Saparmurat Niyazov

Saparmurat Niyazov
Saparmyrat Ataýewiç Nyýazow
Сапармурат Атаевич Ниязов
1st President of Turkmenistan
In office
2 November 1990 – 21 December 2006
Succeeded by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR
In office
Preceded by Muhammetnazar Gapurow
Succeeded by Post abolished
Personal details
Born 19 February 1940(1940-02-19)
Gypjak, Turkmen SSR, Soviet Union
Died 21 December 2006(2006-12-21) (aged 66)
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Political party Communist Party of Turkmenistan (1962-1991)
Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (1991-2006)
Spouse(s) Muza Sokolova
Russian: Муза Соколова[1]
Profession Electrical Engineer
Religion Sunni Islam

Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov; (19 February 1940 - 21 December 2006), (Russian: Сапармурат Атаевич Ниязов) (Turkmen: Saparmyrat Ataýewiç Nyýazow) was a Turkmen politician who served as President (later President for Life) of Turkmenistan from 2 November 1990 until his death in 2006. He was First Secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and continued to lead Turkmenistan for 15 years after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. His name in English is a romanization of the Russian spelling Сапармурат Атаевич Ниязов of his Turkmen name.

Turkmen media referred to him using the title "His Excellency Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy, President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers"[citation needed]. His self-given title Türkmenbaşy, or Turkmenbashi (pronounced [tyɾkmenbaʃɯ]), meaning Leader of Turkmens, referred to his position as the founder and president of the Association of Turkmens of the World.[2]

Foreign media criticized 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, which had been borrowed Russian words, after members of his family.[3] Global Witness, a London-based human rights organization, reported that money under Niyazov's control and held overseas may be in excess of US$3 billion, of which between $1.8-$2.6 billion was supposedly situated in the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund at Deutsche Bank in Germany.[4]



Niyazov was born in Gypjak, located in the Turkmen SSR. According to the official version, his father died in World War II fighting against Nazi Germany, while other sources contend that he dodged fighting and was therefore sentenced by a military court. The other members of his family were killed in a massive earthquake that leveled Ashgabat in 1948. He grew up in a Soviet orphanage before the state put him in the custody of a distant relative.[citation needed]

After finishing school in 1959, he worked as an instructor in the Turkmen trade union committee exploration. Then he studied at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, where in 1967 he received a diploma as an electrical engineer. After graduating, he went to study in Russia, but was expelled a few years later for his academic failure.[1]

In 1962, Niyazov started his political career, and then he joined the Communist Party. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR in 1985. He gained this post after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev removed his predecessor, Muhammetnazar Gapurov, following a cotton-related scandal. Under Niyazov, the Turkmen Communist Party was one of the most hardline and unreformed party organizations in the Soviet Union. On January 13, 1990; Niyazov became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmen SSR, the supreme legislative body in the republic. The post was equivalent to that of president.

Niyazov supported the Soviet coup attempt of 1991[citation needed] but after it collapsed, he set about separating Turkmenistan from the dying Soviet Union. The Supreme Soviet declared Turkmenistan independent and elected Niyazov as the country's first president on October 27. On June 21, 1992, Niyazov was elected as the country's first popularly elected president; he was the only candidate. A year later, he declared himself "Türkmenbaşy," or "Leader of all Turkmen."

In 1994 a plebiscite extended Niyazov's term to 2002 so he could oversee a 10-year development plan. The official results showed that 99.9% of voters approved this proposal. On December 28, 1999, Parliament declared Niyazov President for Life; parliamentary elections had been held a few weeks earlier in which all candidates were hand-picked by the president.

Niyazov and his Russian-Jewish wife, Muza, had a son and a daughter, Murat and Irina, respectively.


Niyazov became president at the transition of Turkmenistan from a republic of the Soviet Union to an independent state. His presidency was characterized by an initial crumbling of the centralized Soviet model that in many respects was unsuited to function as a separate entity; also, there were large amounts of foreign income from gas and petroleum reserves (approximately $2–4 billion as of 2005). There was outside concern about press freedom and to a lesser extent religious rights of minority religious groups. Niyazov made a personal attempt to create a cultural background for the new state of Turkmenistan by writing and promoting the Ruhnama, an autobiography meant to guide the people of Turkmenistan with his ideas and promote native culture (and by extension prohibiting foreign culture). He also took part in creating new holidays with a specific Turkmen nature and introduced a new Latin-based Turkmen alphabet to replace Russian Cyrillic. The current Latin Turkmen alphabet consists of: Aa, Bb, Çç, Dd, Ee, Ää, Ff, Gg, Hh, Ii, Jj, Žž, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Ňň, Oo, Öö, Pp, Rr, Ss, Şş, Tt, Uu, Üü, Ww, Yy, Ýý, Zz.[5]

Niyazov became a substitute for the vacuum left by the downfall of the communist system, with his image replacing those of Marx and Lenin. He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk "Turkmenbashi" after himself, and renamed schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and members of his family. His many, sometimes erratic decrees, and the doting actions of the official Turkmen media gave rise to the clear appearance of a cult of personality. The eccentric nature of some of his decrees, and the vast number of images of the president led to the perception, especially in western countries, of a despotic leader, rich on oil wealth glorifying himself whilst the population gained no benefit.

Despite emphasizing a need to move from a centralized state to a market economy and to a full democracy during his reign neither plan progressed. Yearly plans set forth by the government and a centralised economy gave little indication of moving away from state-dominated economics, and the dictatorial nature of many of his decrees and his crowning himself "President for Life" gave little hope as to much progress in these two areas.


Oil and gas

Turkmenistan has the second-largest reserves in so gas-rich former Soviet Union, generating high revenue for the state. The government has used central planning, such as state control of production and procurement, direct bank credits with low interest rates, exchange rate restrictions, and price controls, since it existed as a Republic within the U.S.S.R.[6]

In the years following independence, Turkmenistan invested heavily in plants and machinery in an attempt to convert it from being primarily a supplier of petroleum to a more advanced economy; such investments included oil refineries and a polyethylene plant. In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, Niyazov claimed that Turkmenistan was able to process 85% of its domestic output. Additionally, numerous petroleum transportation projects were completed such as a pipeline from the Korpedje field to Kort-Koi in Iran.

In 1991, Niyazov's government put forth a decree granting "the free use of water, gas and electricity and refined salt by the people of Turkmenistan for ten years";[2] when the decree expired, he extended it to 2020.


Turkmenistan's other primary resources are cotton and grain. Niyazov continued the old practice of demanding yearly quotas in agricultural output, and then blaming and/or sacking deputy ministers when quotas were not met.[7][8] Nevertheless, Turkmenistan had an emergent period during which there was heavy investment in plant and machinery so the country could change from a producer of raw cotton to a cotton processor. During Niyazov's presidency, a textile industry was founded in Turkmenistan.

Niyazov introduced the practice of "Melon Day," a harvest festival celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of August; unlike some of his other creations, the celebration of "Melon Day" has continued after his death.


The Neutrality Arch in Ashgabat featured a gold-plated statue of Niyazov which rotated 360 degrees every 24 hours so as to always face the sun. (The statue has since been removed.)[9]

Niyazov put the revival of Turkmen culture as one of the top priorities in Turkmenistan's development. He introduced a new Turkmen alphabet based on the Latin alphabet to replace Cyrillic. The National Revival Movement, an organisation to promote Turkmen culture (Turkmen:"Galkynish") was also founded.

In many respects, Niyazov's cultural ideas and changes were most visible to external viewers. His renaming of months, as well as days of the week, to Turkmen heroes, poets, historical events,[10] family members and himself raised many eyebrows all over the world. For example, September was renamed Ruhnama in honour of the book written by Niyazov (which he finished writing on 19 September 2001).[11] Not all the changes promoted Niyazov; October was renamed Garaşsyzlyk (Independence) to mark the state's founding on 27 October 1991, and November Sanjar in honour of Sultan Sanjar who led the Seljuqs to their last full flowering. The new names came into effect with the introduction of a new labour law which stated that "the dates of professional holidays are specified by decrees of the President of Turkmenistan".

These names were later abolished by his successor Berdymukhamedov in April 2008.[12]

Internal affairs

One of the earliest acts of the president was to abolish the death penalty and guarantee various human rights to the people. Press freedom under Niyazov's leadership was much criticised as it was with other former Soviet central Asian states. Turkmenistan's media constantly doted on the president and helped build his cult of personality. In May 2000, the government revoked all Internet licenses except for the state-owned Turkmen Telecom and in June 2001 shut down all Internet cafés.[13]

In February 2005 all hospitals outside Aşgabat were ordered shut, with the reasoning that the sick should come to the capital for treatment.[14] According to the paper Neitralniy Turkmenistan physicians were ordered to swear an oath to the President, replacing the Hippocratic Oath.[15] All libraries outside of the capital were also closed, as Niyazov believed that the only books that most Turkmen needed to read were the Koran and his Ruhnama.[16]

  • In January 2006 one-third of the country's elderly had their pensions discontinued, while another 200,000 had theirs reduced. Pensions received during the prior two years were ordered paid back to the state.[17] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan strongly denied allegations that the cut in pensions resulted in the deaths of many elderly Turkmens, accusing foreign media outlets of spreading "deliberately perverted" information on the issue.[18]
  • On March 19, 2007 Turkmenistan's new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow reversed Niyazov's decision by restoring pensions to more than 100,000 elderly citizens.[19]
  • In December 2008, the new president also made changes to the national anthem, the chorus of which referenced Niyazov.[20]
  • In March 2004, 15,000 public health workers were dismissed including nurses, midwives, school health visitors and orderlies.[21]

By 2005 there were 36,000 Internet users, representing 0.7% of the population.[22]

He furthermore promised free and fair elections by 2010 in a move that surprised many Western observers.

Presidential pardons

In keeping with the predominantly Islamic nature of Turkmen society, President Niyazov granted pardons each year on the Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny) in Ramadan month.

For example, in 2005, 8,000 convicts were pardoned including 229 foreign nationals.[23] In 2006 Turkmenistan set free 10,056 prisoners, including 253 foreign nationals from 11 countries. Niyazov said:

"Let this humane act on the part of the state serve strengthening truly moral values of the Turkmen society. Let the entire world know that there has never been a place for evil and violence on the blessed Turkmen soil."[24]

Decrees and laws

  • Niyazov banned the use of lip syncing at public concerts in 2005 as well as sound recordings at "musical performances on state holidays, in broadcasts by Turkem television channels, at all cultural events organized by the state... in places of mass assembly and at weddings and celebrations organized by the public," citing a negative effect on the development of musical arts incurred by the use of recorded music.[25][26]
  • Niyazov banished dogs from the capital Ashgabat because of their "unappealing odor." [26]
  • According to the Ashgabat correspondent of right-hand-drive imported cars converted to left-hand-drive were banned due to a perceived increased risk in accidents.[27]
  • Niyazov requested that a "palace of ice", or indoor ice skating rink, be built near the capital, so that those living in the desert country could learn to skate. The palace was built in 2008 and located near the new Turkmen State Medical University.[28]
  • After having to quit smoking in 1997 due to his resultant heart surgery, he banned smoking in all public places and ordered all government employees to follow suit. Chewing tobacco on Turkmen soil was later banned as well.[citation needed]
  • He outlawed opera, ballet, and the circus in 2001.[29]
  • In February 2004 he decreed that men should no longer wear long hair or beards.[30]
  • He banned news reporters and anchors from wearing make-up on television, apparently because he believed Turkmen women were already beautiful enough without make-up.
  • Gold teeth were outlawed in Turkmenistan after Niyazov suggested that the populace chew on bones to strengthen their teeth and lessen the rate at which they fall out. He said:

    I watched young dogs when I was young. They were given bones to gnaw to strengthen their teeth. Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not chew on bones. This is my advice...[31]

Foreign policy

Niyazov promoted a policy of strict neutrality in foreign affairs, refraining from seeking membership in NATO or GUUAM and almost ignoring the CSTO. Turkmenistan has not participated in any United Nations peacekeeping missions. It has however become a member of Interpol.

Relations with Russia worsened immediately after independence.

The full independence of Turkmenistan was recognised by a UN General Assembly resolution “The permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan” of December 12, 1995. As a result in 2005 Turkmenistan would downgrade its links with the Commonwealth of Independent States becoming only an associate member under article 8 of the CIS charter, as such it would not participate in any of the military structures of the CIS.

In 2006 the European Commission and the international trade committee of the European Parliament voted to grant Turkmenistan "most favoured nation" trading status with the European Union, widely seen as motivated by interest in natural gas, after Niyazov announced he would enter a "human rights dialogue" with the EU.[32]

Attempted assassinations and overthrows

After an alleged assassination attempt on November 25, 2002, the Turkmen government arrested thousands of suspected conspirators and members of their families. Critics claim the government staged the attempt in order to crack down on mounting domestic and foreign political opposition.[33]

The summer of 2004 saw a leaflet campaign in the capital, Aşgabat, calling for the overthrow and trial of Niyazov. The authorities were unable to stop the campaign and the President responded by firing his Interior Minister and director of the police academy on national television.[34] He accused the minister of incompetence and declared: "I cannot say that you had any great merits or did much to combat crime."

Niyazov later announced that surveillance cameras were to be placed at all major streets and sites in Turkmenistan, an apparent precaution against future attempts.


On December 21, 2006, Turkmen state television announced that President Niyazov had died of a sudden heart attack.[35][36] Niyazov had been taking medication for an unidentified cardiac condition. The Turkmen Embassy in Moscow later confirmed this report.

According to the Constitution of Turkmenistan, Öwezgeldi Ataýew, Chairman of the Parliament, would assume the presidency. Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was named as head of the commission organizing the state funeral. Due to the imprisonment of Öwezgeldi Ataýew who, under the Constitution is first in line to succeed the presidency, Berdimuhamedow was named as acting president. Berdimuhamedow and the Halk Maslahaty announced on December 26 that the next presidential elections would be held on February 11, 2007.[37]

The circumstances of Niyazov's passing have been surrounded by some media speculation. Some Turkmen opposition sources also claim that Niyazov died several days before the officially announced date of December 21.[38]

News reports also claimed that Niyazov also suffered from diabetes, ischemic heart disease and kidney failure.[1]


Niyazov was buried in his ready prepared tomb in Kipchak Mosque on December 24 at his home village of Gypjak, approximately 7 kilometres west of Ashgabat. Prior to being moved to the village, Niyazov's body lay in state in an open coffin in the presidential palace. Many mourners, including foreign delegations, passed by the coffin in a three hour period. Many of the ordinary citizens were dramatically weeping and crying as they walked, some even clinging to the coffin and fainting, though there are rumors that they were "forced" to mourn in this way.[39] Tang Jiaxuan, the Chinese State Councilor and special envoy of President Hu Jintao to Turkmenistan,[40] Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher,[41] Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan attended the funeral.[42]

References and notes

  1. ^ a b c "Наследником Туркменбаши может стать следователь московской прокуратуры" (in Russian). Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2006-12-22. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Turkmenistan Fact Sheet, Government & Politics-President". Embassy of Turkmenistan. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  3. ^ BBC News, " Turkmen go back to old calendar", 24 April 2008.
  4. ^ "It's a Gas: Funny Business in the Turkmen-Ukraine Gas Trade". Global Witness Limited. 2006-04. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  5. ^ Annasoltan, Ŧ¥¶ØGЯ@¶Ħ¥ i₪ Đ£₪Ŧi∩¥ [Typography is Destiny], part 1: between Moscow and Istanbul, 11 January 2010
  6. ^ Badykova, Najia (2004-06-18). "The Turkmen Economy: Challenges and Opportunities". St Antony's College, University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  7. ^ Saparmurat Niyazov raps local governors for failures in cotton harvest
  8. ^ Saparmurat Niyazov dismisses grain products association chairman
  9. ^ "Turkmenistan ex-leader Niyazov's golden statue toppled". BBC News. 2010-08-26. 
  10. ^ List of holidays and commemorative days approved in Turkmenistan
  11. ^ Turkmenistan Votes, The Economist, December 30, 2008, Accessed January 5, 2009
  12. ^ "Turkmen go back to old calendar". BBC News. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  13. ^ Clarke, Michael (2003-01-24). "Turkmenistan. Struggling For News In Turkmenistan". Glenn Hauser's World of Radio. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  14. ^ Morgan, David (Translator) (2005-02-14). "President of Turkmenistan closes hospitals, libraries and nature reserves". Prima-News. Retrieved 2006-12-22. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Turkmen Doctors Pledge Allegiance To Niyazov". Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty (RFERL). 2005-11-15. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Туркменбаши решил истребить всех стариков" (in Russian). 2006-02-03. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  18. ^ "...Russian media outlets disseminate "deliberately perverted" information on republic's pension maintenance". 2006-04-02. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  19. ^ "Turkmen leader restores pensions". 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  20. ^ "Turkmen anthem set for makeover", BBC, December 9, 2008.
  21. ^ Whitlock, Monica (2004-03-01). "Troops to replace Turkmen medics". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  22. ^ The World Factbook entry for Turkmenistan information retrieved on August 30, 2006
  23. ^ Turkmen leader pardons 8,145 thousand convicts
  24. ^ "Turkmenistan to set free 10056 prisoners". 2006-10-17. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  25. ^ "Saparmurat Niyazov bans use of "phonograms" at concerts and TV programs". 2005-08-22. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  26. ^ a b Hiro, Dilip. Inside Central Asia. New York: Overlook Press, 2009. p227
  27. ^ Turkmenistan bans converted left-hand-drive vehicle imports
  28. ^ Whitlock, Monica (2004-08-11). "Turkmen leader orders ice palace". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  29. ^ Halpin, Tony (2008-01-21). "Turkmenistan lifts curtain on banned arts". The Times (London). 
  30. ^ Whitlock, Monica. "Young Turkmen face beard ban." BBC. 25 February 2004. Retrieved on 29 August 2009.
  31. ^ "Avoid gold teeth, says Turkmen leader". BBC. 2004-04-07. 
  32. ^ "Double Standard for Dictators". 2004-04-14. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  33. ^ "Assassination Attempt A Response To Niyazov’s Authoritarian Policies". EurasiaNet. 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  34. ^ Short resume maintained by Reporters Sans Frontières
  35. ^ "Turkmenistan's 'iron ruler' dies". BBC News. 2006-12-21. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  36. ^ "President of Turkmenistan dies at 66". 2005-12-21. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  37. ^ "Two candidates named for Turkmen presidency". ITAR TASS. 2006-12-26. Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
  38. ^ "Turkmenbashi died several days ago" (in Russian). RIA Novosti. 2006-12-21. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  39. ^ "Turkmen leader's funeral begins". CNN. 2006-12-24. Retrieved 2006-12-24. [dead link]
  40. ^ "Chinese envoy attends funeral of Turkmenistan's late president". China Economic. 2006-12-25. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  41. ^ "Late President of Turkmenistan laid to rest". Calcutta News. 2006-12-25. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  42. ^ "First VP leaves Turkmenistan". IRNA. 2006-12-25. Archived from the original on 2007-01-12. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 

Further reading

  • Theroux, Paul. "The Golden Man: Saparmurat Niyazov's Reign of Insanity". The New Yorker, 28 May 2007, pp. 54–65.

External links

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Additional sources

Monuments to Niyazov

Party political offices
Preceded by
Muhammetnazar Gapurow
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR
December 21, 1985– June 21, 1991
Succeeded by
None (Position Dissolved)
Political offices
Preceded by
new office
President of Turkmenistan
January 19, 1990– December 21, 2006
Succeeded by
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

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