The Death of a President-for-Life

Jason English

They say things happen in threes,* and this holiday season was no different. While the passings of former President Gerald Ford and deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein stole the spotlight, a third world leader quietly joined them in the great beyond.

Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's "President-for-Life," was laid to rest on December 24th. By all accounts he was a toxic leader. But he sure was a showman. Here were some of his most outlandish hits:

  • In the capital city of Ashgabat, a golden statue of Niyazov rotates so the face is always toward the sun (as reported right here by Mary last July).
  • His image appears on all the currency.
  • The Ruhnama, a book Niyazov wrote in 2004, is the foundation of the educational system. That's bold.
  • Even more bold, you must pass a test on the Ruhnama to get your driver's license.
  • An enormous mechanical replica of the book is located in the capital; every night at 8:00PM it opens and passages are recited with accompanying video.
  • Deemed "unnecessary," ballet and opera were banned. So were video games, car radios and facial hair.
  • He renamed April for his mother and January for himself.
  • Bread was also renamed, again for his mother.

*In this sentence, "they" actually refers to me. Things probably happen in other numbers, too.