Turkmenistan President-for-Life Saparmurat Niazov, aka Turkmenbashi (“the father of all Turkmenis”) has been busy this month purging his power ministries, including the National Security Committee (NSC), the country’s main intelligence agency, and the Defense Ministry. Niazov announced he had dismissed 80 percent of that NSC’s senior central staff for corruption and abuse of power, accusing NSC officials of having carried out illegal arrests and engaged in torture, extortion and illegal narcotics trafficking.

Predictably, Turkmenbashi’s opponents had a somewhat different take on the situation. Citing the former head of customs at the international airport in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, an opposition website claimed that Niazov himself had condoned large-scale NSC drug smuggling from Afghanistan. For its part, Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio claimed that Niazov had close links with both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and had laundered drug money in the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, Turkmenbashi, who has set the standard for personality cults in the former Soviet states by adorning all government buildings with huge portraits of himself and setting up a TV channel devoted exclusively to his life and the “great successes” of his regime, has apparently decided to give North Korea’s Kim Jong-il a run for his money: He has begun institutionalizing a personality cult of his mother, Gurbansoltan, who died in 1948. She has been posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Turkmenistan and a Gurbansoltan Association of Turkmen Women has been established. More is to come in 2003, which has been designated the Year of Gurbansoltan.