Turkmenistan, the small country in Central Asia, might be the world strangest country when it comes to both architecture and the bizarre laws that the locals have to obey under the firm control by the President.
While some of the first strange laws that were put into place under the first president in Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov which named himself President For Life, after the fall of USSR in 1991 when Turkmenistan gained its independence 27 October the same year.
After Niyazov came into power did grant himself the title Türkmenbaşy meaning “Head/Leader Of The Turkmen”.
Shortly after would he renamed the second largest city in Turkmenistan, Krasnovodsk to Türkmenbaşy after his self-proclaimed title.
Saparmurat Niyazov wrote a book that realised in 2001, called the Ruhnama (The Book of the Soul) combining spiritual/moral guidance, the book also includes many stories and poems.
Niyazov first ordered copies of Ruhnama to be placed in every schools and library around the country (he later shutdown all libraries outside the capital) but eventually he went as far as to make an exam on Ruhanama teachings an element to be part of driving test. It was mandatory to read Ruhnama in schools, universities and government offices.
New governmental employees were tested on the book at job interviews. Niyazov was once quoted saying, that God himself told him that everyone who has read the book would come directly to heaven. Locals were obliged to read the Ruhnama every Saturday.
Niyazov required that bookstores and government offices would display it prominently and that all Mosques around Turkmenistan to keep it as prominent as the Quran.
If an imam would refuse to follow this order, would the Mosque be demolished, and with more than 90% of the population in Turkmenistan being Muslims was this a hard rule to obey.
Niyazov also made outrage among the Muslim population when he got the walls at the Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, the largest Mosque in Turkmenistan inscribed with verses from both the Quran and the Ruhnama.
In August 2005, was the first part of the Ruhnama was launched into space so that it could “conquer space” as well. It is supposed to orbit Earth for the next 150 years.
In 2013, seven years after Niyazov´s death was finally the Ruhnama removed from public schools in Turkmenistan and then in the following year in 2014, did the current president of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow declared that all Turkmen universities would no longer test their students on their knowledge of the Ruhnama.
Some of the strange things Saparmurat Niyazov put in to order was.
Feeling that the ministers, members of parliament and civil servants were getting out of shape, he got a 37km/23miles long trail (mostly steep concrete stairs) built along the Kopet Dag mountains just outside the capital Ashgabat. All ministers, members of parliament and civil servants ordered to walk the full trail once a year.
He also expected everyone in Ashgabat to walk the trail called “The Walk Of Health” at least once a year to get into better shape.
But did Niyazov ever do the health walk himself? No, Niyazov himself watched his staff start the walk before he flew in his helicopter to the final stage of the trail to greet them on their successfully completed walk.
Niyazov outlawed ballet and circuses in 2001 for being unnecessary and not for being part of Turkmenistan’s traditional culture.
In 2004 was men banned from having a beard and long hair, only men older than 70 were allowed to grow their beard, this rule in still in place.
Saparmurat Niyazov decided in 2002 that every day of the week and every month of the year should be renamed according to himself and the names of his family members.
January was to be called Türkmenbaşy meaning The Leader of Turkmen, February was to be named Baýdak after the Turkmen Flag, April was to be named Gurbansoltan after his mother. And September was to be named Ruhnama after his book. You can read the full list here (Wikipedia)
He changed the Turkmen word for bread and replaced it with Gurbansoltan, the name of his own mother.
He banished dogs from the capital Ashgabat because he found dogs to be an unappealing odour.
But he did like one thing about dogs; Niyazov did recommend locals in Turkmenistan to get their Gold Teeth pulled out and instead told people to chew on bones to strengthen their teeth. Niyazov said when I was young; I watched dogs, 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 he once said.
He banned artists from lip-syncing during concerts in 2005, as well as using music recordings on public TV and all cultural events, saying it harmed traditional music performance. Car Radios was also banned.
News reporters and tv presenters were banned from wearing makeup on tv, saying that reporters should appear natural on TV. But rumours are that he actually he found it difficult to distinguish male anchors from female anchors.
He banned makeup in Turkmenistan, due to the local’s natural beauty and no need for makeup.
In 1997 when he tried to quit smoking, he put in a law that banned smoking in public to eliminate temptation from people smoking on the street. He also ordered all government employees to quit smoking.
Request an ice-skating rink should be built near the Ashgabat so the people living in the desert could learn to ice skate.
When taking your driving license, were also all the driver required to pass a morality test.
In 2004 he fired 15 000 doctors and health workers all over the country and in 2005 all hospitals outside the capital Ashgabat where shut, with the reasoning that all sick should come to the capital for treatment. He found it to be a waste of money having healthcare outside the capital. Remember that it´s almost 600km from Turkmenbashi in the west of the country to Ashgabat and almost a 1000km to Gowurdak in the northeast part of Turkmenistan that´s a long way to go if you are sick.
At the same time did he close down all libraries outside the capital for the reason that people in the countryside couldn’t read according to him.
All Physicians were ordered to swear an oath to the president instead of the Hippocratic Oath.
In 2006 all video games were banned for being too violent for the young Turkmen.
Most of these rules where abounded after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006 and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow came into power. But also Berdimuhamedow have enforced a few bizarre laws.
Black cars are banned in the capital Ashgabat, and dirty cars are not allowed, due to this when entering Ashgabat so are the numerous car cleaning stations in the outskirts of the city where everyone is cleaning their cars before entering the city.
When going back to Ashgabat after my trip to Darwaza Gas Crater/The Gate To Hell, did I have to wait in a 30min line to wash my car before entering the city centre.
Here are some other fun facts about Turkmenistan.
Carpets are incredibly important in Turkmenistan.
Carpets hold a very important rule in Turkmen culture, so important are Carpets in Turkmenistan that there even a Ministry of Carpets in the Government, there´s a National Carpet Museum in Ashgabat with more than 1000 carpets on display, there even a Carpet on the National flag of Turkmenistan.
And then it should be to no one’s surprise that there´s even a Public holiday in Turkmenistan celebrating Carpets, the last Sunday in May is called: Turkmenhaly Bairamy – Carpet Day.
Turkmenistan also used to have the world´s largest hand-woven carpet in the world on display in the Carpet Museum in Ashgabat, but the record was then broken in 2007 when the world´s largest carpet was put in The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Then Tabriz in Iran broke the record in August 2019 with an impressive 600-square-meter carpet, which weighs three tons.
And if you want to buy a carpet in Turkmenistan are you required to get a recite with details the age, origin, date of purchase which has to be certified by the Ministry of Carpet, be before you can take the Carpet out of Turkmenistan.
But if you are ever in Turkmenistan and want to buy an original Turkmenistan Carpet, so is the carpet shop at the Grand Turkmen Hotel the best place to go, The here shop work directly under the Ministry of Carpets, and the paperwork is given with your carpet purchased here.
Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world.
Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world with less than 10 000 foreign tourists a year, making Turkmenistan one of the top 10 least visited countries on earth. Together with Libya, Sao Tome & Principe, Somalia, Niue, Naru, Kiribati, Comoros plus more.
Even countries like North Korea, Syria and Eritrea receives more tourists a year then Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan is almost obsessed with setting world records.
Ashgabat itself holds four current Guinness World Records: The world´s most giant indoor Ferris wheel at 47,6m at the Alem entertainment centre in the south of Ashgabat, The highest numbers of fountains in public spaces and the highest concentration of white marble buildings with 543 in an area of 4.5m square metres.
The largest architectural constructed star in the world, a glass construction, which has a total area of 3,240 sq. m. (34,875 sq. ft.) At the Turkmenistan Broadcasting Centre tower.
Horses are almost as important as carpets.
The local horse bread Akhal-Teke which considered to be one of the most beautiful and rarest horse breeds in the world, locals take a huge pride working with their horse, one of most respected jobs in Turkmenistan are Horse tamers, and young kids get sent to horse training centres in young age to become horse tamers and horse athletics.
When leaving Ashgabat and head west will you pass some of the world´s most respected horse breeding centres.
Horses have such an important role in Turkmenistan that an Akhal-Teke Horse even appears on the national emblem of Turkmenistan.
But it´s not any horse, the national emblem is of a real living horse, and when that horse dies will a new Akhal-Teke Horse be chosen, and the National Emblem is updated. And with a new horse on the emblem will all the old national emblems all over Turkmenistan be replaced with the new emblem with the new horse.
So it´s not hard to understand why eating Horse is illegal in Turkmenistan, while horse meat is common in all other Central Asian countries.
Locals used to have free gas, water, petrol and electricity.
In 1993 did President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced subsidies that every person registered in a household is Turkmenistan should get 35-kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month, plus 250 litres of water per day and in 2008 did the new president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov include that every car over would get 120 Liters of fuel every month.
With this did the locals let the gas stove´s in their houses burn for 24/7 since it was cheaper to let the gas burn than by new matches.
Turkmenistan is the Only Neutral country in the world.
While there are a few countries in the world that are considered neutral with Sweden and Switzerland being the two longest-standing neutral nations in the world, but Turkmenistan is the only nation which is officially recognised by the United Nations as neutral Nation in the world when Saparmurat Niyazov in 1995 told during his speech that Turkmenistan would become a neutral country.
All 185 UN member (All members in 1995 states) voted for. In celebration of this, an olive branch was added to the flag.
And of course, did Niyazov order a monument to be built in the capital Ashgabat, The Arch of Neutrality 95meter tall, with of course is topped with a 12m tall gold statue of Saparmurat Niyazov himself which rotated so the statue on top would always face the sun. The rotation has now been turned off.
The most famous sight in Turkmenistan is a natural disaster.
The most famous site and the reason most foreign tourists want to visit is what is locally known as Darvaza Gas Crater is better known as the Gates To Hell aborad.
The Gates to hell was created by mistake in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern. This caused the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in.
After the crater was created, Geologists intentionally set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas. This was leaking from the crater, and it was the only way to stop a potential environmental catastrophe.
Geologists thought the crater would only burn for a few weeks; it has now been burning non-stop since 1971. That’s almost 50 years, and geologists still have no idea how much longer it will burn for. It might die out tomorrow, or it might burn for another 100 years, nobody knows.
But the funny thing is Turkmenistan does nothing to attract tourism with the Gates To Hell, the country seems pretty embarrassed by it, and while in Turkmenistan will you not see any photos from in inside the country, instead so are they trying to promote one of the 3 Historical sites that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List and Yangykala Canyon another natural wonder.
Even the locals you talk to in Turkmenistan are not aware of the site while it´s still the biggest attraction that draws tourists to Turkmenistan.
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