Thursday, December 21, 2006

Niyazov is dead!

Asia's "other" freakish personality-cult dictator, Turkmenistan's President-for-Life Sapurmurat Niyazov, died today, reportedly of a heart attack. Most Americans have never heard of Niyazov — for that matter, most Americans have never heard of Turkmenistan — but his death is significant on several levels. Just for starters, the former Soviet "republic" of Turkmenistan is a major producer of natural gas. Aside from that, Turkmenistan borders two countries of strategic importance, Iran and Afghanistan. The unemployment rate is 60%, making it a powder keg for violent unrest, just waiting for the right match. Roughly 70% of the people are Sunni Muslims, with about 20% Shia Muslims, although the reverence publicly expressed for Niyazov verged on worship: you could hardly turn a corner in the capital city without running into a portrait or statue of "Turkmenbashi," the Father of all Turkmen. Freedom of religion and of the press have been effectively eliminated under President Niyazov, which is officially a one-party dictatorship. No immediate successor has been named.

The events of the next few days in Turkmenistan will reverberate throughout central Asia and the former Soviet Union. In the mean time, rejoice that this evil scumbag no longer walks the face of the earth.

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P.S. Turkmenistan is also one of only 15 nations on earth that have not visited my area code web site.