- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan Turkmenistan's eccentric President Saparmurat Niyazov, after whom cities, airports and even an aftershave have been named, has suggested renaming the 12 months of the year after himself, his mother and other national heroes.

Mr. Niyazov, officially known as Turkmenbashi, or Father of all the Turkmens, proposed that January be renamed Turkmenbashi at a meeting of the People's Council, the former Soviet republic's highest consultative body.

"We must have a calendar with months named after national personalities," the autocratic president of this largely desert Central Asian state told the annual People's Council. "And I offer to call the first month of the year Turkmenbashi."

Other months are to be given names such as "The Flag," "Independence" and "Rukhnama," the title of a quasi-religious spiritual guide written by Mr. Niyazov and published last year. Names of national heroes and poets will also be used.

But April will be called "Mother" in an apparent reference to Mr. Niyazov's own mother, who died in an earthquake in 1948 when he was a child.

A delegate to the council immediately suggested going one step further and renaming April "Gurbansoltan," her name, which the president promised to consider.

Gurbansoltan was made a national heroine in July by Turkmenistan's parliament for her outstanding services to the country. Statues of her have appeared across Ashgabat in recent years, although they are far outnumbered by monuments to her son.

December will be called Bitaraplyk, or Neutrality, to mark the resource-rich republic's neutral status.

The Turkmen leader said he also wanted to rename the days of the week, and call them respectively, Bash Gun (Main Day), Yash Gun (Young Day), Hosh Gun (Good Day), Sogap Gun (Blessed Day), Anna (Friday), Rukh Gun (Spiritual Day) and Dynch Gun (Rest Day).

Turkmenistan, which shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan, has been a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism and hosts a small number of American troops to help in refueling planes carrying aid supplies into Afghanistan.

Mr. Niyazov, 62, who has ruled the country since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was offered the presidency for life in 1999, although he has said he may step down and hold elections in 2010.

But yesterday's People's Council meeting, broadcast live on state television (which carries a golden silhouette of Mr. Niyazov at all times), firmly rejected this, as delegate after delegate insisted they wanted him to stay in power until he died, Reuters news agency reported.

Mr. Niyazov's decision is certain to be rubber-stamped by the parliament in this remote state of 5 million people.

But ordinary people in the streets of the capital Ashgabat expressed a resigned disgust at their president's latest show of vanity.

"This is a joke. The entire civilized world lives by the same calendar, but Niyazov decides to set us apart once again. It seems like he lives on another planet," complained pensioner Bairam Orazov, 72.

Mr. Niyazov has run Turkmenistan with an iron grip for 17 years since he became Communist Party chief in 1985 and now holds the posts of president, prime minister, commander in chief and head of the only registered party.

Streets, cities, a refinery and aftershave are just some of the items named after Mr. Niyazov, whose portrait hangs from every public building. The capital's skyline is dominated by a huge, rotating golden statue of the president.

Last week, officials announced that the president would publish a collection of poems about his life and the history of his people.

The collection of poems, which will be grouped under headings such as "You Are a Turkmen," "The Fate of the Turkmens Is My Fate" and "Mother," is expected to be included in the school education program.

But while Mr. Niyazov has used the gas wealth to build golden-domed palaces and opulent parks studded with exotic palm trees around the Turkmen capital, most of the country's inhabitants remain mired in poverty.

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