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Sure, America has more than its share of world-class COVID-19 deniers, from Morgantown bar-hoppers to Lake of the Ozarks pool partiers and those attending rallies for motorcyclists and presidential candidates.

But compared to Turkmenistan, a country best known for having a guy in charge that’s even quirkier than our own, pandemic deniers in the USA are a bunch of mask-wearing, Maddow-quoting, stay-at-home snowflakes.

A single COVID-19 case has yet to officially occur in Turkmenistan, which shares a common border with Iran, one of nations hardest hit by the coronavirus in the region. Turkmenistan also boasts an official HIV/AIDS infection rate of zero.

The reason for such a remarkably low infectious disease rate? Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a dentist-turned-dictator who does a lot more than play golf and watch TV during his down time.

Berdymukhamedov has filmed, and his people forced to watch, footage of himself in a variety of unlikely pursuits: shooting pistols and dribbling basketballs while riding a bike; playing an electric keyboard and rapping about horses while his grandson strums a guitar; shooting rifles and throwing knives at silhouette targets while his military leaders watch in awe between lively bursts of applause; and fishtailing a pickup truck around the lip of a giant pit filled with burning oil.

In another memorable clip shot during a cabinet meeting, the Turkmenistan strongman hoists a solid gold weight bar high over his head after completing a clean and jerk move, drawing a level of enthusiastic applause and adoring gazes not normally seen east of Mike Pence.

According to a National Public Radio report, the Turkmenistan government ordered state-controlled media outlets not to print or utter the Turkmen words for “coronavirus” and “COVID-19,” and had the words removed from health brochures.

While political leaders in the U.S. have drawn flack for disparaging mask use and social distancing, Berdymukhamedov, until July, made it illegal for masks to be worn at all, and had police enforce the edict. Then, he suddenly ordered that masks be worn at all times, to guard against inhaling “harmful dust” from neighboring countries.

Last week, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, hospitals in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, were being flooded with patients displaying symptoms associated with acute cases of COVID-19. No confirmed cases of coronavirus, however, were officially recorded.

It’s one way to dodge the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not fooling everyone.

According to the U.S. government radio news agencies, many residents of Ashgabat said they preferred to take their chances with the disease at home, rather than risk exposure to the coronavirus in hospitals packed with people showing its symptoms.

I’m sure Berdymukhamedov has a plan to deflect attention away from the problem. He collected nearly nearly 98% of the vote during the last presidential election, Now may be the time to attack the source of the 2% vote against him.

You know, write-in ballots.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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