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In September 2001 appeared a book with a distinctive pink and pastel green cover, Ruhnama: Reflections on the Spiritual Values of the Turkmen. Its author was President Niyazov, and the purpose of the book was to help develop the nation-building process in Turkmenistan by emphasising the geographic identity between the present-day territory of Turkmenistan and the Turkmen people, stressing the historical and future greatness of the Turkmens, and identifying and praising the values of Turkmens as a group.

The book presents the many empires founded by Turkic peoples, from Seljuks to Ottomans, as evidence of the past glories of the Turkmens. One of Niyazov's books of poetry, published in 2003, develops more explicitly the theme, explored in Ruhnama, of past Golden Ages of the Turkmen people. Five such Golden Ages are identified. The first is associated with Oguz Han, legendary ancestor of the Turkmens. The second with Gorkut Ata, legendary spiritual leader around whom the epic Book of Gorkut was based. The third with Georogly, legendary warrior hero. The fourth with Magtymguly, a real I8th-century poet. The fifth Golden Age, continuing today, is associated with Saparmurat Niyazov.

In Ruhnama, Niyazov stresses that the key to securing such Golden Ages is unity among the Turkmen people, avoiding the tribal divisions which historically allowed the Turkmens to be dominated by external powers. Ruhnama praises family values, honest labour and patriotism. It sets out the inventions and achievements of the Turkmens, which include, apparently, giving the world the first robots as well as a yellowish-coloured sheep.

Through the sponsorship of foreign businesses working in Ashgabat, Ruhnama has been translated into numerous foreign languages. The Turkmen press even reported at one stage that a Zulu version was planned. Some of these translations have involved rather hasty work, but I like the juxtaposition in the English text of a reference to the Ahal Tekke horse with one to a stable state. Turkmen schoolchildren and university students take compulsory lessons and exams in Ruhnama, slogans from Niyazov's book appear on billboards, and readings from Ruhnama are given in Turkmen mosques during Saturday (Ruh-day) prayers. The Turkmen media refer to Ruhnama as a 'sacred' book, and newspapers run crosswords to test the knowledge of their readership on its finer points. You can read the text online at In September 2004, volume two appeared.