Kipchak Mosque in Ashgabat

A few kilometers outside of Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat stands the largest mosque in Central Asia. Adorned with an immense golden cupola 50 meters in diameter and 4 tall minarets 91 meters high (Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991), it certainly delivers a visual impact.

Inside, interlocking 8-sided stars from cherry wood and pillars cased in Carrara marble set the stage for a huge handwoven carpet in the center of the mosque. 10 000 worshipers can attend services inside the mosque, but it usually sits empty.

Perhaps because nobody really liked Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan’s first president-dictator, who built the mosque in his mother’s honor and is now buried alongside her in a mausoleum next to the mosque. Or perhaps it has something to do with the texts of the Ruhnama, the former president’s moral guidebook, chiseled into the marble, extolling Turkmenbashi as the only leader Turkmens should follow, and the Ruhnama as the only book Turkmens should ever need to read.

Quotes such as “Ruhnama is a Holy Book – Qur’an is Allah’s book” somehow don’t sit well with Muslims.

Rumor has it that the mosque would be built by a Turkish company, but once they found out the sacrilegious nature of the mosque, they quickly bailed, leaving French construction company Bouygues to pick up the 100 million dollar check. Soon after, the golden dome started turning green and Turkmenbashi’s face got a similar color.

It didn’t surprise us: evidence of Bouygues’ corrupt ways and shabby standards can be found all over Ashgabat; in the faulty wiring, dysfunctional plumbing and discolored slabs of marble on the many palaces that line the streets of the capital.

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