Turkmen leader dedicates poem to ‘wonderful’ wheat

ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN (AFP) – Turkmenistan’s eccentric and authoritarian leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has penned a poem celebrating wheat and the farmers that grow it, state media in the Central Asian country reported on Tuesday.

Berdymukhamedov is portrayed by local media as a prolific author, poet and composer, while reverence for wheat is a tradition deeply rooted in the Soviet Union that oil-rich Turkmenistan separated from in 1991. The poem published in the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan hailed wheat as a “wonderful cereal, miracle seed”.

“I wish success to the farmer, the whole world warms itself with wheat,” read the poem attributed to Berdymukhamedov.

In a report shown on tightly controlled state television, Berdymukhamedov said that the verses had been inspired by the sight of “fields of waving wheat” during his recent working trips through the country.

“When you harvest wheat with your own hands or at the wheel of a combine harvester, special feelings awaken in your soul,” Berdymukhamedov explained.

“Because bread is not just a food product, it is an invaluable gift from the Earth to man.”

Several leaders in former Soviet states are fond of posing for photographs in fields of wheat and other crops, continuing a custom that dates back to communist bosses like Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. The 63-year-old Berdymukhamedov cut his teeth as a personal dentist and then health minister under Sapamurat Niyazov, an even more eccentric leader who was notorious for renaming months of the year after himself and his mother.

Niyazov, self-styled ‘Father of the Turkmen’, died in 2006, enabling Berdymukhamedov, who is also well-known for his love of horses and bicycles, to ascend to the presidency with support from the country’s powerful security bloc.