Turkmenistan Decides Year Will Start Off With January

APGurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- January is January again in Turkmenistan.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who swept to power in 2006 in this gas-rich Caspian nation, on Thursday reversed a decision made by his autocratic predecessor to rename the first month of the year after himself in 2003.

Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled Turkmenistan with an iron fist for 21 years until his death in 2006, dotted the desert nation with statues of himself and also renamed all other months and days of the week after his mother, national poets and symbols.

He declared himself Turkmenbashi, or Head of the Turkmens, and banned opera, ballet and circus during his long rule.

Berdymukhammedov, seeking to soften Turkmenistan's image abroad and open up the long-isolated country, has been reversing some of Niyazov's most eccentric and unpopular policies.

Under his latest reform, all months and days of the week will be given their original Turkic- and Russian-language names.

Under Niyazov's arrangement which many Turkmen people found confusing, January was called Turkmenbashi, April was named after his mother, September after his spiritual guidance book "Rukhnama," and Monday was just called "The main day."

"Thousands of citizens have written to ask to return to the Western month names and call the days of the week the way our ancestors did," parliament speaker Akja Nurverdyeva said in televised remarks.