Turkmenistan had been under the control of Russia for more than a quarter century when it was declared part of the Soviet Union in 1924. In 1991, after the fall of Communism and the USSR, the country found itself independent for the first time in a hundred years. The new president, Saparmurat Niyazov was the obvious successor, as he'd been the Communist Party's puppet governor since 1985. But easing a country of five million people into a new era of self-sufficiency and autonomy was not the highest item on Niyazov's agenda. He was more concerned that decades of Soviet control had left Turkmenistan with no national identity. So, in 1993, Niyazov took it upon himself to create the country in a new image: his own.
First, he took the name Turkmenbashi (Leader of All Ethnic Turkmen) and declared himself President for Life. Since then, he's undertaken scores of self-aggrandizing and bizarre measures to make Turkmenistan a very unique place.
-The airport in the capital city of Ashgabat was renamed... Turkmenbashi
-Dozens of streets and schools across the country are now called... Turkmenbashi.
-In 1998 a 670 pound meteorite land in Turkmenistan. Scientists 'named' it... Turkmenbashi.
-The name of the large port city Krasnovodsk was changed to... Turkmenbashi.
-The new president also renamed the months. January is now Turkmenbashi.
April is called Gurbansoltan edzhe, after his mother. (Bread, once called chorek, is now Gurbansoltan edzhe)
-The image of Turkmenbashi's face is used as the logo of all three state-run TV stations, and is legally required to appear on all clock and watch faces as well as on every bottle of Turkmenbashi brand vodka.
-In 2001 he wrote a book, a combo of poetry, revisionist history, and moral guidelines, called the Ruhnama. It is now required to be prominently displayed in all bookstores and government offices, and next to the Koran in mosques. Memorization of the book is required to graduate from school and to get a state job and driver's license. School children spend one entire day a week reading it. In 2006 Turkmenbashi made reading it a requirement for entry into heaven.
-There's a 30-foot Tuhnama in Ashgabat, not far from a 50-foot solid gold statue of Turkmenbashi.
-Turkmenbashi 'won' the Magtymguly International Prize, honoring the best pro-Turkmen poetry, which is awarded by Turkmenbashi himself.
-In 2000 he ordered that a giant lake be created in the desert along with a huge forest of cedar trees, which, he said, would help to moderate Turkmenistan's climate.
-In 2004 he ordered that a giant ice palace be built in the middle of that same desert, the Karakum, the hottest location in central Asia. It will include a zoo with penguins.