Many of you may have read or heard the rumours that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the President of Turkmenistan, had passed away. The rumour started from the Russian news agency TASS and quickly did the rounds on the internet. After a week of rumours the Turkmenistan State News Service released an epic video of him doing burnouts at the Gates of Hell to prove that he was in fact alive, which also went viral online. Hypothetically, of course, this could have been filmed at any time – no doubt they have a large archive of him doing some pretty sweet moves, so as they say: “see it to believe it”.
Well, we can now ourselves confirm 100% that he is alive.
So where did we see him? We were lucky enough to see him at the 28th Anniversary of Independence celebrations in Ashgabat. Not only did we see him, but as usual we were the only foreign tourists to be at those events and to have the privilege of seeing him.
Our enthusiastic group woke up at 4am to head the National Hippodrome, knowing that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow would indeed be in attendance. Everyone has to arrive hours in advance as a security precaution, and to make sure that everyone is set up well and truly before he arrives, but actually we’re the lucky ones – we only need to get there 4 hours in advance. Many of the locals are there overnight, and by the time we arrive they’re all already set up in their positions, waiting and ready to go.
After a great day of horse racing, we were summoned to leave the stadium first, before anyone else, and taken to an anteroom. Not only does everyone have to be firmly in their seats hours before the President arrives, but they also need to stay put until he’s well and truly left. So with everyone else still sitting patiently in their seats, we stood with bated breath from our vantage point, surrounded by security, waiting for him to leave. We could see the magnificent array of Turkmens dressed in their national clothes, dancing, waving flowers and chanting “Arkadaga Shohrat” (Glory to the Great Protector), lining a huge, plush carpet. When he did finally appear the cheering started, those not dancing enthusiastically clapped, and he walked to his car and got in the driver’s seat. Yes, he does drive himself everywhere!
How did this all happen? We have been attending the Independence Day celebrations now for several years, and are still the only ones that are taking tourists to these events. Every year we get a large number of inquiries from people who have booked tours with other companies or on transit visas asking if we can get them access to any of the Independence Day events. The answer unfortunately is no. Turkmen bureaucracy is nothing to be laughed at, and the only way we can make it happen is if you’ve booked your tour with us. It didn’t happen overnight – it took years of schmoozing all the right people, but now the hard work is done and we get to reap the rewards!
For a man who the world believed had died a few weeks ago, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is looking in great health.
(Potentially) catch a glimpse of the big man yourself on our Turkmenistan Easter tour in 2020!