Turkmenistan. All I knew about the place was that it was an ex-Soviet Republic and that it agreed to let George W. access its borders for his war on the “forces of evil.” This week, though, I’m seeing the country and its leader in a whole new light.

Saparmourat Niyazov, an ex-communist who was elected president after the fall of the USSR, was declared “President for Life” in 1999 by the “People’s Council.” Niyazov was so happy with his new gig that he went on a restructuring spree. To wit:

He would henceforth be know as Turkmenbashi (meaning, Head of All Turkmen) or Turkmenbashi the Great. He decided that TV screens in his country would carry a golden silhouette of the leader at all times. He names cities, stadiums, and streets after himself. Next, he decreed that the months of the year would be renamed. January would be named after him: Turkmenbashi. Other months would be named after his political oeuvre, Turkmen poets, or national leaders. In a tell-tale sign, though, he decided that April would be named “Mother” in deference to his own mother, who died when he was young. T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, and seeing how Niyazov turned out, maybe he was right. Finally, he decided to rename the stages of life. Adolescence lasts until the age of 25, and old age doesn’t kick in until age 85. Since I find that I am now in my “youth” period, I think I like his definitions better. Can you imagine conversations in Turkmenistan these days?

“Excuse me. Can you tell me the way to Turkmenbashi?”
“Why, just take Turkmenbashi down to Turkmenbashi!”

Or:
“Your little Turkmenbashi grows taller every day.”
“Yes, he will turn 5 next Turkmenbashi.”

Or:
“Do you Turkmenbashi?”
“Course I do, every day!”

I wonder what changes I would implement if I were a potentate…

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