Grey matter: Turkmenistan government workers instructed to mirror ageing president's new hair colour

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov presented his new image in August

Oliver Carroll
Wednesday 05 February 2020 18:07 GMT

Since taking over as Turkmenistan’s president 14 years ago, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 62, has wedded himself to the idea of youth.

Not only has the eccentric leader been been seen pumping iron in the gym; weightlifting at a cabinet meeting; driving a car around a flaming gas crater; rapping; and DJing at his government’s new year party, he has also banned young men under the age of 40 from leaving the country.

Recently, it seems, the Turkmen leader has decided to embrace old age. From August of last year, Mr Berdymukhammedov began to appear in public with grey hair.

Those with longer memories will remember grey locks from the time before he became president. But ever since then, Mr Berdymukhammedov’s mop has been the darkest of darks.

Underlings have wasted little time interpreting the signals. According to Radio Svoboda, government workers in Lepabsk region were this week issued a new directive on hair policy. As of the 1 February, all men over 40 will be forbidden from covering their grey locks. And those with coloured hair will be obliged to dye it grey.

The reports suggested that were Mr Berdymukhammedov to visit the region, only bureaucrats with greying hair would be allowed to meet him. It followed news a month earlier that suggested government institutions had been ordered to update all portraits of the leader to ones with grey hair.

The small post-Soviet nation of Turkmenistan has been a reliable source of news and humour since independence in 1991.

Its first leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, called himself Turkmenbashi, or Leader of all the Turkmen. Among many bizarre decisions, Mr Niyazov renamed the days of the week after family members. But mania was unable to beat mortality and in 2007, Mr Berdymukhammedov, Mr Niyazov’s former dentist, took over.

At the start, some harboured hopes that the new man might unpick his predecessor’s style. Instead, Mr Berdymukhammedov’s continued to rule over Turkmenistan with a golden fist, while arguably showing an even greater appetite for the theatrical absurd.

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