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Thursday, June 26, 2008

A wink amidst Turkmenistan's madness

Saparmurat Niyazov, aka "Turkmenbashi" ("Leader of Turkmens"), is the former dictator of Turkmenistan who died two years ago of natural causes (to everyone's surprise). His rule was characterized by autocratic decrees so ludicrous (banning opera, long beards and lip-synching) that they would be laughable, if he hadn't been simultaneously filling secret prisons and unmarked graves with journalists, aid workers and members of his own party who displeased him.

I think enough time has passed that I may share the following anecdote without stepping on any toes. When I worked as a consultant to the Presidential Administration of Georgia (the country), I organized a conference on energy policy. I invited energy ministers from dozens of nearby nations in Europe and Asia: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, etc. But there was a problem when it came to Turkmenistan: no sooner would I identify a minister to invite than we would get word that he, along with other cabinet members, had recently been arrested and never heard from again. I finally couldn't invite anyone but Niyazov himself (who tended to shun conferences) because mailing a new invitation to Turkmenistan was so sure to take longer than a minister's posting would last--and, as you can imagine, Niyazov was having a hard time finding anybody left to promote.

Now, I understand that realpolitik require cordial and friendly outward relations between diplomatic corps, and I don't argue with the United States having embassies staffed with friendly ambassadors all over the place. Which is why I am surprised to see, on the website of the US Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, the following street address:
Street Address:
American Embassy
9 1984 Street (formerly Pushkin Street)
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
744000
It's a nugget of wit implanted in a mountain of intentional (and generally well-advised) blandness. To whoever is responsible, bravo.

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