Footage of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow not allowing the tedious everyday affairs of state to get in the way of his hobbies are nothing new.

Recent dramatic publicity shots of the former dentist putting a rally car through its paces close to the Darvaza gas crater were though unintentionally couched with metaphors aplenty, the most glaring being the smoking Door of Hell, as the crater is also known, to where the country is being led by Berdymukhamedow’s vanity and profligacy. The president’s fiddling with white elephant projects designed to glorify his omniscient wisdom are at the expense of a country being left to burn, without intervention or international condemnation.

Rumours continue to abound as to the president’s whereabouts and even mortality. It has never been beyond the ken of Turkmenistan’s state media to leave open to interpretation when Berdymukhamedow’s latest escapades actually took place, despite outward appearances suggesting their broadcast in real time when in fact the recycling of footage captured from different angles only serves to add to the smoke and mirrors behind which the country is managed. Although suggestions that Berdymukhamedow had indeed died were soon quashed this was primarily done with footage that could have been filmed at any time, apparently put forward as proof that the president’s demise has been very much exaggerated.

Pictures of the president in earnest conference over the siting of new bus stops in the country’s capital Ashgabat and the apparent signing(and dating) of a document, the latter more legerdemain than conclusive proof, offer little evidence of the reality on the ground in perhaps the most closed, and oppressed, nation on earth outside of North Korea. The ‘doughnutting’ adjacent to and around the extremely dangerous Darvaza crater was obviously intended as the most emphatic of rebuttals to those who continue to push the conspiracy theory of the president’s untimely expiration.

If the footage in Turkmenistan’s desert, as unforgiving as the president’s regime, is to be given credence it would seem that the president’s month-long summer vacation, unusual  itself in the length of its duration, was rudely interrupted so as to assure his countrymen and an increasingly interested world that his health is without question, notwithstanding stocks of his favourite hair dye apparently being in alarmingly short supply. Was he in fact holed up in his flagship Potemkin-esque seaside development of Awaza or visiting an ailing mother in Germany, a country seemingly in a rush to assist Turkmenistan in any way it can. Only after the slated day of his return from holiday, August 15th, has been and gone will there be a better idea as to who is at least meant to be at the country’s controls, and what of its immediate future.

Replete with the hypocrisy and self-deification that comes as standard in any autocracy worth its salt the regime insists on portraying images of itself that have already been conclusively refuted. Laced with irony bordering on the almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious the recent shipment of aid to Afghanistan was intended to paint the Berdymukhamedow regime as compassionate to the plight of one of its many immediate neighbours. How though this is intended to tally with the forced repatriation of Afghans who earlier this year fled over the Turkmen border from the Taliban is unclear, although the fate awaiting them back in their homeland, whilst unsurprisingly not reported, is sadly predictable. The sending of material aid is easy for any country to undertake; should though an unexpected humanitarian situation unfold of this nature there is obviously little scope, or compassion, to veer from a preordained script. Although there is an obviously the potential to set a dangerous precedent by harbouring those fleeing terrorism from an adjacent nation, to instead return the absconders into the welcoming arms of the Taliban is as heartless as it is a sobering thought.

President Berdymukhamedow’s obsession with the Akhal-Teke breed of horse indigenous to Turkmenistan is as well-known as it is unabashed. Recent utterances from the man at the top have rightly suggested that to judge the true character of an individual one should assess their attitude towards and treatment of God’s creatures. Filmed playing with kittens belonging to his grandchildren the president leaves the casual viewer with the impression that he is a modern-day Saint Francis of Assisi and not the bumbling, capricious narcissist hellbent on taking Turkmenistan for all he can get. How though this is intended to tally with the brutal, sadistic approach adopted at his behest by local authority workers tasked to deal with stray cats and dogs in Ashgabat and elsewhere in the country, is once more unclear. This is though no cat-stroking Bond villain, with whom at least you knew where humanity and animalia stood.

Perhaps assuming that a hermetically sealed Turkmenistan whose every facet of media is controlled by the state never gives up its secrets to the prying eyes of the world and his enemies, the president will perhaps be oblivious to the absurdity of these and many other examples of double-dealing leaking into the consciousnesses of today’s 24/7 rolling news generation.

There can though be few more pertinent examples than these of the reality within Turkmenistan and the mind of its despotic head of state than the ‘do as I say, not as I  do’ message being promulgated by a heartless, antipathetic and disingenuous spendthrift whose bulletproof swagger betrays the truism that only death can rein in his excesses. Whether or not Berdymukhamedow has already met his maker will become obvious in the days and weeks ahead although even his passing will offer Turkmenistan little respite should his son Serdar, seemingly the Dauphin in waiting, take the reins and unleash the next wave of familial madness upon a defenseless population.

Source material and further information:

Trend News Agency:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: