Turkmenbashy : the propagation of personal rule in contemporary Turkmenistan
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Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov (known as Turkmenbashy, or “father of Turkmens”), the longest-serving leader in post-Soviet space, has ruled his country with increasing repression and megalomaniacal idiosyncrasy over the past decade. Under Niyazov’s rule, alternative political parties have been banned, non-official religions persecuted, and free media outlets closed. State institutions, subsumed by the expansive presidency, are characterized by constant personnel purges and an arbitrary management style, and have become increasingly dysfunctional. Grandiose marble state buildings, large museums and golden presidential statues dominate Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital. Socioeconomic indicators, however, are at low levels, and poverty and unemployment have reached new highs. Niyazov has formulated, transmitted and imposed a new Turkmen national program as a method of political legitimation. This “pseudo-ideology” has been elaborated since independence in a series of texts published under the president’s name—Niyazov’s quasi-spiritual works are required reading throughout all levels of education in Turkmenistan and are heavily propagated through official mass media and cultural associations. This thesis seeks to understand the forms that the legitimation program has taken, Niyazov’s methods of propagation, and the ways in which the regime’s program resembles those of similar historical regimes. Turkmenistan, which appears to closely approximate the ideal type of a sultanistic regime (as defined by Juan Linz), is described in this thesis with reference to cases of sultanistic leadership from the post-colonial period in sub-Saharan Africa. This thesis examines in turn Niyazov’s use of official ritual and symbolism, media and education, historical revision, and architecture to secure normative compliance. Historical references help to contextualize a discussion of Turkmenistan, an often-overlooked country in post-Soviet Central Asia, but one that promises to grow in strategic importance due to its geopolitical location and bounty of natural resources.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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