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A statue was unveiled in Ashgabat on May 25, 2015, to Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Reuters/Marat Gurt
Lest we forget.

Turkmenistan spent today raising a gigantic gilded statue to its president

By Steve LeVine

Turkmenistan’s president wants to be sure that the country’s progeny remember him after he is gone. So the country has raised a gigantic bronze gilded with 24-carat gold leaf in the Central Asian capital in his honor.

The 21-meter (69-foot) statue casts president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov astride a horse. As it was unveiled before a cheering crowd (photo above), workers released white doves and colored balloons into the air.

Turkmenistan is landlocked, has just 5.3 million people, and borders Iran and Afghanistan to the south. But since gaining independence with the 1991 Soviet collapse, it has attracted outsized attention because it possesses one of the world’s richest reserves of natural gas.

Berdymukhamedov, a 57-year-old dentist, was thrust into the presidency in 2006, when strongman Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly.

Niyazov himself had a self-adoring streak. He called himself “Turkmenbashi,” which means Father of the Turkmen people. Outside the country he was lampooned for this statue of himself, which rotated with the sun, and in addition for renaming the days of the week and the months for his relatives.

Undated file photo of the statue of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in the country's capital, Ashgabat.
Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov
The rotating statue.

And then there were the portraits that seemed to go up everywhere.

Turkmen workers work on a giant poster with a portrait of President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat, December 28, 2002.
Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov
Modest touch.

At first, the current president seemed to grasp the excess that such projects conveyed. He took down the rotating Niyazov memorial, for instance, and moved it to the edge of the city. He festooned the country with photos of himself, but they seemed toned down from his predecessor’s.

People rest in front of screens showing Turkmenistan's President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (C) and the national symbols in Ashgabat December 13, 2013. Berdymukhamedov says Sunday's parliametary election is a democratic milestone for his gas-rich nation, but critics say it merely slaps a veneer on what they call a repressive autocracy.
Friendly new leader.

But a decade later, the lesson appears lost. Berdymukhamedov stayed away from today’s unveiling. But he has his own self-styled name–“the Protector.” And the statue has resurrected some of the ridicule targeted previously at Niyazov (for instance in the UK, in the US, in France, in Russia, in Ireland and in India).