Turkmenistan will build Arkadag in honor of the country’s strongman, a former dentist turned dictator.

Yes, we’ve been talking about it since 2018. But its name was only made official last December: Arkadag, as in “protector of the nation”, as Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is called, who served as the country’s president from 2007 to 2022 and remains the strong man of this Central Asian state.

30 kilometers from the capital, Ashgabat. It is already announced that it will be splendid. With big white marble buildings and golden statues representing Berdymukhammedov. The first phase of the project would have cost 3.3 billion dollars, the second will reach “about” 1.5 billion, according to an announcement made this week by the Turkmen government… which does not however exclude a cost overrun.

To pay homage to Berdymoukhammedov, quite simply. This 65-year-old ex-dentist, known for his megalomania and his cult of personality, is not at his first delirium. But this mushroom city promises to be his great work. “They are making a city for it, or rather its outrageousness. This explains the swelling of the sums invested. In essence, we want to show that the country has no problems, ”observes Michaël Levystone, associate researcher at the Russia / New Independent States center of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). The Turkmen government claims that this city planned for 73,000 inhabitants will be “smart” and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. But we still don’t know exactly why!

This would not be the first record claimed by Turkmenistan. According to Guinness, the country also boasts the largest indoor Ferris wheel in the world, the largest concentration of marble skyscrapers, the largest number of fountains in a single park (27) and the largest building in the shape of a star.

Forget that. Turkmenistan is one of the most closed places on the planet. Good luck getting your visa. Independent since 1991, this former Soviet republic has turned into a totalitarian regime, in the most Stalinist sense of the term. No opposition, no dispute, no right to say no. Its population of six million lives under a blanket of lead. According to Reporters Without Borders, the country is at the bottom of the ranking for freedom of expression, just before North Korea, Eritrea and Iran.

Precisely, you bring me to speak about environment… Sixth producer of gas on the planet, Turkmenistan is also the largest emitter of methane in the world. According to the organization Kayrros, the country would have caused 184 “super emissions” in 2022, far ahead of India and the United States, which counted “only” 155. These ultra-polluting leaks – and largely responsible for global warming – can be explained, among other things, by the obsolescence of Turkmen equipment, dating from the Soviet era.

In effect. The Turkmen government does good business exporting its gas, mainly to China. But the country is not doing well and the benefits are limited for the population. It is estimated that 50% of Turkmen live below the poverty line. In this context, the 5 billion city project is puzzling.

There were legislative elections this week, but without opposition parties! It was the first ballot since President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, 40, took over from his father, Gurbanguly, in March 2022. But make no mistake: despite appearances, it’s still dad pulling the strings. In January, the latter was appointed head of a new supreme body which has control over the main orientations of the country. “It’s a game of musical chairs,” says Michaël Levystone. But these elections are the confirmation of a situation that has already been recorded, namely the return of Gourbangouly to business. »

Apparently. The good news – if there is any – is that Gourbangouly is a very entertaining head of state. A full-time dictator, the gentleman is also a part-time musician and jockey. His guitar solos in dry ice have made the rounds of the internet, as have his numerous appearances on horseback to exalt national sentiment. Not to mention his passion for the alabai, the country’s emblematic dog, for which he erected a 19-foot-tall golden statue. Strangely, this monument is not in the Book of Records…