Jewish World Review August 30, 2002 / 22 Elul, 5762

David Grimes

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A charming idea from a brutal, whacked-out, megalomaniacal dictator-for-life | For a brutal, whacked-out, megalomaniacal dictator-for-life, the president of Turkmenistan has come up with a rather charming idea.

Better known for wanting to rename the months of the year after himself, President Saparmurat Niyazov recently issued an edict that divides life into 12-year cycles. Writing in the national newspaper "Neutral Turkmenistan" (the name "Deranged Turkmenistan" was apparently already taken), Niyazov proclaimed that childhood lasts until age 12, and adolescence drags on to age 25. Citizens between the ages of 25 and 37 will hereafter be considered youthful, whether they feel that way or not.

People between 37 and 49 will henceforth be described as "mature," which I think sounds a lot better than "over the hill," "burned out" or "your AARP card is in the mail."

People of Turkmenistan beyond the age of 49 will enjoy a great deal more respect than their counterparts in the United States. (It is unclear, however, if they would be eligible for reduced-price movie tickets.)

People between 49 and 61 will be called prophetic, those between 61 and 73 will be inspirational, and those 73 to 85 will be, at long last, wise. From now on, no one will be considered old in Turkmenistan until he or she reaches the age of 85, which would be quite a feat in the impoverished former Soviet republic where the average life expectancy is 57 for men and 65 for women.

It is probably no coincidence that Niyazov turned 62 this year, which qualifies him as inspirational, even if his policies and actions suggest a different word. He has named a city after himself as well as a highway, a star in the sky and a meteorite. (No word on whether a chunk of the meteorite may have bonked him on the head.)

Like his fellow dictator Saddam Hussein (do these people have a special lounge at airports?), Niyazov has written a book. Called "Ruhnama," it has been declared (by Niyazov) the greatest book in Turkmenistan history and is, needless to say, compulsory reading for students. (Failure to do so invites punishment considerably harsher than a note home to Mom.)

Given this background, it is rather difficult to imagine how Niyazov could have dreamed up such a kind and thoughtful way to categorize people like myself who are plummeting into senility at the speed normally associated with incoming asteroids.

Since I am currently in the early stages of my prophetic phase, I will venture a guess: Niyazov has been feeling unappreciated lately, especially by his torture victims, and wants to make a grand, theatrical gesture that will endear him to his countrymen. Calling 49-year-old men "mature" is a good place to start.

But renaming the country Niyazova would probably make him feel even better.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Sarasota Herald Tribune