Turkmenbashi's Land of Fairy Tales
An eccentric dictator's take on a Turkmen version of Disneyland.
Turkmenbashi is the name former dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, awarded himself when he rose to power following the collapse of the Soviet Union—it literally translates as “Father of the Turkmen.” For 20 years, Niyazov ruled Turkmenistan with an iron fist, smashing opposition, spending lavishly on personal projects, and creating an elaborate cult of personality.
Although Niyazov’s list of eccentricities is long, some of the highlights are his book of poetry, the Rukhnama, that is mandatory reading for all Turkmen students; renaming months of the year after his family members; commissioning a golden statue of himself that rotates to face the sun as it crosses the sky; and bulldozing the homes of hundreds of residents of the capital city, Ashgabat, to build a Turkmen version of Disneyland. Of course, the amusement park was named after himself: Turkmenbashi’s Land of Fairy Tales.
The park opened in 2006 at an estimated cost of $50,000,000 and its 54 attractions span some 100 acres (although not all attractions are currently working). While many of the attractions are typical of amusement parks—a Ferris wheel, log ride, small roller coaster, etc.—visitors may begin to notice some odd quirks. There’s a T-rex in a frozen cavern, the deteriorating facade of a fake British Pub, and an island ruled by a giant concrete Gila monster. But even more disconcerting are the animal scenes spread throughout the park. A cobra sticks its lethal head out of the grass, a leopard stalks a pair of deer, two human-sized rabbits with hollowed out faces wait to greet you, and a pack of wolves creeps behind a herd of antelope—you know, kids’ stuff.
Turkmenbashi died in December of 2006, shortly after the park opened. Today, visitors rarely find the park at capacity. Instead, the attraction sits listless and decaying, a flat, brown spot in the middle of Ashgabat’s gleaming white marble apartment buildings.
Know Before You Go
The amusement park is located toward the center of the city. The amusement park is still open, but it's in need of repair. Ask a cab driver to take you to "Turkmenbashi Disneyland" and they'll understand where you want to go.
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