Keeping the ‘Stans Straight, part 3: Turkmenistan


Capital: Ashgabat

Location: North of Iran and Afghanistan, it shares a Western border with the Caspian Sea.

In a nutshell: Under President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan became one of the most bizarre, isolated countries in the world. The authoritarian Niyazov, who was surrounded by an enormous cult of personality, had a propensity for naming things after himself: months, mountains, cities, and even a meteorite. His death in 2006 cleared the way for new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, who has since enacted some modest reforms.

How you know it: You once chipped a tooth while trying to pronounce the name of the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow.

Interesting factoid: In 2004, Niyazov prohibited the men in his country from having long hair or beards. In a rare moment of good judgment, he also outlawed ballet and opera performances, saying they were “not a part of Turkmen culture.”

Make sure to check out: The Neutrality Arch (pictured above), located in Ashgabat, features a golden statue of Niyazov which rotates in a slow circle so that it always faces the sun. Oh-kay.

See also: Part 1 of this series, Kyrgyzstan, and Part 2, Kazakhstan.