Let’s say you’re a tinpot dictator in an impoverished former Soviet client state. How do you impress the populace you’ve subjugated and exploited? How do you distract people who live in a country known mostly for its human rights abuses, hunger, unemployment and corruption? How do you let them know you’re not only tough, but virile and a man among Turkmen?
Well, when you’re not laying down sick beats while rapping with your grandson, you dress up in freshly starched fatigues and display your amazing marksmanship skillz.
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has reinforced his official image as a man of action by firing a pistol at targets from a moving bicycle during a military exercise.
But the footage, shown on state-run Altyn Asyr TV over enthusiastic praise of the leader’s “marksman accuracy”, has prompted mockery online and in the exiled opposition media.
In an impressively produced video, President Berdimuhamedov makes a dramatic entrance to enthusiastic applause before taking the wheel of a tactical E-Z-GO golf cart. He’s then handed a suppressed TAVOR and goes to town on a series of targets.
Credit where it’s due: it isn’t every president-for-life who could manage to hit those ten rings with a bullpup at almost 15 yards while on camera and under pressure.
But maybe the most impressive feat was the prez consistently putting rounds center mass while riding a bicycle at a speed barely fast enough to keep him upright.
Turkmenistan’s president doing pistol target practice while riding a bicycle, because obviously pic.twitter.com/hXYXu70AJ3
— Peter Leonard (@Peter__Leonard) June 14, 2019
Note the deft editing at work there. We’re pretty sure he didn’t even fire that pistol.
Whoever it was at the Ministry of Information that dreamed up the video may be looking for another job (or a way to quietly leave the country). As the BBC notes, the reaction to Berdimuhamedov’s miraculous firearms feats outside of Turkmenistan has been…well, less enthusiastic than those applauding conscripts in the video.
Social media reaction mixes mockery of the apparently staged footage with anger at the antics of the authoritarian head of state, frequently referring to him by the nickname “Turkmenator”.
“Nato is terrified, Russia and Trump have ordered their air and space forces to be replaced with bike squads, the Taliban are ready to convert to Christianity, and China is producing armoured bicycles for our army,” writes one reader of the Chronicles site, while another marvels at the way the president “simulates pistol recoil”.
Ever since the release of the first macho video from Arkadag — which means “protector” and is what he wants people to call him — in early August 2017, I’ve been watching to see where this daredevil of the Gara-Gum Desert would turn up next. I even went back a little before that to see where Arkadag had been before the summer of 2017, when he decided it was time to show his troops how to fight.
Of course, in the Golden Age of Happiness and Prosperity, or whatever official age it is in Turkmenistan, there is no major internal threat to Berdymukhammedov’s government. The threat seems to be a hypothetical force from outside the country because it is at Turkmenistan’s border posts where one finds Berdymukhammedov clad in military fatigues — or sometimes a jeans jacket — packing heat, calling in air strikes, or sometimes even, seemingly, piloting attack helicopters.
All hail The Protector!