Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov Dies at 66

Turkmenistan’s dictator is dead.

President Saparmurat Niyazov, who created a vast cult of personality during two decades of iron-fisted rule over arid, energy-rich Turkmenistan, has died, officials said Thursday. He was 66.

Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov Dies at 66 Photo President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan at a meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Janaury. (The Associated Press) A terse report from state television said Niyazov died early Thursday of heart failure and showed a black-framed portrait of the man who had ordered citizens to refer to him as “Turkmenbashi” — the Father of All Turkmen. An announcer in a dark suit read a list of Niyazov’s accomplishments.


Turkmenistan’s State Security Council named Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguli Berdymukhamedov the acting president, even though the Constitution required Parliament Speaker Overzgeldy Atayev to take over as acting head of state. The council’s resolution said the General Prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal investigation against Atayev, making him ineligible to fill in as president. The move could herald a battle for succession between rival groups in the Turkmen administration.


Niyazov had led Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was still a Soviet republic. After the 1991 Soviet collapse, he retained control and began creating an elaborate personality cult and turning Turkmenistan into one of the most oppressive of the ex-Soviet states.

He ordered the months and days of the week named after himself and his family, and statues of him were erected throughout the nation. He is listed as author of the “Rukhnama” (Book of the Soul) that was required reading in schools. Children pledged allegiance to him every morning. He crushed all opposition and drew condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments.

His death, after two decades of wielding enormous power, raised concerns about whether political instability would follow. “His death means a terrible shock for the republic, its residents and the political class. It’s comparable to a shock the Soviet Union felt after Stalin’s death,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Moscow-based Politika think tank, was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

It’s easy to say that it couldn’t get much worse for the Turkmen but, as we saw in some of the Muslim republics after the fall of the Soviet Union and in post-Saddam Iraq, things do sometimes get worse during the transition.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Good news to start the day off!

  2. Mark says:

    He ordered the months and days of the week named after himself and his family

    So did he die on a Saparmurat in the month of Niyazov?

  3. Jem says:

    The poor doctoral candidates in the universities. Who will approve their theses now?

    On June 1 [2004], Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Education will implement President Saparmurat Niyazov’s order to invalidate all higher education degrees received outside the country since 1993, and to dismiss holders of such degrees from state jobs. Decree No. 126, as the new measure is called, is the latest in a long series of educational restrictions, and represents a major blow to the country’s student population and dwindling professional class.

    From Eurasianet.org (“Turkmenistan’s Education System in Downward Spiral”, http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/rights/articles/eav050504.shtml)