Saparmurat Niyazof’s Ruhnama
In 1991 Turkmenistan became an independent nation. Their freshly elected president Saparmurat Niyazof provided the world with one of the more curious leadership cults. The man who called himself Turkmenbashi (father of all Turkmens) also couldn’t resist the temptation of writing a book to illustrate his illustrious status as absolute leader of the nation. The Golden Book of Turkmenistan still provides some pleasant reading today.
Niyazof actually got some help in writing the book: “This book written by the inspiration sent to my heart by the God who created this wonderful universe and who is able to do whatever he wills.”1 And what is it that God wills? Well, there are about 300 pages left to explain just that.
The book states that the history of the Turkmen people started off with the appearance of the prophet Noah. He also provided the Turkmen people with divine commandments.2 These commandments are slightly different than the ones that are mentioned in the Bible. Prophet Noah, among other things ordered: “Good clothes improve the external appearance and make people look good. Choose clothes that suit you.”3
And you can’t disagree with orders coming from the prophet Noah, can you? And the great Niyazov knows how to exploit the commandments provided by the great prophet: “Ruhnama is a new worldview in the sense that it is a spirit that stimulates nature, society, and people to work. Without a spirit, it is impossible to speak of life; spirit is the source of life.”4
Slowly moving on, Niyazof’s book starts to provide a spiritual apologia for totalitarian behavior: “If a man from our people fails to comply with orders, he must be warned first. If he fails for a second time, he must be threatened and punished. If for a third time he fails, he must be exiled to a remote place like Hotan, where nobody lives and which hunters rarely visit.”5
Now and then our western democratic politicians are tempted to write their opinions down in a book. Let alone modern despots. But Niyazofs book is an extreme exception even among the books provided by modern dictators. How can that be explained?
Firstly, the Turkmens never asked for independence. They were part of the Soviet-Union since 1924 and were ruled by little Stalins ever since. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it left Turkmenistan like an orphan. It provided Niyazof with a tradition of absolutist rule he could continue.
Secondly, Turkmenistan is rich in resources like oil and gas. Michael Denison of the University of Leeds once stated that countries that hugely rely on the export of raw materials do not have the need to levy a lot of taxes. The government can position itself as the provider of money. In these cases no taxation means no representation.6
Niyazof could position himself as the great benefactor of the nation. Joseph Stalin and his eastern manservants from the past provided the example. You could state that Niyazof wouldn’t have needed the help of the prophet Noah to make his cult. But well: absolutist rulers sometimes tend to be a little eccentric.
The Ruhnama can be read in English on the following state-sponsored website:
Informations and backgrounds on Eastern Europe and Central Asia are provided by the German institute for Eastern Europe:
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