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November 15, 2002

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Ever hear of Merv (not Griffin), the city of 1001 nights? Okay, Baghdad claims to be the city of 1001 nights but Merv disputes this claim. When those tales were written, Merv was the leading city of the Seljuk Turks, the people behind the power of the Islamic empire. Ghengis Khan knew about Merv as the capital of his Muslim rivals, the reason he went on his rampage in the first place, and he directed his most vicious attacks against the city. Scholars say the Mongols perpetrated one of the biggest slaughters in history at Merv, cutting off the heads of over a million people. After the Mongols left they dispatched a rearguard to return and kill any survivors that had escaped the first attack. Merv never recovered; today it's a field of dirt guarded by mounds that were once walls. Why do we want to visit here? Because this is Turkmenistan, what else can we do? From Ahsgabat we hired a taxi for a ten hour road trip and watched our driver fill his gas tank for $1. This didn't stop him from running out halfway through the trip. Thanks to Turkmen hospitality we easily flagged down the next car and siphoned gas from their tank. After touring Merv we watched "Who wants to be a Russian Millionaire?" with our interpreter who asked us, "Do you have this show in the US?" The Russian version plays for roubles (worth 1/30 of a dollar) yet keeps the same money increments. After five correct answers the contestants have won the equivalent of $5 (and a million Russian roubles equals 33,000 dollars).
As in every other Turkmen town, golden statues of President Niyazov can be easily found, this one watches over a map of Turkmenistan at the town square.
Pilgrim in Merv. He greets in the traditional way, with a slight bow and a hand over the heart.
Kyz Kala, a palace fortress with a unique sawtooth wall, constructed by the Persians (Sassanians) in the 7th century AD. Too bad the Persian's didn't install central heating- it's cold out here!
The major archaeological site of Turkmenistan - the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, last leader of the Seljuk Turks who were the most powerful force in the world during the 11th and 12th centuries. This is the only building left standing in their once glorious capital of Merv.