Guests arrive to watch a festive concert in the newly inaugurated city of Arkadag, outside the capital Ashgabat, on Thursday. AFP
To cries of “Glory to the Protector!”, Turkmenistan on Thursday inaugurated Arkadag, a $5-billion “smart” city, built in honour of former strongman leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, cementing one of the most extraordinary personality cults in the world.
Serdar Berdymukhamedov, his son and current president, unveiled the city around 30 kilometres southwest of the capital, Ashgabat, during a grandiose ceremony attended by AFP journalists.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian nation is one of the most secretive countries in the world, and access for foreign media is extremely rare.
Members of the international delegations gather for the ceremony inaugurating the new city of Arkadag. AFP
The new city — not yet populated — is built in the foothills of the picturesque Kopet-Dag mountains and named after Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who ruled the country between 2006 and 2022 and now carries the title Hero Arkadag (Protector).
“Glory to Arkadag and Serdar, glory to the Turkmen leader,” participants dressed in traditional Turkmen clothes chanted during the ceremony, which took place under a scorching sun.
The former president, who turned 66 on Thursday, remains the real decision-maker in the country, observers say.
Riders lead Akhan, a favourite Akhal-Teke horse of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, during a ceremony of the officially opening of the new Arkadag city
Rights groups have accused Turkmenistan of channelling money from its gas profits to lavish projects promoting Berdymukhamedov’s personality cult, with little benefit for the wider population.
Arkadag, which is in an earthquake zone, will eventually have a population of around 73,000, authorities have said.
The city is dotted with monuments including a sculpture in honour of Berdymukhamedov atop an Akhal-Teke horse, his favourite breed.
Officials have billed Arkadag as a “city of the future,” adding that “green” technologies were used in its construction.
An employee of the construction and architecture ministry said that Berdymukhamedov had closely overseen the project and provided his “valuable recommendations.”
Actors wearing Turkmen national costumes dance during a ceremony of the officially opening of the new Arkadag city. AP
“Thanks to his efforts, a beautiful city has appeared on the land of our valiant ancestors,” the employee said on condition of anonymity. The opening ceremony lasted three hours, involving national dances, horse shows and a fireworks show.
At the centre of the city is the 43-metre statue of the former dentist, who handed the presidency to his son, Serdar, in 2022.
The statue is in honour of the “great son of the Turkmen people,” the member of the construction and architecture ministry said.
The golden statue shows the Turkmen leader on his favourite horse, holding the reins in one hand as the animal stands on its hind legs, while his right arm seems to show the way forward. The statue is reminiscent of those built to imperial kings and emperors.
Authorities have said that “the best conditions” have been created for the future residents of Arkadag, the first “smart city” in the desert-covered country that borders the Caspian Sea. But despite the pomp in his honour, Berdymukhamedov was not in attendance at the ceremony, sending his son Serdar instead.
The elder Berdymukhamedov was making the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
“This was a truly historic day that will be inscribed in golden letters in the glorious chronicle of the independent and neutral homeland,” the Turkmen news agency assured.
And as the regime opened a new city in honour of the leader, it also announced that a new book had been published by Berdymukhamedov, a sequel to his book entitled “The Meaning of Life.” It was already a “national treasure,” authorities said.