Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ashgabat and Turkmenbashi

Greetings from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic.  (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tx.html)   This isolated and land-locked country shares borders with Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan and also has a coast on the Caspian Sea, the world's largest enclosed body of water.   Turkmenistan belongs to the Turkic family of countries that also includes Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbajan.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkic_peoples

Ashgabat was established as a Russian village in 1818 on the ruins of an old Silk Road city that had existed since at least the 2nd Century BC.  It became the capital of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925 and of Independent Turkmenistan in 1991. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ashgabat rapidly developed as the Turkmen capital, primarily around the personality of the country's dictator, Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov, who became known as Turkmenbashi -- Leader of the Turkmen.  http://www.neatorama.com/2007/06/11/craziest-dictator-ever-turkmenbashi/   Prior to his death in 2006, foreign media labeled him as one of the world's most totalitarian and repressive dictators, highlighting his reputation of imposing his personal eccentricities upon the country, which extended to renaming months after members of his family. He was known for an all-pervasive cult of personality which many say exceeded that of Stalin. It was reported that money under his control and held overseas may have exceeded US$3 billion.  Today Ashgabat is often referred to as "Marble City" due to the extensive construction of glistening white marble buildings and self-aggrandizing memorials that began during his regime and which continue to this day.  They have apparently been funded from the sales of the country' extensive holdings of natural gas. Western diplomats and visitors wonder who will occupy all of these imposing edifices and how they will be maintained. The hotel I stayed in looked fantastic from the outside but the rooms and service were very basic.  (It's the only hotel I have ever stayed in where guests can use the gym for free but have to pay $8 to use the treadmill because it draws electricity!) Despite it prosperous appearances, the country still has a cash economy with no ATMs and with credit cards only accepted for room payment at major hotels.  Internet access is extremely limited with only dial-up mode available under tight State control. 

Check out these pictures of some of Ashgabat's new buildings which are quite amazing

I'm off to Chisinau later today. Where's that?


No comments: