‘White elephants don’t sink’, or so the saying might go. If they routinely did, it would only add insult to Turkmenistan’s spectacular but ill-conceived ornithogically-inspired terminal building at Ashgabat Airport. If it didn’t encapsulate the madness surrounding the country’s many capital projects whose budgets would make Croesus weep the alleged sinking into its sandy surroundings would be laughable. Such a worldwide reaction to a totalitarian-esque vanity project is something President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is desperate to avoid, although anyone with an ounce of sense will recognize the irony of a country slowly sinking whilst it throws eye-watering amounts of money at projects predicated on consolidating the regime’s self-deification.

There is no denying that the falcon-shaped terminal is, above ground at least, a feat of modern engineering and design. It hasn’t though be explained who is expected to use the new facility in a nation where entry regulations for foreign nationals are almost as difficult as those for locals intending to leave the country. Perhaps in keeping with North Korea, with whom Turkmenistan has much in common, to have a practical reason behind the construction of lavish schemes that few outside of the chosen few will ever get to use isn’t the point. The fact that the country can flex its financial muscles on such a scale while basic food stuffs can be difficult to obtain by many of its oppressed citizens is a classic trait shared by countless autocratic strongmen, who seek respect and  fearful recognition from those not only within but also beyond the country’s sovereign borders. Whilst Jack Nicklaus hasn’t yet seen through the flimsy Potemkin-style facade, a terminal reportedly constructed to welcome athletes competing in the forthcoming Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games must go down as the biggest overreaction yet to a regional sporting jamboree. Viewed more as a mirror to reflect the glory of the premier’s power and wisdom, the $2.3 billion scheme not only has the integrity of its foundations at stake but also the reputation of the president, who, prior to the rubber-stamping of his February 12th reelection, will not want to be seen to have commissioned a project that could become a metaphor for the economic maladministration of Turkmenistan.

Source material courtesy of: Eurasianet.org – http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81966