Many have heard about him as some kind of a joke or a relic from the soviet period in a land that few could spot on a map.
To be fair Turkmenistan is neither small as a country (it is slightly bigger than Germany) not is it unimportant, as it has the 4th biggest gas reserves in the world. That is maybe one of the reasons why many do not bother with the political state of a population of barely 5 million (officially at least) that keep good economic relationships with both Russia, the US, the Gulf Countries, Turkey and the EU.
A few months ago I was in Ashgabat, the capital of Turmkenistan. As it turns out the city is a joy to behold, full or marble and gold, futuristic buildings and is extremely clean. I would go through the fact that it seems to be completely deserted, that you have a lot of police looking at you as a foreigner, and that you have the feeling that it all looks fake, but I will leave that for a different type of article, because here we are talking about banknotes, and these have evolved into beautiful issues in the short 20 year history of independent Turkmenistan.
The first issues right after independence in 1993 were not as bad as some of the ex-soviet republics and they already had on their front the self-proclaimed “President for life” Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov, or Türkmenbaşy as he was known.
You can clearly see that the Turkman was not so young anymore in 1993. With grey hair the 53 year old had already been the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan since 1985. As with all the ex-soviet republics, the economy took its toll in the 90's and soon the Manat was hit by high inflation rates and as a result new banknotes with higher denominations needed to be issued. This time Türkmenbaşy, at a time where he had already written a book that was obligatory in school, banned ballet, opera and long beards, as well as renaming certain months of the calendar to his name, his mothers name and the name of the book he had written, decided that he should be featured on all the denominations of the national paper money series of Turkmenistan.
However, Türkmenbaşy died at the end of 2006 when a new issue of banknotes was already planned. The new series would also have a re-evaluation of the New Manat (worth now 5000 old Manat per New Manat) and a would have a Turkmen warrior on each denomination. With 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Manat banknotes with a new design, a picture came out with a 500 Manat specimen banknote with non-other than Türkmenbaşy on its front. At close to 150 USD, this banknote would represent close to a months salary to the average Turkman, so it was not clear if it would actually be only for intra-bank payments.
This banknote represented Türkmenbaşy as looking younger like he had ordered (unconfirmed rumours exist that he decided to issue new banknotes because he decided to paint his hair dark and that was misrepresented in the old banknotes). The reality is that the banknote was never released into circulation. At the beginning it was supposed to make part of the new Manat 2009 series but the new president Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow decided to delay its introduction for the second series of banknotes in 2012. Sadly it was never released and even if the World Paper Money Catalog has it as P-28 and valued at 700 USD in Specimen. I have not found anyone with this note in their collection or even someone that had one in their hands … does this specimen bank note from Turkmenistan really exist?