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13.12.04 12:46

SERDAR\'S CITY

POPULAR RUSSIAN MAGAZINE \"VOKRUG SVETA\" WRITES ABOUT TURKMENISTAN AND ITS CAPITAL

The sun, rising above the city, has pulled a gallery in the palace of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great out of the predawn shade, glared in huge mirror windows of a white marble building and, shedding light all around the main square, flashed in thousands of sparks in the cleanest water of the palace\'s fountains.

A huge, gilded statue of the Eternal Ruler of Turkmenistan, on top of a tower-like Arch of Neutrality, faces the dawn, and the precious metal has instantly boiled up the first beams of the rising sun, making it known to standing beneath Ashgabat that a new day has arrived. The city, still deserted in this early morning hour and edged by the Kopetdag mountain, has met the morning with shining marble of the domes, gilded tops and music of hundred of fountains and looked like a symbol of great loneliness of a ruler who leads his people to the Golden Age, slated for the Turkmen state.

AMAZING TRANSFORMATION

A lift, going smoothly up along one of the stands of the Neutrality Arch, stopped at a panorama floor. From there, the very center of the city, one could see the whole Ashgabat, a new look of the capital in a web of its streets built by order of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, whose designs and taste define the modern architecture of Turkmenistan.

There is a small group of foreign tourists on the panorama floor, looking down at the city, which by will of the Great Architect stands ready to become an embodiment of his state and a treasury of the national memory. A white building of the Ruhiyet Palace towers up behind the square of the president, to the south from the Arch, with turquoise-colored domes that seem to have swallowed the Turkmen skies. Sunbeams, touching the Ride of Parades that closes up the square from the west, penetrated under the dome of the governmental tribune. Intolerable sheen of the gilded dome of the Turkmenbashi palace covered the entire square of the president, expanding it further and pushing back other buildings. A light wind brings flavor of exotic herbs from the beautiful garden surrounding the presidential palace and gets stuck in the trees of the Memorial Park, which cuts the capital\'s center in two parts. One can see from the height of the Arch that the city heads south, to the chill of the Kopetdag, stretching the lines of grand high ways with modern buildings, new hotels, banks, business centers, splendid residential houses up towards the mountains. Construction cranes, timber, hum of hardware, demolishing old soviet-time buildings, can be seen and heard from everywhere. Ashgabat is being dressed in marble, granite and gold coat at a fast pace. It seems like the time of Parthian kingdom is coming back to the Turkmen soil.

It was late in the night when, sorting out recollections of the past day, I asked myself a question: what happened to Turkmenistan that its capital had undergone such dramatic transformation?

MOURNFUL MEMORY

On the rainy morning of October 6, Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great came in the square in front of the Monument to victims of the earthquake.

The square was overcrowded. People, representatives of different enterprises and regions of the country, war veterans, school children and students, honorable elders wearing hats made of sheep-skin, officials wearing characteristic golden pin of Turkmenbashi\'s face on their jacket lapels, women in the national dress, military servicemen, foreign diplomats, numerous guards wearing the same hats waited for the start of the ceremony. No sooner had the president stepped on a red Turkmen carpet leading to the monument than everyone stopped talking and became all ears. In a dinging silence all the eyes were on Turkmenbashi, watching attentively the moves and words of the man who is perceived by Turkmens as an embodiment of the legendary forefather of Turks, Oguzhan.

Having approached members of the government, Turkmenbashi allowed them to kiss his hand and took a close look at everyone. The rain was heard falling down on the umbrella over the president, not daring to touch his black raincoat.

A prayer was offered in the square. Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great looked straight at a huge bronze bull, standing on a podium in the form of a cubic marble building and holding the globe on his horns. A woman\'s figure bent in paroxysm of the earthquake, standing out on the cut surface of the globe in a mess of people dying in the merciless natural catastrophe, holds high a gilded figure of the boy that survived by a miracle.

In this minute, the Eternal President of Turkmenistan might have recalled that horrible early morning of October 6, 1948, that demolished the walls in his house, in the village of Kypchak, near Ashgabat, killing Saparmurat Niyazov\'s mother and two brothers. He was 8 years old. Five years later, his father, Atamurat, died in the battlefield of World War II. A dark day, when Ashgabat was ruined to ground and less than 30,000 out of 200,000 people survived, had in many ways defined the fate of the boy who was to become Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great...

The president laid a wreath of flowers at the monument and, despite a heavy rainfall, stood in the square until the last flower was laid in memory of the earthquake\'s victims.

The square, finally, thinned out. The president got in his armored limo, and drove the car through the streets of the White City, in which everything reminded us of how high an orphan from Kipchak rose...

GLEAM OF GOLDEN CENTURY

Moving in a car around the Turkmen capital\'s streets, shaded windows pushed open, I gaze at Ashgabat, regularly encountering the look of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi from the portraits hanging on many buildings in the city. Slogans like \"Motherland, People, Turkmenbashi\", \"XXI century will be the Golden Century of Turkmens\" are everywhere. The last sentence, said by the president, is particularly popular in Turkmenistan.

The first visible signs of the arriving golden century are free electricity, gas, water, salt, unbelievably low gasoline prices, a symbolic fair for using public transport. Not very high average wages of about US$100-150 are compensated by low food and cloth prices. In fact, you can buy approximately 30 loaves of bread or one kilogram of meat for US$1. Very good quality jeans will cost you US$3. All local textile products are cheap and affordable. The assortment of goods and prices in big supermarkets and boutiques do not differ much from the Moscow\'s. The major part of the population prefers buying food and cloth in bazaars.

The sun is going down and the work on improving the city\'s look are still on. Dozens of people keep cleaning, sweeping, painting, washing, trying to achieve almost sterile cleanness at the Ashgabat streets. Yet, the Turkmen capital\'s good look was achieved thanks not only to hard work of municipal service workers but also owing to high penalties on those who litters and smokes in public places.

Hundreds of trees, bushes, redolent flowers, planted in Ashgabat, make us forget that one of the harshest deserts in the world lies right beyond the suburbs of the city. Kilometers of pipes, countless irrigation installations constantly supply water to herbs that need it so much. As for the hot summer and warm winter, they create excellent conditions for turning the city into a botanic garden.

The streets of the growing capital start experiencing more difficulties due to the growing number of cars - the number of Russian, Korean, Japan and German made cars in the streets is increasing. Local residents still can\'t get used to traffic jams in the streets of Ashgabat. Local traffic police control the observance of traffic regulations. Corruption was eradicated there owing to resubmitting the road police to the Ministry of Defense. Road hogs are charged severe fines that provide for a variety of defaults. For example, it is prohibited for drivers to talk over phone, eat, listen to loud music in the car. Drivers are also discouraged to honk in the late hours. Yet, you will hardly find a Turkmen driver that would refrain from giving a honk to a cute woman in the street.

We noticed that there were a lot of policemen in the city, officers of law enforcement agencies. You will see many small police booths, with \"02\" sign on them and on-duty policemen in them round the clock, in the crossroads and streets. We were told they stood there \"to ensure citizens\' security.\" For this or another reason, the crime rate in Ashgabat is extremely low. As a matter of fact, you can walk in the streets in the night and be sure that nobody would rob you.

We move in the car in the roads of Ashgabat, the night falling on us. People started gathering in the open spaces of cafes and restaurants. Despite the abundance of catering organizations in the city, they are full of people, and you will find no free tables in them on weekends or holidays. Ashgabat is the country\'s administrative center and the bigger part of people work in the ministries and establishments, institutes and a service sector. Many of them work at numerous construction sites, textile industry factories. The capital starts at 9-10 a.m. in the morning and all restaurants, cafes and entertainment places should get closed by 23 p.m. The silence is observed in the city after 23 hours p.m. Those who whish to continue the party move out of the city where restaurants, discos, dance and night clubs stay open all night long.

Like in Russia, many people here like to spend their weekends in the country-houses, near Ashgabat. Those who have 6, 8 or 12 hectares of land take this opportunity to have rest from the city, or grow vegetables and fruits to support their budgets. Beaches of the Caspian Sea near the town of Turkmenbashi are another favorable place to have rest for citizens of the Turkmen capital. Hundreds of Ashgabat citizens go there every year.

We have not seen a single homeless or beggar over the period of stay in Ashgabat. Surely, the status of exemplary city that tolerates no beggary has a certain impact on all walks of daily life of the capital\'s citizens. In any case, the absence of visible signs of the division in the society may be attributed to a great extent to mutual support from within the family, which is inherent in Turkmens. Tribal ties are strong there. Every member of a tribe can count on other members, even financially. Our driver, Rustam, just married, spent US$8,000 to arrange a wedding party. The sum is quite impressive even by Moscow\'s standards. As for Ashgabat, this is a good fortune. But it is considered a shame to cut down a wedding party\'s budget. Rustam\'s relatives helped him to mark this notable event in a worthy way. The time will come and he will pay it off.

There are also no homeless children in Ashgabat. Children don\'t hang up in the streets but go to schools. An Orphanage for those who lost their parents was built near the city under the personal control of Turkmenbashi, who did not forget his difficult childhood.

IN BIRTHPLACE OF ETERNAL PRESIDENT

We move to Kipchak through Ashgabat, which is getting a symbol of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi\'s rule, who wants to build a solid state pyramid for the nation and don\'t stumbles neither at his glorious past nor at his great future.

The car got past old parts of the city with houses spangled with satellite dishes, transmitting 4 Turkmen channels along with 30-50 foreign channels, including all Russian channels. We see glimpsing green building-plates with numbers on them, starting with 2000, signifying the beginning of the Golden Century of the Turkmen people. This number also marks a square in front of the presidential palace. Numeration goes up or down, depending on the distance from the square. Exceptions are made only for particularly important names of streets.

We got past the Olympic stadium with a giant roof named after Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. A broad and extremely level highway built by Iranian specialist, with super modern buildings covered in Italian marble and built by French and Turkish companies, takes us to the city\'s suburb.

A straight line of the highway took us out of the capital, mountains got closer, the car\'s speedometer showed 100 km/h speed. We reached Kipchak, a home village of the President, in 20 minutes. Four giant minarets can be seen from the distance as if telling us that we approach the place where Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great was born. The giant mosque was built in such a way that even the sun, hiding behind a colossal dome, gave a silent bow in respect to this place.

A huge, white mosque, reminding us of famous Taj Mahal, was closed to public. Decoration works were under way there. Suras from Koran, mixed up with quotations from the sacred book, Ruhnama, a moral code for all Turkmens written by Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, were engraved on its walls. The mosque can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers.

There is an inscription on a memorial table at the entrance to a memorial park planted near the mosque, saying: \"Victims of the earthquake rest here: the mother, brothers of the first president of independent, permanently neutral Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. May paradise be their home and may they be guarded by Imams.\"

We got back to Ashgabat late in the night. The Independence Square was lit up by numerous lamps and projectors. We walked along the Main parkway from 10 Years of Prosperity Street where a gilded statue of the president stood surrounded by the five-headed eagles-fountains. Wide, white marble stairs brought us to the Independence Monument, a semi-spherical building with a 91 m long pillar, which has monumentalized the year of 1991 when Turkmenistan gained independence. We got in through one of the parade entrances of the monument that astonished us with its splendid inner decoration. This museum of national treasures contains beautiful samples of jewelry works, steel arms and firearms and a numismatic collection.

One of the main stands demonstrated a sketch of the state emblem of Turkmenistan sealed by the sign of the President. A gorgeous Akhalteke horse of extraordinary, golden color flashed in the center of the emblem against the blue background.

A guide standing behind us said: \"This is not an ordinary horse. This is Yanardag, a fire mountain in Russian translation. He is our President\'s horse.\"

STABLE FOR EMBLEM

- Only Ahalteke horse can have this color, said Yusup Annaklychev, the director of the National equestrian center of Turkmenistan, showing us the four-year old stallion taken out of the clean stable.

The stallion was really good. He had a lean, husky body, playing with muscles, long chiseled legs, long neck and a hawk-nosed head. There are over 200 such beauties in a newly built equestrian, standing to the south of Ashgabat.

Akhalteke horses are one of the oldest breeds. Both Arab and English breeds were bred on the basis of Teke horses. Turkmens and their ancestors have nursed their horses over thousands of years, turning the horse breeding into the real art. The territory of southern Turkmenistan is considered the very ancient center of horse breeding. It is known for sure, that forefathers of the Turkmen nation - Massagets, Saks, Parthians - owned beautiful military horses bred specifically for this purpose. A horse was an object of worshipping for these peoples. One can easily recognize the figures of modern Akhalteke horses on the old depictions of this horse. The Parthian capital, Nissa, situated near Ashgabat, was famous for its \"winged horses\" in the entire antique world.

Turkmens, who inherited the horse breeding traditions from their ancestors, have bred a perfect model, the Akhalteke breed. It is impossible to describe what horse means to Turkmens. She is a family member, a best friend and a loyal companion. That is why Turkmens were the only people of the Turkic peoples that did not eat horsemeat.

Permanent trainings, care, comparable to that of a child, a special ration of feeding, fine and hot climate, participation in long and full of threats raids hammered out the Akhalteke breed, known for great stamina, speed, strong character and acumen. No other horse breed can boast long distance rides. Take for example a ride from Ashgabat to Moscow in 1935 when Turkmen riders covered a total of 4,300 km in 81 days.

Marshal of the USSR, G.K.Zhukov commanded the Victory Parade on the Red Square on the back of Akhalteke horse called Arab who was one of the participants of that ride. We were told that the marshal needed a horse that would feel the beat of march played by the brass band. After a thorough selection 10 horses were chosen. Testing contestants at long and exhausting rehearsals, members of the commission could not agree on any of them and initially chose the English horse. The discussion drew out, horses were put in a stable and the band, tired of playing march, played waltz. And there came Arab\'s turn. He leapt a fence and broke into the yard. As if musing on something, he stood for a while and started dancing in waltz. The witnesses of this scene decided at once that this horse was the one they looked for.

...And there came more amazing horses from the stable. Young jockeys under supervision of the people\'s artist of the USSR, Amandurdy Annayev, who traveled world wide with his horse circus, demonstrated wonderful riding skills. Riding around the circle and standing on their ends, horses looked very healthy and well-attended. We made a short tour of a recently launched complex to make sure of this.

Built on the personal instruction of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, the equestrian center became a sort of sanctuary of horse worshipping. Horses are attended and loved in this sanctuary of one of the national symbols of Turkmenistan.

Situated in the foothills of the Kopetdag, the complex worth US$30 mln occupies a total of 56 hectares. The territory is strikingly clean and green. A level asphalt of the motorway brought us to a one-storey building of the veterinary department and immunology laboratory whose white inner walls suggested that we should put on sterile cloth. Immunologists look to the purity of the Akhalteke breed, certificated veterinary doctors conduct mandatory medical checkups. There are examination rooms, surgery, X-ray in the hospital for horses equipped according to latest standards. There are also a sequestration room, a water pool and showers, riding and training grounds nearby.

We saw big and bright stables with straw on the floor of looses where horses ate while we passed by. Their ration includes hay, lucerne, oat, barley as well as oil, eggs, sugar, water-melons, vitamins. There is a small plant to produce fodder in the territory of the complex. In case of electricity supply emergency the complex will switch to the autonomous electricity supply.

The complex also has grounds for riding, showjamping and a riding school. There are few such equestrians in the world. We saw a hippodrome, stands for 5,000 spectators. Three running lines with herb and sand cover were built there for horse race. Inner rooms of the stands for VIP persons look more like a museum devoted to Akhalteke horses. The ornament that depicts running wrangles is twisting along the ceiling like an endless ribbon. A marble floor is decorated with a mosaic panel in the shape of running horses. Gilt-framed pictures of the famous Akhalteke horses, not famous riders, hang on the walls. Only one man was given an exception - a portrait of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi hangs at the entrance. The complex was named after him.

A few days later, attending Sunday\'s horse race at the Ashgabat hippodrome, we were able to see what the Akhalteke horse, or \"saddled wind\", can do. These horses run at full gallop right from the start with no visible efforts exerted, keeping stalk carriage. People in the stands cheered the riders up, coaches were nervous and the race winner got covered with a beautiful Turkmen carpet at a central stand. This gorgeous decoration covered the horse to the ground, and the history of Turkmen tribes came to life in the fine ornaments on the carpet.

ORNAMENT OF ETERNITY

The Carpet Museum\'s rooms are quiet and unmanned. We were fascinated at the sight of a carpet woven in XVII century, retaining amazing freshness of colors that makes its ornament come to life. Turkmen carpet weaving, dating back to the first century B.C., is regarded as the highest form of the people-applied art of this country. That is why Turkmenistan\'s emblem is decorated by Gels, carpet ornaments, as a symbol of the ancient Turkmen nation.

In Europe, Turkmen carpets had long been known as Persian or Buhara carpets. Judges of this art used to buy carpets of Turkmen craftsmen at the markets of those countries. They paid fancy price for them. They collected them and took them away as war trophies.

Carpets and carpet products accompanied Turkmens through all times. They were used to warm and decorate houses and served as cradles for children. Turkmens kept various households in them and covered camels with them and used them in funerals. There are over 100 types of carpet products, each for specific purpose. Every Turkmen woman could weave a carpet, they were taught this craft from the early age. A loom stood at the side of a cradle and a baby suddenly got accustomed to the basics of mastership.

Every Turkmen tribe boasted a particular feature in carpet weaving, widely known all over Turkmenistan, and their specific ornaments and hue were a peculiar tribal emblem. Carpet ornaments resembled daily work of Turkmens, outward things and significant historic events. Ornaments of many carpets tell us about pre-Islamic times in Turkmenistan, fixed various stages of development and the establishment of the Turkmen society. Carpet ornaments were a peculiar script, many pages of which are still to be unraveled.

The world only Carpet Museum, whose officers deal with the exhibition, storage, research, restoration and recreation of the unique handmade carpet ornaments, was set up by the resolution of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi in Ashgabat in 1993. At present, the museum keeps over 2,000 exhibits, including the unique one-sided, two-sided and relief carpets. The carpet\'s quality is defined by its density, and the density depends on the number of knots tied by a craftswoman in one square meter. A good carpet has 200-300 knots in 1 m2. We saw a carpet with over 1 million knots in 1 m2. They used to say about such carpets that they are \"solid like a stone and subtle like a rose.\" Years would pass before such a masterpiece was made. Sometimes, a craftswomen spent the most part of her life weaving a carpet, living through tough times and taking a fresh look at her life. Then, the carpet became a peculiar reflection of the world outlook of a craftswoman.

...We climb up the stairs to the balcony of the bright and big hall. Climate control equipment maintains humidity and temperature at the needed level. The world biggest handmade carpet, \"The Golden Century of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great\", decorates the wall of this new wing, which was specifically thrown out. 38 craftswomen from the Baharden carpet factory weaved this carpet in 7 months, working in three changes. The carpet has 301 m2 and weighs 1,200 kg. A giant carpet, made of the reinforced yarn, was dedicated to the 10th anniversary of independence of Turkmenistan. The presidential standard, a five-headed eagle, was the main ornament of the classic red carpet. The carpet\'s sides were framed with a styling picture of Saparmurat Niyazov\'s work, the sacred book of Ruhnama. His words, \"XXI century will be the Golden Century of Turkmens\", weaved in gold underlined the carpet...

It was evening. The gleam of the autumn sun has long ebbed. The night was arriving. The Kopetdag mountain, belted by the chain of lights, could be seen from our window. These lights were the lamps on the path of Serdar, the path of the Leader, a giant concrete stair twisting over the foothills of the Kopetdag from Ashgabat to Nissa, the ancient capital of the great Parthian state. This 38-km long \"path of health\" is both hard and thorny. Not everyone can cover it, despite comfortable handhold and shadowy summerhouses with gilded roofs. Those who can make it to the end will be able to touch the times of powerful Parthian kingdom that became an inverse image of the Golden Century promised by Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great.\"

Dmitry IVANOV,

Department editor

Photo by Andrei SEMASHKO

\"VOKRUG SVETA\" magazine, № 12, December 2004.

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