Turkmenistan to remove monument of cult leader

The president of Turkmenistan has ordered the dismantlement of a colossal monument in the capital Ashgabat dedicated to his predecessor, the country’s first president Saparmurat Niyazov, local media report.

In a decree published on Monday, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said that the work on removing the monument would begin in March this year. The official explanation behind the move is an attempt to improve the design of the capital ahead of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence in 2011.

However, many believe it is part of the current president’s policy to slowly deconstruct Niyazov’s personality cult. To add more concerns, it has been reported the huge monument will be replaced by a bigger one in southern Ashgabat.

The 75-meter tall monument, called the Arch of Neutrality, is a white tripod topped by a golden statue of Niyazov, which, thanks to a special mechanism, rotates 360 degrees following the sun. Rumor has it that the 12-meter statue is made of pure gold.

The tallest structure in the Turkmen capital, the monument, built in 1998, is one of the main attractions in the city.

The Arch of Neutrality is also seen as the symbol of Niyazov’s policy of developing a personality cult. Calling himself “Turkmenbashi” (Father of the Turkmen), the president for life not only named cities and airports after himself, but also renamed months in honor of his family members.

Turkmenbashi ruled the energy-rich former Soviet state for 21 years and died in 2006.

His successor, President Berdymukhammedov, has removed most of Niyazov’s portraits from the outsides of buildings and has had Turkmenbashi’s name excised from the national anthem.

The new leader has also introduced some reforms and positive changes.

However, there are fears that Berdymukhammedov might be moving to create a personality cult of his own. While some bans have been removed, new restrictions and censorship rules have been introduced.

Among the Turkmen president’s latest ambitious plans is investing around $700 million into improving the architectural look of the capital, which is a huge sum for a state with an average monthly salary of about 150 euros.

Just building a replacement for the Arch of Neutrality – a 95-meter tall project called Neutrality Monument – will cost $217.8 million, Itar-Tass reported.

Turkmen authorities also plan to construct a new Center of Culture worth $90.3 million and a complex of buildings worth $327.4 million, including a military institute, a central house of officers and a military school for 600 cadets.

The construction works are expected to be carried out by Turkish company Polymex.