AVAZA, Turkmenistan - US pop diva Jennifer Lopez performed on Saturday at lavish birthday celebrations for Turkmenistan leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at a $2 billion dollar Caspian Sea resort.
Lopez is believed to be the first major Western star to visit the isolated former Soviet republic, known primarily for its vast gas reserves and a dismal human rights record.
She is performing along with stars from Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey for Berdymukhamedov’s 56th birthday bash at the glitzy resort in Avaza, which means “land of singing waves”.
The birthday festivities are officially tied to Turkmen cultural week, which culminated on Saturday with the opening of a yacht club at the resort and a firework display.
A culture ministry official confirmed to AFP that Lopez had arrived and was preparing for the concert, while members of her entourage were busy tweeting.
“I wonder were all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!” her choreographer J.R. Taylor wrote on Twitter account @Didntinviteme, noting that “The Turkmenistan Breeze feels amazing at night.”
“Celebrating the birthday of #Gurbangulyberdimuhamedow President of #Turkmenistan... tonight!!” said the account @JLoDancers.
A representative of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which in 2009 completed a pipeline to transport Turkmen natural gas to China, told AFP that the company organised Lopez’s trip.
A report by Human Rights Watch in January described Turkmenistan as “one of the world’s most repressive” regimes.
However, Berdymukhamedov has over the past years overseen an extraordinary construction boom in the country, with $2 billion invested since 2007 in Avaza alone.
It is the main resort in the country and lies near the city of Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen), named after previous president Saparmurat Niyazov.
Development of the 16-kilometre (10-mile) stretch of shore in Avaza is a major project aiming to host up to 20,000 tourists annually when it is completed in 2020. Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, also Saturday unveiled the country’s first yacht club with 40 moorings and 44 villas, built with investment from Turkey.
“New large projects in Avaza will not only work to make it more attractive as a modern comfortable resort but serve as a push to develop tourism on the Turkmen coast,” the Turkmen leader said after a boat show marked the opening.