Turkmenistan’s Trike-Riding President Can’t Miss In This Horribly Awesome Propaganda Video

The authoritarian leader “shows” his keen marksmanship to the canned applause of his country’s troops and police.

byJoseph Trevithick|
Armies photo


Turkmenistan's dictatorial president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has cast himself as the star of a military propaganda film that apes some of the worst parts of classic action flicks and similar trends among other authoritarian leaders. The former dentist, who has no known military experience, but now holds the title of General of the Army, recently took the opportunity to demonstrate his "skills" for elite members of his country's security forces.

Berdymukhammedov reportedly showed off his shooting abilities at a military training facility in Turkmenistan's western Balkan region on Aug. 10, 2018. The event was part of a series of visits in the lead up to the country's Day of the Border Patrol. He made a very similar performance in August 2017, which resulted in an equally cheesy propaganda spread.

Not surprisingly, TDH, the state news agency of Turkmenistan, declared that Berdimuhamedov had hit all the targets he shot at and that this was "a clear confirmation" of his martial abilities. The official report also said that it was a servicemember who requested that the president autograph one of the paper targets, which is set to go on display in the country's State Border Guard Museum.

Turkmen activists living in exile have parodied Berdimuhamedov, mashing up the official video with footage from 2017 and clips from the Sylvester Stallone action classic Ramboand the Stan Bush song Fight To Survive from the iconic Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts movie Bloodsport, which you can watch below.

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The video from the event shows Berdimuhamedov arriving on a camouflaged three-wheeled trike-type motorcycle ahead of a convoy of military trucks and light special operations vehicles. This is highly reminiscent of Russian President Vladimir Putin fondness for motorcycles, which he often rides together with the Night Wolves motorcycle "club," a violent group that has murky ties to the Kremlin's internal and external security services. The effect is perhaps closer to Danny McBride's character Kenny Powers from the television show Eastbound & Down.

He then proceeds to shoot four targets with a pistol, apparently hitting each one dead center in the chest. The president then engages four more targets – possibly the same ones – with an Israeli Tavor TAR-21 assault rifle complete with red dot sight, tactical light, and sound suppressor, again hitting them all.


Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov sits on his trike at the military demonstration in August 2018., TDH

It is difficult to judge from the available video how far away the targets actually are and whether Berdimuhamedov is actually the one making the accurate shots. It is entirely possible that he may be a good shot, but the event is also clearly heavily scripted with personnel quickly applauding and studiously taking "notes" from their country's leader.

Afterward, Berdimuhamedov observes troops and paramilitary police perform a variety of firearms and hand-to-hand combat drills. At one point, a pair of individuals appear to engage in a dangerous "confidence drill," facing each other at very close range and shooting 9mm Tavor submachineguns over each other's shoulders. 

Two Turkmen security forces personnel engage in what appears to be a confidence drill that involves them shooting past each other at close range., via Chronicles of Turkmenistan

Also visible are Italian Beretta ARX160 assault rifles and Beretta Px4 Storm pistols, along with SAKO TRG M10 sniper rifles, which have become the predominant weapons among many elements of country's security forces. Finland's SAKO has been a Beretta subsidiary since 2000.

The video wraps up with footage of Berdimuhamedov observing a more conventional demonstration of his country's air and naval assets, including Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft. Turkmenistan's Balkan region sits on the Capsian Sea.

Berdimuhamedov's 2018 demonstration is actually relatively muted compared to his one in 2017. That performance involved him shooting a small rifle, an MP5 submachine gun, and a pistol, before topping it all off by throwing bayonets at the targets. He arrived at that event in a speeding pickup truck and also coordinated the rest of the drills from a command center in full military gear. There's another parody video of these escapades, which inserts clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1985 action movie Commando, which you watch below.

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When Berdymukhamedov took power in 2007, following the death of the previous dictatorial leader Saparmurat Niyazov, there was a hope that he might have a moderating influence. Niyazov had been a dictator straight out of a comic book, developing an extreme cult of personality that included massive golden statues of himself as a child and an adult, renaming portions of the calendar after him and his mother, and more. He dubbed himself the "Turkmenbashi," or Head of The Turkmen.

Though Berdymukhamedov did away with some of the most absurd excesses, such as changes to the calendar, he has since developed his own authoritarian cult of personality, giving himself his own title, "Arkadag," which means protector. He also likes to style himself a man of many talents, including military specialist, singer-songwriter and DJ, and expert equestrian. During the country's 2013 Day of the Horse celebrations, he fell off his mount in the middle of a race.

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Berdymukhamedov last "won" re-election as the country's president in February 2017, claiming to have won 97 percent of the vote in polls that foreign observers decried as neither free nor fair. There were nine opposition candidates, but the government had pre-approved all of them—hardly a competitive field of candidates to say the least. Turkmenistan's president serves terms of seven years, with the next election scheduled to occur in 2024.

With this in mind, it seems likely that we will be treated to more demonstrations of the Arkadag's martial prowess in the future.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com