Turkmenistan: Citizens Given 'Great Book' to Improve Spiritual Lives


Agence France Presse

20 February 2001

ASHKHABAD -- Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has bid to extend his authority over this former Soviet state even further by publishing a code of spiritual conduct for his fellow citizens.

The book, called the Rukhname, has been billed as a program of spiritual development, a code of moral and ethical commandments and a charter for how the citizens of this central Asian republic should act.

In a three-hour speech to the Peoples Council Sunday, the idiosyncratic president-for-life -- known for his authoritarian disposition -- said the book would "determine the main criteria for the development of the Turkmen people and their moral qualities in the 21st century."

However the Rukhname is likely to become simply another instrument in the glorification of Niyazov who is already the subject of an elaborate personality cult and was declared president for life by parliament in 1999.

The 60-year-old leader has said he wants Rukhname to be a "great book" comparable to the Bible and the Koran which would accompany his people "on their historic journey."

Niyazov's admirers in the state-controlled media have already likened him to a prophet. "After the Prophet Mohammed, who spread the Koran among Muslims, there will be a new teaching proclaimed by a man called Saparmurat Niyazov," Kayum Tangrykuliyev wrote in the official daily Neutralny Turkmenistan. The president's program "will answer all life's questions," Murad Karyev, deputy head of Turkmenistan's council on religion, said.

A draft copy distributed Sunday to a select audience at the Peoples Council received due praise from delegates who suggested that it be renamed Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen, as the president is known. "Rukhname is a titanic work. We will study it and be led by its teachings in everything we do. It is a source of light for this and future generations," Mukhamed Aidogdyev, director of Turkmenistan's History Institute, opined.

Part one of Niyazov's weighty tome is addressed to individual concerns such as health, the need to give up bad habits, to learn to read and get an education, and to follow the advice of parents. The second part, Niyazov told delegates, deals with the past and future of the Turkmen people, drawing on local legends and history, the utterances of great poets and philosophers, and folk-sayings.

Niyazov said the Rukhname was based on the Koran and worked on the principle that the Turkmen are mostly Muslim. It was unclear what effect the book would have on other religious groups. Niyazov Sunday criticised unnamed "activists" who he said tempted his people with "foreign religions" and offered them money to change their faith. Turkmenistan has been frequently criticised by the United States and watchdog groups for limiting the freedom to worship.

Although a modest revival of Islam has taken place in Turkmenistan since 1991, the government exerts significant control over religious activities and lays down strict criteria for the registration of congregations. Only Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians are officially registered.

However the Rukhname is unlikely to come in for much criticism in this desert nation where Niyazov controls all branches of the government and the media. A final version is expected in October on the tenth anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence.


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