2000, Rest day in Ashgabad
impression of Ashgabad ("city of love"), yesterday, was dominated
by extremely low-rise single houses, almost a rural touch. Ashgabad was
totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1948 and so all building is past
that date and only few dare to build more than one floor. Accordingly
there is not much to see apart from Communist statues or the post-communist
buildings by Turkmenbashi.
Turkmenbashi ("head of all Turkmens") is running the country
since Turkmenistan became independent from the Soviet Union. Apparently
he was reelected democratically ever since then, the last time he got
99.9 % of all votes with noone opposing him. Just like in old days there
were photos of Lenin and Stalin there are now photos of Turkmenbashi and
paroles put up on the streets such as "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbasy"
("People, fatherland, Turkmenbashi) or "Turkmens are the golden
people". Turkmenistan is reasonably rich due to gas and petrol and
will be even more rich when they find someone to sell it to and build
the pipelines, so the president is spending millions on prestige objects.
Any opposition is oppressed and "communist bureaucracy/power thinking"
is still widespread. So politically Turkmenistan has not developed much.
Concerning industry the outlook is more positive, also due to the natural
resources. The Mercedes-Benz service center has the most modern equipment
and professional staff. Like other parts of the Turkmen industry it is
run by Turks who took their chance immediately after the opening of the
Central Asian republics and invested in these countries. We spend most
of our day at the service center solving the problems we had yesterday.
Petrol is cheap in Turkmenistan, a full tank is about $3. Taxi cabs are
accordingly cheap and every second car in Ashgabad seems to be an unofficial
taxi. The crime rate is extremely low and so women are not afraid of using
these cabs (as would be the case in Istanbul or other big cities).
Russian president Putin is expected to come to Ashgabad soon, so some
of us are forced to stay in a different hotel. Our hotel is another one
of those Turkmenbashi prestige objects: Slightly outside of Ashgabat,
there are about fifteen different hotels, each with its own Disney-type
design but each with only twenty bedrooms. This area is often called "Las
Vegas" and the buildings by Turkmenbashi do remind of Las Vegas:
In the middle of the desert there are palaces like the parliament, museum
and presidential residence, modern buildings (the president's palace has
lots of satellite dishes while most foreign media is banned in the country)
with clichés of the past.
Our hotel claims to be five-star but although clean, equipped and modern
lacks in many things and staff has a weird touch. Receptionists act as
if they never have seen hotel guests before and the cleaning ladies decide
to totally clear up our room, throwing away plastic foils I kept to transport
official results can be looked up on this website
not too many
of this model in Ashgabat
So this is where
that rattling noise came from...
originally from Istanbul, with the broken fixation pin)
In the foreground
Turkmeni women (who are generally quite attractive) with traditional
In the background a modern shopping center built by Turks
as this lady and her son were, we still decided not to buy any dried
fish from them
about two thirds
of the Mercedes rally participants meet again at Mercedes-Benz Ashgabat,
mostly to do general service
And this must
be where that scratching noise came from...
our bent sump
guard (installed to protect the motor block from greater damage)
The German embassy
(currently without ambassador to save money) invites us to a nice
Our hotel with
the obligatory photograph of Turkmenbashi
museum, behind those mountains lies Iran.