Crossing Continents examines everyday life in Turkmenistan
On Crossing Continents this week, Lucy Ash goes undercover to find out what life is like in one of the world's most secretive and repressive states.
Millions of dollars from the export of oil and gas have been spent on gold and marble clad buildings in the capital Ashgabat.
But behind this glitz is a sinister reality for ordinary people struggling to exist in a world where one man's whim is law.
We asked for your comments on the issues raised by our programme, a selection of which are below.
The Turkmen system was inherited by former conquerors, the Soviets.
David Nader Seguie, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Turkmenistan, like any other country that is ruled by a dictator, will never have a proper good health care for its own people.
I was just wondering why the rest of the world is not keeping a close eye on Turkmenistan's internal affairs which can boil over at any time from now.
Or is it that it does not pose any threat to its neighbours nor is supporting terrorism?
Chernor Jalloh, Spain
Some of the facts about Turkmenistan have been exaggerated. However, it is true that in reality life is far different than what is broadcast on TV or said by Turkmenbashi.
The healthcare system is in very poor condition. There are very few professional specialists. In many places service and treatment is not free, health diagnosis at new medical diagnostic centres is not affordable to most of the middle class population.
The educational system throughout the country is very poor, especially in rural areas. Higher educational establishments also do not offer qualified education.
Ruhnama is widely used in all secondary schools, replacing many other subjects. Teachers are often incompetent, and most of the Russian language schools have been replaced with Turkmen language centres.
Unemployment is significantly high and due to the soldier conscripts in some places they replace low rank employees.
To get employed one has to present his military service certificate or give bribery where possible.
The list of real grievances of the nation is very long, however these are the major issues and needs of the ordinary people, which are not being satisfied and met by the government.
I am very worried about the future of the Turkmen youth, and my future life in this dictator-ruled country.
I have spent the last few years working with the Turkmens to try to show the country through its rich culture.
Please, next time a journalist wishes to make a programme about beleaguered Turkmenistan, may they show something positive about the country as well.
For example, the pride the Turkmens have for their country, the self respect of the people, the kindness and the strong family ties.
There may be little money available to most people but they make the most of what they have and there certainly isn't the whinging culture that we have in the UK.
I have invited many Turkmens to the UK and not a single guest has wished to stay in our anonymous, possession obsessed country.
There is also another side to the Turkmen story.
Bridget Tempest, UK
I used to be a consultant for the EU, preparing market economy projects in Turkmenistan among other Central Asian (former Soviet Union) states.
I visited the country many times between 1992 and 1996 and recognise a large number of the realities you mention. But this is by no means the whole story.
Groping its way towards the modern world has not been easy for a recently nomadic culture. It is sparsely populated around the rim of an inhospitable desert, surrounded by difficult neighbours, which does not help either.
Turkmens are exceptionally dynamic though, and while it was apparent 10 years ago that there were difficulties with the rise to power of local people replacing Russian "colonial agents", most problems were resolvable.
Of course the political dimension is a problem, but things have to be seen in their context.
There are highly educated local people. There is a culture of negotiation and good manners rather than confrontation. There are major cash flows. There is so much potential!
I visited Ashgabat last summer to meet the family of my son's future wife. After listening to your programme I am thankful I came home with only a severe stomach infection.
Zafar was very lucky and brave to get a message out of that beleaguered country. I wish him well. In Turkmenistan, telephones are tapped, there is no internet access for the majority of the people. Internet cafes are monitored, and international mail is intercepted and read.
I believe about 80% of the working population is employed by the government but there is no guarantee there will be any pay at the end of the week, hence corruption of even the most minor officials.
My heart aches for the lovely people I met there who are friendly and generous with what little they have, but ignorant of other lifestyles and absolutely helpless.
A friend there suffers from high blood pressure but has no access to drugs to help her. She is often very seriously ill while the "Father of the Turkmens" has his own private German surgeon fly in to treat his own heart problems.
Turkmen people deserve more than this mad dictator.
Geraldine Green, England
I think that Turkmenistan is still a soviet country in all its matters: politics, economy, judicial system, healthcare, anything you want and name.
Its only possibility of escaping this curse of Communism is to get rid of its present ruler, President Niyazov. But they cannot do this without any foreign help. Romania was a Communist country too. We escaped communism 15 years ago and are still struggling to recover, not from the system itself, but from Communist way of thinking and behaviour.
Turkmenistan won't manage to do that without any foreign help. It is not taken into consideration by any Western power.
Needless to say in such a poor, repressed country where the population lives probably below the poverty level, where the economy is mostly underground, the state of calm and quiet that still persists there may only be the calm before the storm.
At any time groups of Muslim fundamentalists could arise and start a revolt or rebellion. And their aim would be only to destabilise even more the country and gain control over its central administration.
The president's reforms, banning recorded music, prohibiting long hair and beards for young men, naming a month after his mother's name, are similar to the reforms taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In a few years from now, Turkmenistan may become a central Asian Afghanistan, ruled by "warlords".
A poor, oppressed population will always be inclined towards violence and anarchy if international aid is not offered to this country as soon as possible.
Mihai Retegan, Romania
I think you are expressing some kind of Cold War against Turkmenistan. The Turkmen government does care about health but there are too many uneducated doctors who do not deserve to be a doctor in Turkmenistan.
Nearly everybody you had an interview with are Russians living in Turkmenistan. This is strange.
The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received.