If you happen to be in downtown Ashgabat today – the capital of the Middle East nation of Turkmenistan – you might notice something new.
There is now a 65 foot-high statue of ‘s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov riding a golden horse atop a cliff of white marble in the center of town, the Guardian reports.
“My main goal is to serve the people and the motherland. And so, I will listen to the opinion of the people and do as they choose,” said Berdymukhamedov in 2014, in response to the proposal to honour him with a statue, the Guardian reports.
The gaudy monument recalls the Bronze Horsemen in St. Petersburg – which was built to honour Peter the Great – and reinforces Berdymukhamedov image as “Arkadag” or “protector” of Turkmenistan. Around the world, Berdymukhamedov is accused of presiding over one of the most pervasive personality cults in the world, rivaling that of North Korea, the Guardian reports.
The former dentist was the Minister of Health under late President Saparmurat Niyazov and has kept many of his predecessors isolationist policies in place. Turkmenistan – a gas-rich desert nation – has no free media, allows its citizens little foreign travel, has closed many hospitals outside the capital, and has banned the opera and the circus, the Guardian says.
Niyazov had also built a large golden statue of himself which Berdymukhamedov promptly had moved to the edge of town when he came to power.
The Guardian says thatBerdymukhamedovis fond of horseback riding and has written a book about horses. At the unveiling of the statue on Monday, Berdymukhamedov compared Turkmenistan to a horse.
“Our country is moving forward with the speed of an Akhal-Teke stallion (a famous Turkmen breed of horse) and I call on you all to move forward and only forward,” he said, according to the Guardian.
Ironically, there is a video on Youtube of Berdymukhamedov falling off a horse during a race in 2013 to mark “The Day of the Horse” – an official holiday in Turkmenistan.
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