Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdihuhamedow (born June 29, 1957) is a Turkmen politician who has served as the president of Turkmenistan from 2007 to 2022. Berdimuhamedow, a dentist by profession, served in the government under President Saparmurat Niyazov as minister of health beginning in 1997 and as deputy prime minister beginning in 2001. He became acting president following Niyazov's death on 21 December 2006 and subsequently won the February 2007 presidential election. He faced no meaningful opposition in the vote and won by an overwhelming margin. In the February 2012 presidential election, he was re-elected with 97% of the vote. He uses the honorific title Arkadag, meaning "Patron". Although initially undoing Niyazov's regulations, he has set up a personality cult of his own.
Berdymukhammedov was the grandson of a distinguished local schoolteacher. In 1979 he graduated from the dental faculty of the Turkmen State Medical Institute and started work as a dentist in an Ashgabat clinic. By 1987 he had gradually increased his responsibilities and moved up professionally. He then studied therapeutic dentistry in Moscow for three years, returning to Ashgabat in 1990 to a teaching post at the Turkmen Medical Institute. In 1995 he moved to the Ministry of Health. Two years later he was appointed minister of health, and in April 2001 he became deputy prime minister responsible for education, science, and health.
Following the December 21, 2006, death of Turkmen Pres. Saparmurad Niyazov (“Turkmenbashi”), Berdymukhammedov was named acting president by Turkmenistan’s Security Council. The appointment surprised many in the international community as well as in the country itself. There was some speculation that the powerful Turkmen security service was more comfortable with a person widely perceived as politically weak. According to a recurring rumour in the Turkmen exile community, Berdymukhammedov was the illegitimate son of Niyazov. Such a relationship was possible given their age difference but was still considered unlikely.
On February 11, 2007, Berdymukhammedov was elected president, receiving nearly 90 percent of the votes cast. After he took office, the Turkmen exile community and many citizens hoped for a relaxation of the tight control exercised by Niyazov. There were some improvements: Berdymukhammedov restored the pensions abolished by his predecessor, eased restrictions on travel abroad, and reinstituted the 10th year of basic education that had been dropped on Niyazov’s order. However, during his first year in office there was little sign that Berdymukhammedov would implement genuine political and economic reform that would lead to democratization of the country.
By late 2007, observers had noted that he was having some of the portraits of Niyazov, which were such a striking feature of the Ashgabat cityscape, replaced with portraits of himself, an inaugural step in the new president’s imitation of his predecessor in cultivating his own personality cult. In addition, Berdymukhammedov continued his predecessor’s grandiose construction projects, including one to build a new seaport and airport for the city of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea. In 2015 work began on the so-called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which was expected to span 1,125 miles (1,800 km) and facilitate the delivery of Turkmenistan’s natural gas into South Asia.
Berdymukhammedov was elected to a second term as president in 2012 and to a third term in 2017. Despite steps that seemed to indicate his intention to remain president for life, his health reportedly declined after 2019. In February 2022 Berdymukhammedov set an early presidential election for March to elect his successor. His son, Serdar, won the election with more than 70 percent of the vote and took over as president days later. Gurbanguly, meanwhile, retained his role as chair of the People’s Council (Khalk Maslahaty), the upper chamber of the legislature created in 2021.