By Chemen Durdiyeva (2/26/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Since the independence period, the number of holidays in Turkmenistan has been mushrooming. At the same level with the Flag\'s Day, Turkmenistan celebrates other occasions such as Holiday of Poetry of Magtymguli, Horse holiday and Melon Day at different times, which adhere to the respect of national values. According to a 1994 decision of the parliament, the 19th of February, the President\'s birthday, was to be celebrated as a national holiday in Turkmenistan.
Since the independence period, the number of holidays in Turkmenistan has been mushrooming. At the same level with the Flag\'s Day, Turkmenistan celebrates other occasions such as Holiday of Poetry of Magtymguli, Horse holiday and Melon Day at different times, which adhere to the respect of national values. According to a 1994 decision of the parliament, the 19th of February, the President\'s birthday, was to be celebrated as a national holiday in Turkmenistan. However, in 1995, the president of Turkmenistan declared this day as Flag\'s Day.
Flag\'s Day is celebrated almost in every Turkmen family and people enjoy the celebration by acknowledging Turkmen president for his boundless respect toward the national assets. On this day, people prepare a great variety of national meals and invite their neighbors to share the merriment together. In their part, the artists play and sing national songs by congratulating the nation and the president.
Although the 19th of February is officially a Flag\'s Day, this day is a double holiday in the country. Turkmen people celebrate Turkmenbashi\'s birthday simultaneously. This February 19th, Turkmenbashi marked his 63rd anniversary, which is considered as the \"Pygamber\" (Prophet Muhammad) age in Turkmenistan. On the occasion of his birthday, the president received the warmest congratulations from different prominent figures from the country and abroad.
The celebration of this holiday has various implications on the national and international level. On this day, a military parade and a grand concert with national stars took place in Ashgabat. With a ceremonial atmosphere, the flag of Turkmenistan was raised on the main square near the president\'s palace. President Turkmenbashi awarded a number of military officials from the Ministries of Interior and National Security (formerly KGB) and the Border Guards with titles and rank promotions during the ceremony.
In addition to these promotions, all holiday celebrations are accompanied by lavish and extravagant expenditures, gifts and concerts in the name of the president and the Turkmen nation. On certain occasions, Turkmenbashi the Great gives $5000, but sometimes he does not restrain from giving $15000, to musicians and other performers who honor him in their performances.
According to some international institutions, the double holiday in Turkmenistan has been celebrated in light of the persecution of prisoners of conscience. Amnesty International used the president\'s birthday as an opportunity to ask him to release several victims of the latest arrests in Turkmenistan. \"Give your country a present: stop the clampdown on legitimate dissent, investigate all allegations of torture and free prisoners of conscience, namely Farid Tukhbatullin, Nikolay Shelekhov, and Kurban Zakirov\" states a letter to the president.
The Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media in Central Asia in its turn sent the warmest congratulations to the President on the occasion of his birthday. The Association believes \'Turkmenbashi\'s \"Ruhnama,\" the moral and spiritual code of the Turkmens, will take its appropriate place on the bookshelves along with Adolf Hitler\'s \"Mein Kampf.\"\' Rozlana Taukina and Leonid Rempel, the President and Executive Director of the association, urged the President to improve the human rights situation in the country and allow independent human rights activists to operate freely in Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, several dozens of Russian human rights activists and Turkmen citizens attempted to stage a protest demonstration in front of the Turkmen embassy in Moscow, which was broken up by police. Their banners read, \"No to Niyazov\'s Dictatorship!\"
Overall, the double holiday celebration took place with large ceremonies throughout the country. At the same time, this event provided an opportunity for human rights institutions abroad to exert influence on the state of affairs within the country.