The breaking news this morning is that Turkmenistan’s oddball dictator / President Saparmurat Niyazov died of a heart attack late last night.
The news was announced on state television, over the image of a Turkmen flag, surrounded by a black border:
“Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) the Great has died.”
Official confirmation came shortly afterwards from a senior Presidential official, speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti:
“We can confirm only the fact of the president’s death. We are not authorized to give any additional information on the cause of death.”
Niyazov was something of an oddball President, to say the least. This is the man, after all, who reinvented the Turkmen calendar, naming many of the the months and days of the week after himself, his mother, and other close family members. For an insight into the oddities of the Turkmenbashi, father of the Turkmen peoples, see this Sunday Times article.
Others, including myself, would say that Niyazov was a mad evil dictator, and will be celebrating his demise.
Where this will leave Turkmenistan and, indeed, the rest of Centra Asia is very uncertain. Niyazov was, effectively, an absolute dictator. Turkmenistan under his regime was an incredibly secretive state and very few analysts will have a good idea of who will step up to replace him. Beware of articles which identify the future direction of Turkmenistani politics in the next few days.
I think the only certainty is that his death will leave a massive power vacuum. This was completely unexpected, and there are uncertain times ahead for Turkmenistan.
The BBC article on his death gives an indication of the first problem the country will face in trying to find a successor:
According to Turkmen law, the president is succeeded by the head of the legislative body, the People’s Assembly. However, this post was held by Mr Niyazov himself.
All the same, I’d imagine most Turkmen are quite relieved this morning.
News on this story will doubtless continue to break through the day, and I’d imagine Registan will be keeping up to date with the latest developments.