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Our questions, our answers |  5 billion for a city that came out of nowhere…

Our questions, our answers | 5 billion for a city that came out of nowhere…

A (slightly) quirky dialogue on the topic of the hour.


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

city ​​out of nowhere? You intrigue me.

Yes, we’ve been talking about her since 2018. But it wasn’t until last December that her name was officially announced: Arkadag, as in “protector of the nation,” as Gurbangouly Berdymoukhammedov, who was president from 2007 to 2022 and is still the man, is called power of this Central Asian country.

And where exactly will the city be built?

30 kilometers from the capital, Ashgabat. He already announced that it would be great. With large white marble buildings and golden statues representing Berdymukhamedov. The first phase of the project will cost 3.3 billion dollars, and the second will reach “almost” 1.5 billion, according to an announcement made by the Turkmen government this week … which, however, does not exclude cost overruns.

Why this huge project?

To simply honor Berdymukhamedov. This 65-year-old former dentist with a reputation for paranoia and a cult of personality isn’t his first delirium. But this Mushroom City promises to be his great work. “They are in the process of making it indebted to its measure, or rather to its excess. This explains the inflated amounts invested. Basically, we want to show that the country has no problems,” notes Michel Leviston, research associate at the Center for Russia/New Independent States of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). The Turkmen government claims that this city, planned for a population of 73,000, will be “smart.” and registered in Guinness Book of Records. But we don’t know yet exactly why!

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log book? What an honor!

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

it’s interesting. Makes you want to go…

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 transformed into a totalitarian regime in the Stalinist sense of the term. No opposition, no dispute, no right to say no. Its six million inhabitants live under a blanket of lead. According to Reporters Without Borders, the country is at the bottom of the rankings for freedom of expression, just ahead of North Korea, Eritrea and Iran.

PHOTO IGOR SASIN, AFP

A student from the Institute of Communications and Informatics of Turkmenistan casts his vote during the legislative elections last March 26 in Ashgabat.

stand there. Everything is hot!

Specifically, she leads me to talk about the environment… The sixth largest gas producer on the planet, Turkmenistan is also the world’s largest methane emitter. According to Kayrros, the country could have generated 184 “ultra-emissions” in 2022, far ahead of India and the United States, which had “only” 155. These highly polluting leaks – and largely responsible for global warming – can be explained by, among other things, obsolete Turkmen equipment, dating back to Soviet times.

Nice contrast with the marble towers and golden statues…

In reality. The Turkmen government is doing a good business exporting gas, especially to China. But the country is not doing well and benefits are limited for the population. It is estimated that 50% of Turkmen live below the poverty line. In this context, the city’s £5 billion project is baffling.

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You must growl. Is the diet solid?

Legislative elections took place this week, but without opposition parties! It was the first election since the president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, 40, took power from his father, Gurbanguly, in March 2022. But make no mistake: Despite appearances, the father is still in control. In January, the latter was appointed head of a new supreme body with control over the main directions of the country. “It’s a game of musical chairs,” Michael Leviston sums up. “But this election is confirmation of a situation already on record: Gurbanguly’s return to work.”

The son is at the helm, the father is at the helm … Is the Berdymukhamedov clan here forever?

Apparently. The good news – if there is any – is that Gurbanguly is a very interesting head of state. Full-time dictator, the gentleman is also a part-time musician and jockey. His guitar solos in dry ice have made the rounds on the Internet, as have his numerous appearances on horseback to exalt patriotic sentiments. Not to mention his passion for the Alabai, the country’s symbolic dog, of whom a 19-foot-high golden statue was erected. Strange that this monument is not in book of records…

sources: WatchmanAnd Oil and Gas JournalQuartz, Human Rights Watch, BBC