born in the village of Kipchak near Ashgabat on Feb. 19, 1940. His father, a rural schoolteacher, was killed while serving in the Red Army in World War II. His mother and two brothers died in the earthquake that devastated the Ashgabat region in October 1948, and Niyazov grew up in an orphanage. In 1967 he graduated from the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute as an engineer and returned to Turkmenistan to work at the Bezmein power plant near Ashgabat, but he soon went to work full-time for the Communist Party. In 1980 he was appointed to head the Ashgabat City Party Committee. Five years later Mikhail Gorbachev chose him to head the Turkmen republican Communist Party and carry out a cleanup campaign against corruption and mismanagement. In January 1990 Niyazov was elected chairman of the republican Supreme Soviet. When the post of executive president was created in October 1990, Niyazov received 98.3% of the vote.

      In the wake of the August 1991 Moscow coup, Turkmenistan voted to go independent, with Niyazov at the helm. In 1993 he adopted the name “Turkmenbashi” (“head of the Turkmen”) to stress his role as the creator of a new nation. He also launched a pervasive personality cult. In January 1994 he became the first head of state in the former Soviet republics to have his term in office extended by referendum, and in December 1999 the rubber-stamp People's Assembly gave him the right to remain in office as long as he wanted.

      In the years since independence, Niyazov had gradually accumulated the power to make almost all decisions in the country; his decrees had the force of law. He was intolerant of opposition in any form; ministers who disagree with his decisions were routinely fired, and in January 2003 he decreed that anyone questioning his policies was a traitor. At the beginning of 2002, he decapitated the National Security Committee, which was the mainstay of his power, and he used an alleged coup attempt in November 2002 as justification for crushing all real or imagined domestic opposition.

      Niyazov was genuinely popular with officials and many citizens, at least until he began massive reductions in the health and educational systems in 2001 and official misrepresentations about living conditions became evident. Niyazov's intention to create a national self-consciousness to unite the Turkmen tribes resulted in the establishment of a national ideology, which was expressed in his moral guide for the Turkmen people, the Ruhnama, which became the basis of education at all levels.

Bess Brown

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Universalium. 2010.

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