Blog | March 21, 2014

The diverse talents of Gurbanguly Malikgulyevich Berdymukhamedov, President of Turkmenistan

The people of Turkmenistan have not had much luck with their leaders in recent years, or much help from outside.

In 2006 we wrote about the European Commission turning a blind eye to corruption, lack of transparency and poor human rights in this repressive police state, in a bid to secure future gas deals.

We received credible estimates that in 2003 over US$3 billion was held overseas under the control of Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the country from 1985 until his death in 2006. Our 2009 report Undue Diligence showed how US$2 billion appeared to reside with the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund (FERF) at Deutsche Bank, a state account over which Niyazov had total control. This showed the urgent need for revenue transparency in Turkmenistan and beyond, and better controls over the state accounts of repressive regimes.

These days, the president may have changed – with former dentist Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ‘voted’ in in early 2007 – but the fortunes of Turkmenistan’s citizens haven’t. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have grown substantially, with international financial institutions estimating that the country held as much as US$20 billion around 2009. Global Witness believes that as much as 75% of this could still be held in the off-budget “FERF”.  It’s still not clear to the people of Turkmenistan how these riches are managed and who is benefitting.

More recently, we were alarmed by the news that Jennifer Lopez performed for President Berdymukhamedov’s birthday in June 2013. Turkmenistan is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world and has a dreadful human rights’ record. The US State Department’s 2012 Report on Human Rights in Turkmenistan noted examples of “arbitrary arrest; torture; and disregard for civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.”  Lopez later apologised, with a representative saying she wouldn’t have performed had she known about Turkmenistan’s human rights’ issues. Next time, we suggest Lopez googles the dictator’s name before serenading him.

Had she done so, she may also have discovered that his range of talents does not stop at keeping off-budget funds out of the sight of his country’s citizens. Here, we present the impressive range of extracurricular exploits of Gurbanguly Malikgulyevich Berdymukhamedov, President of Turkmenistan.

Here he is winning a bike race,

Turkmen bike

riding a jetski,

Turkmen jetski

winning a horse race,

Turkmen horse 1

although the horse then had other ideas, causing the security service to perform its own impromptu running race.

Turkmen horse 2

Here President Berdymukhamedov shows off his enthusiasm for jogging,

Turkmen jogging

his football and  photoshop skills (see the outline of the left foot, and the foreground grass compared to the pitch grass) ….

Turkmen foot

But his talents don’t just stop at sports. How about his forays into folk-pop?

Turkmen guitar

…playing the keyboard a la Kraftwerk?

Turkmen kraftwerk

or in the surgery (his dentistry skills surely coming into play here, though where’s the patient?)

Turkmen doctor

Here he shows off his melons.

Turkmen melon

And, finally, here he is on the high seas. Global Witness has written about the boat pictured behind him before….

Turkmen boat

All images from Turkmen State TV and the ‘Turkmen State Publishing House


  • Tom Mayne

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