However, the 62-year-old reappeared in state media last week, apparently reviewing bus stops in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat. On Sunday, state television aired a report that detailed how the president had spent his recent holiday.
Included in the trip was a visit in a rally car to Hell’s Gate, also known as the Darvaza gas crater — a flaming pit in the middle of the Karakum Desert that was caused when a natural gas field collapsed into a crater during the Soviet era.
The crater is believed to have been burning since 1971; Turkmenistan has said it hopes to turn the site into an international tourist attraction.
Berdymukhammedov was also shown in the video undertaking other leisure activities, including going to the gym, bowling, riding horses and producing music in a studio. It was not immediately clear when the video was filmed.
The Turkmenistan government has strongly denied that Berdymukhammedov had become ill or died. “They are an absolute hoax,” a spokesman for the Turkmenistan embassy in Moscow told Russian state media on July 21.
Under Turkmenistan’s autocratic government, it can be hard to ascertain the truth. Berdymukhammedov has cultivated a cult of personality through state television appearances in recent years, often appearing to easily beat competitors in games of strength or skill or showing off his musical ability to a rapt audience.
Only sometimes do less flattering images leak out: In 2013, amateur footage showed a hushed silence at a stadium as Berdymukhammedov fell off a horse during a race. Although the video of the president’s fall was widely reported by international media, it did not receive a mention in state television’s coverage of the event.