Home > Ruhnama blog > SPECIAL REPORT: Analysis of The Ruhnama of Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy the Great (Book One)

SPECIAL REPORT: Analysis of The Ruhnama of Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy the Great (Book One)

June 6, 2008

©  Reflections on the Ruhnama
By Steve in Wisconsin
Publication date:  June 6, 2008  (revision)

I originally posted this report online on 10-March-2006 with some minor revisions 06-June-2007. This latest version, while shorter than the original, has been further revised and is presented in response to the growing interest in the Ruhnama worldwide. The numbers appearing in brackets [ ] refer to page numbers in the English hardcover edition published in Ashgabat.

The Ruhnama, or Book of the Soul, is a philosophical and spiritual treatise written by Saparmyrat Niyazov (1940-2006), the late President of the Republic of Turkmenistan, who proclaimed himself “Turkmenbashy the Great” – the Father of all Turkmen. [3] There is information about Ruhnama online – much of it consisting of derogatory comments and misinformation – apparently written by persons with little or no knowledge of the book’s contents. I make this statement as one who has read both volumes of Turkmenbashy’s major work.

A wealth of spiritual teachings exist today in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia which have been largely overlooked by Truth seekers in the West. After considerable study I proudly add the Ruhnama to my list of spiritual books of merit alongside the writings of Bulgarian mystic Peter Deunov (Beinsa Douno) and the early works of an Abkhazian named Murat Yagan – individuals largely unknown in North America.

According to an excerpt reprinted in World Education News & Reviews (May/June 2005, Vol. 18 Issue 3) the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) wrote:

President for life Saparmurat Niazov finished the Ruhnama in September 2001, and it has since become compulsory reading in all areas of public life, both educational and professional. Now a second volume of Niazov’s thoughts about how to be a good Turkmen citizen has been completed and is set to join the first as obligatory study material from kindergarten to university.

All prospective students are tested on the Ruhnama as a requirement for enrollment to institutions of higher education, where, for the truly dedicated, there is even a faculty at the country’s top university devoted to the contents of the book and its sequel. In the schools, the national curriculum has been changed radically so that 15 minutes of every lesson are dedicated to reading the Ruhnama, regardless of the subject. This is in addition to Ruhnama studies, a new curriculum subject.
[End excerpt]

That was then, this is now. Circumstances in Turkmenistan have changed since Turkmenbashy’s death on December 21, 2006 amid speculation that he was assassinated. (See my Special Report: “The Mysterious Death of Turkmenbashy the Great“.) Turkmenistan’s new president, Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov, is busy erasing symbols of Turkmenbashy’s former rule, including removing his predecessor’s statues, portraits, and his country’s reliance on the teachings of Ruhnama which served as the blueprint of an envisioned Golden Age of enlightenment. It is the purpose of my report to both preserve Turkmenbashy’s Ruhnama and to explore its merits from a spiritual and philosophical perspective.

The Ruhnama: “Inspired by God”
The book begins with an Oath of Allegiance, the National Anthem, a photo of the late President, color pictures of the Turkmen flags and state emblem, and the following benediction:

My Beloved People!
My Dear Nation,

This book, written with the help of inspiration sent to my heart by the God who created this wonderful universe and who is able to do whatever He wills, is Turkmen Ruhnama. [9]

Although the author states on p. 21 that the “Ruhnama is not a religious book” he issued a decree that all churches and mosques in Turkmenistan must possess a certain number of copies. This requirement caused some people to speculate that this was an attempt to establish a religion. Not true. The confusion dissipates when we learn that Turkmenbashy considers religious books as “written by God” (i.e. the Qur’an) in contrast with “spiritual literature” that is “inspired by God”. Ruhnama is spiritual literature – therefore it is not equal to the Qur’an but is useful in learning and teaching – including instruction in such Divine qualities as love, kindness, courtesy, good manners, etc.

Book One is divided into 5 sections listed in the Table of Contents as follows:

The First Section

The Second Section

The Third Section

The Fourth Section

The Fifth Section

As this report is primarily concerned with the value of the Ruhnama as a philosophical and spiritual text I will limit references to Turkmen history, politics and culture except where noted in a spiritual context. Whereas the book is 400-pages in length I am only able to present selected excerpts.

The First Section – TURKMEN
The author begins with the benediction mentioned above and then exhorts the individual’s responsibility to the Turkmen State by instilling in him a sense of national identity and pride.
Each Turkmen is responsible for the nation’s fate, national state, its individual unity, and unification. Allah the Almighty gave us limitless land and water. He gave us underground resources. He created our nation intelligent and able to judge their own conduct. In addition, He gave us an independent Turkmen state.

Turkmen keep your morale high and keep [doing] good work, prosper and make others and your country prosper. [16]

Turkmenistan sits atop massive reserves of natural gas, oil and other resources, and it is my belief that Turkmenbashy, through the pages of the Ruhnama, was preparing the Turkmen people for the rapid modernization, development and technology boom that follows large infusions of cash. National wealth cannot be responsibly used in a society of thieves and in the midst of dishonesty.
Wealth is a great burden. A burden requires a strong will. My beloved brothers, it is time to live in comfort and wealth. I beg Allah that you may not be led astray! [194]
Turkmen are therefore urged to consult the Ruhnama for guidance in daily living, municipal and national affairs. Turkmenbashy makes it clear, however, that the world at large can also benefit from his book:
Ruhnama is not only our book! Ruhnama is also the book of our brothers and other nations that rejoice at our happiness and are proud of our successes and with whom we are together creating our Golden Age in these lands. [25]
One could interpret this as a reference to kindred nations comprising common ethnicity if it were not for the fact that the Ruhnama, as it appears on the government’s website, has been translated into 14 languages, including English, German, French, Czech, Russian, Dutch, Italian, Croat, Hungarian, etc. I get the impression that the author envisions a future wherein Turkmenistan has become a spiritually rich utopian society, a great civilization and center of learning, to which the world’s nations turn for guidance and as an example of what mankind can achieve.

The remainder of the First Section introduces the reader to Oguz Khan, forefather of the Turkmen nation, some brief history and personal reflections, Turkmenistan under Soviet control, documents relating to Independence, etc.

Towards the end of the section the author reveals the perspective from which he will approach spiritual issues:

Mankind, by exploring the universe, lost his belief in the universe and the heavens! The human being feels he is alone. This is because people, by becoming too deeply involved with material things, have lost their connections with the spiritual and heavenly realms. They have lost their ties with embracing nature: mountains, oceans, seas, rivers, forests, deserts and living things…

In the past, people saw God as the wind, rain, lightning, moon, sun and the sky, until at last they came to believe in Allah, the One and the Only! [56]

The Second Section – THE TURKMEN’S PATH
This section contains extensive historical records and is supplemented by the lineage of the prominent Turkmen dynasties from past ages. Interspersed among these, however, are fables and proverbs. Presumably, Turkmenbashy is passing these teachings to the Turkmen people, via the Ruhnama, in keeping with the directive of Oguz Khan 5,000 years ago who said: “See my advice as wise words on the way of truth and live your life in accordance with my advice. Pass my advice on to your children and your tribe! And may they also pass my advice on to all their descendents.” [83]

The Parable of the Arrows
Oguz Khan said to his six sons and twenty-four grandchildren:

“Oh my sons! Give me an arrow.”

He was given an arrow. Oguz Khan took the arrow in his hand and broke it. Then he said to two of his sons:

“Oh my sons! Give me two arrows.”

He was given two arrows. He broke them again. Then he took three arrows from three more of his sons, held them together and broke them as well. Next, he took six arrows from six of them and he tried to break all six arrows at the same time.

He failed. Oguz Khan then requested twenty-four arrows, one from each of his grandsons and tied the arrows together. Are you able to do this?

His sons replied: “We cannot break all these arrows.”

Oguz Khan said: “Take a lesson from this example and support each other.” [84]

The Story of Satisfaction with Life
Once upon a time, a very poor old man who had lived a very unfortunate existence, was approaching the end of his life, coming close to Allah and destiny. Upon the order of God a wise man approached the old man and asked him about his problems and life. The poor man complained about the conditions of his life.

The wise man sent by God then said: “I will give you a fixed period of time for the next month. Go and try to find the best life you can. I will change your life according to your choice and give you the life you most desire.”

The poor old man after watching the rich men whom he had envied before found out that there was nothing to be happy about in their life. After a month the wise man sent by God came again and asked the old and poor man:

“Will you take such and such a person’s destiny? He is both rich and wise. There is no one else like him here.”

The rebellious man replied: “No, I do not want his life! He has no son!”

“All right,” [said the wise man sent by God], so take this one’s life and destiny. This man has four sons like lions and he is the Khan of a great country.”

“No, I cannot!” [replied the poor man] “I am not mad enough to wage a war if it happens.”

The wise man sent by God offered several alternatives, one after the other. In the end the poor man understood that his life was the best one for him.

Everyone’s soul is so sweet for him; everyone’s destiny is blessed for him. Oh my people! Be content, be happy. Complaining only makes you unhappy and unsuccessful.

Instead of complaining, try to find a solution to the problems you are facing. There is no problem without a remedy. Allah, who gives the problems, gives the remedies and solutions with them. The one whose soul is supreme finds the better way. [100-101]

Stories in the Ruhnama are often rich in proverbs, such as:
– Never try to damage the friendship of two men. On the contrary, try to make friends with both of them.
– An unjust ruler is like a farmer who plants corn and expects wheat.
– Good but weak people should not be injured. Ants united can defeat a tiger or a lion.
– Great ideas live forever illuminating the people.
– He who follows the path of truth, never finds evil.
– We say months and days pass so quickly. No, in fact months and days pass so slowly; what passes quickly is life.
[91, 93, 95]
The Third Section – THE TURKMEN NATION
In this section the author shares some details of his personal life and discusses how present-day Turkmenistan is the product of its history and the customs, integrity and values of the Turkmen people. We learn that Turkmenbashy’s father was a brave soldier who was executed upon capture. His mother and brothers were victims of the devasting 1948 earthquake that destroyed Ashgabat and how he, as an orphan, was educated by the Soviet state. Thus, he says, “I have lived the meaning of the saying, ‘Captive without father and orphan without mother,’ and known Allah, the Supreme, as my sole protector.” [150]

There is strong emphasis on Turkmen nationalism and the need to study the Ruhnama which is intended to “review our heritage, which comes from the Prophet Noah, and to support our life in the golden century, golden spirit and golden life.” [143]

To usher in the Golden Age the people must unite and set aside notions of tribalism in communities and government:

The Turkmen nation has been reborn as a whole – there is no place for tribal relations. The idea of [a] tribe is temporary; it constitutes a lower stage in the progress towards national integrity. [148]
The Ruhnama guides the Turkmen in proper behavior towards people of different nationalities through the ideals of tolerance and respect.
The Turkmen sees other nations as his own brothers, his own friends. Racism cannot find a place among Turkmens. Turkmens respect the languages, the religions and the traditions of other nations. [148]
Islam, with its own interpretation
The following words are crucial to understanding the Ruhnama’s place within a predominantly Islamic society. Personally, I would have placed this paragraph towards the beginning of the book as I have been trying to justify the Ruhnama’s placement alongside the Qur’an in Turkmen mosques. Briefly stated, Islam (like Christianity) is subject to interpretation and, in order for it to be a ‘living religion’ which guides its followers in present-day life, it must be adaptable. Presumably, as one journalist put it, the Ruhnama is intended to “fill in the gaps” in the Qur’an.
One of the factors that differentiates Turkmens from other nations is our approach towards religion… [Our nation] has accepted Islam with its own interpretations. It managed to synthesize pre-Islamic beliefs and traditions with Islamic ones without deviating from the essence of Islamic principles.” [173]
The section concludes with additional proverbs. Among them:
– No one suffers from problems because of his humility, but so many because of their arrogance.
– Lawful things give pleasure while forbidden things are bitter and sorrowful.
– Each nation is a rose planted by Allah in the garden of the earth.
– Humility is the basis of spiritual loftiness. Patience and conviction are the brothers of humility.
[191, 199, 201-202, 204]
The Fourth Section – THE STATE OF TURKMEN
This section presents historical data relating to the various Turkmen dynasties, khanates, sultanates and governments, from the time of Oguz Khan up to the present-day. Other subjects discussed in this section include Turkmenistan’s economic policies, the duties and responsibilities of the State, the rights of citizens, the uplifting of the moral and spiritual values of the people through the Ruhnama, and a committment to learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.
Integration with the world depends on our being committed to it and loving everybody and that this is possible first of all by ensuring peace in our own country. [237]
On 12 December 1995 the General Assembly of the United Nations granted Turkmenistan the status of Permanent Neutrality thus making it the only officially recognized neutral state in the world.

The Parable of the Plants
We feel at every moment the great love of Allah, the Most High, for his own creature, humankind.

There are 380 thousand kinds of plants in the world. Each of them tries to show its beauty to humanity in its own language. For this reason, each of them is different in colour, scent and beauty. All of these are signs of Allah’s love for humankind. Nature, plants, animals, in short, all beings are created for humans. Being is the manifestation of Allah’s compassion.

O, my dear countryman!

Look around you at once at the beauties around you, the manifestations of the compassion and mercy of Allah. Conceive that you yourself are the creature of Allah’s compassion and try to merit that love!

You must love humanity!

The meaning of life is mutual love and affection.

The golden principle of your happiness is hidden in your affection for the world and life. [243-244]

Turkmenbashy believes that natural disasters and catastrophes occur as a result of a nation’s spiritual values being in disarray:
The high spiritual dynamics which belong to the nation have become whole in the state. The natural catastrophes which hit the Turkmens in the last few centuries occurred because such high and spiritual values had not come together. [256]
The final 121 pages delve into a variety of topics. Turkmenbashy begins with an explanation of the ‘Five Ages of the Turkmen Spirit’ before proceeding to matters of family values, virtues, individual responsibilities, fables and proverbs. Briefly summarized:

The First Age: 5,000 B.C. through 650 A.D.
The spiritual leader of the nation in this age was Oguz Khan.
Sacred symbol: ox
“The route led by Oguz Khan is one of justice, lawfulness and propriety, and its features are enthusiam, courage, forbearance and endurance.” [279-280]

The Second Age: 650 A.D. through c. 900 A.D.
The spiritual leader was Gorkut ata.
Sacred symbol: wolf
“Gorkut ata converted to Islam of his own volition and discovered the new comprehensive space unique to the Turkmen soul.” [280-281]

The Third Age: 900 A.D. through 1600 A.D.
The spiritual leader is Gorogly.
Sacred symbol: sword
“This is the period when the Turkmen spirit became known to the whole world. World history confirms that there were large-scale Turkmen states in this period. The Great Sejuk State, the Ottoman Empire, the Garagoyunlys and Akgoyunlys States were signs of the eminence, and political and historical success of the Turkmen spirit at that time.” [282]

The Fourth Age: 1600 A.D. through 26 October 1991
The spiritual leader is Makhtumkuli Pyragy.
Sacred symbol: (none stated)
“The Fourth Age of the Turkmen Spirit – the weakest of all the ages – action was replaced by idleness and waste, resoluteness was replaced by spending time doing nothing. The Turkmen started praising the accomplishments of the past and regretting his deficiencies. The historical creativity of the nation’s spirit ceased to exist… The twentieth century was one full of severe difficulties. The Turkmens who had never before been subjugated to the rule of a foreign country were forced to endure foreign rule.” [Soviet era.] “O Turkmen! You almost lost your native tongue.. You forgot about your religion, tradition and values.” [283, 286]

The Fifth Age: Also known as the “Golden Age” commenced 27 October 1991.
The spiritual leader is Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy the Great
Sacred symbol: horse
This is the age ushered in by national independence.
“The horse took its place in the Turkmen flag and brought Golden life, Golden spirit and contentment to the Turkmen soil. The horse became an example and a symbol of the Turkmen nation’s affluence and wealth, Golden spirit, and Golden life.” [287]

The Story of the Thief

Once, a number of people were talking about a thief in a village. During the conversation Dovletmammet Azady spoke of the good manners of the thief. As if they had agreed in advance, all the sufis started saying good things about the thief. Other participants in the conversation thought that the thief was being treated like an angel, although he was clearly far from being one.

Days and months pass by, and the thief visits Azady in his home.

“Azady, Your Highness, I am enchanted by your power, look where you’ve placed me,” he cries out. “I heard of your remarks in that coversation praising me. I felt elevated and immediately gave up stealing. Even when I engage in any minor deed that might be improper, I always question myself as to what Azady His Highness would say in such a case. You really won my heart.” Azady says in reply:

“You have faith in your heart, so your conscience awoke.”

In another exchange some people said to Azady, “Your Highness, you knew that so-and-so was a thief, but you praised him. Why?”

“If you say good things about a man, and if I do the same and so do others, then the good aspects of that person will come out. But if you say bad things about that man, and if I do the same and so do others, then it will be as if that person were coated in black pitch. If possible, talk about the good qualities of a man, and not the bad ones. This is what wisdom tells you to do.” [291-292]

On the subject of ‘Happiness’ Turkmenbashy writes: “When a miserable person approaches you and talks complainingly of the world and other people, his lack of enthusiasm will affect you and you will grow indifferent to your tasks. In contrast, if a man full of joy and happiness with high moral powers approaches you, then your soul will be pleased, you will apply yourself to your tasks with new enthusiasm. Spiritual eminence gives you an infinite amount of courage. So you, Turkmen, should have that never-ending moral power.” [294]

Pages 301-329 concern family values and the duties of the individual members to one another. This section contains numerous proverbs, such as:
– Fathers don’t die. They live in the souls of their children.
– The mother is a sacred being. Then talk of the mother is sacred too.
– For parents, even a single hair of their children is worth the whole world.
– An unguided child is like an untrained horse. [308-309, 317, 319]
The remainder of this section is divided into five subheadings. I will address these individually and include brief excerpts from each.
Let me see what I’ve worked for in your smiling faces!

– The rose blossoms from within, and may you blossom as a rose would.
– The smile is a sign of love. Smiling faces bear a sacred light in them.
– Spring is the smile of the earth. Smile at each other.
– A smile can open up your soul, gives you pleasure and relaxes you.
– It is that smile which elevates your heart just like an unexpected sunny day in winter.
– Love the trees that call out to you with their flowers, leaves, branches and fruits.
– If soft winds did not blow over the seas, then what would touch man’s face gently?

They asked Joseph the Prophet: “What makes you so incomparably beautiful?” He replied: “Throughout my whole life I have engaged in deeds that would please and give benefits to others. I smiled at them, and this made me beautiful in the eyes of those who believe in me.” [329, 331-333]

Knowledge is the light of happiness
A society cannot live without proper knowledge, just as a man cannot survive without his mind. The most vital means of survival granted by Allah to man is his mind. Therefore, mind precedes all other material aspects of the man, such as the hands, legs, working tools and hand-power. Centuries-long accumulation leads to proper knowledge. That knowledge is a privilege for man.

It is of that proper knowledge that a man is made.

The mind is the source of proper knowledge, and wisdom is its seed.

The time of the sword is over. But even the sword itself is a product of the mind and proper knowledge.

When I say the time of the sword is over, I mean that the mind and proper knowledge that was once utilized to produce the sword should now be directed to producing and inventing new useful things. [335-336]

May brothers be friends, and friends be brothers
There are certain activities that take place in man’s life. They have a pure form. These are related to man’s soul and his spiritual composition. The soul is, in essence, free and independent. Among the said activities is friendship. Friendship means the harmonious relations that result from the love and respect between people. Friendship is a spiritual and ethical issue. It is for this reason that friendship is peculiar to human beings, or it is a concept related to man.

It is the man’s internal wishes and his inner “self” that motivate him to have a friend or friends. The human soul looks for a fellow that shares the same thoughts, same fate, same inclinations and character as him. As such, a friend is the inner “self” of the person who seeks a friend. [347-348]

Wealth is a measure against your will-power
Wealth is not an end in itself, it is a means. A means to become a proper man.

Wealth provides benevolence as long as it remains as a means. When it becomes an end in itself, it works counter to the good of man and does severe harm to man, and in the end, destroys man totally. In that case, wealth acquires that man, and the man himself becomes a tool.

Wealth should be at man’s service, and not vice versa. Therefore one of the most important problems in life is this: What should one’s view of wealth be? What matters is that one should not surrender his heart to wealth. One should really be able to manage wealth because man has the following essence: Allah created man out of light and soul, whereas all types of wealth are material, so such material things must be at men’s service. Therefore, excessive love of worldly goods is attempting to be the ruled rather than the Ruler.

Wealth is water and man is the seed. If you use water sparingly and use it efficiently, you will obtain great amounts of crop out of the seed. If there is insufficient water, the seed will die. And if there is more than necessary, then the seed will rot. Find the golden ratio between drought and devastation, and this will make a man out of you.

If you do not satisfy your desires by saving, contentedness and spirituality, then you will not be able to satisfy them through material things. Greed will debase man, and it will make enemies out of his relatives. [353-354]

– Proper wealth comes after honest deeds, and improper wealth follows from deceit.
– Allah made you wealthy so that you may use what you have for the benefit of humanity.
– Think about how you will make use of your wealth before attempting to acquire it.
– Let your wealth be at the service of your spiritual world. [354, 356]
One of my main goals is to prepare the Turkmen nation for the acquisition of wealth. I am making my nation adapt itself to wealth slowly. Your lives are improving day by day, year by year. Maybe you don’t notice this. But this does not escape my eye even for a single moment.

The Turkmen nation must be one that can cope with wealth and that can utilize wealth to the benefit of society and its bright future.

Adopt it as your desire to acquire proper wealth. My main goal is to realize this desire of yours. When we join hands, we will definitely reach our targets. [364]

The woman is the core of the family
Those who love deeply and who marry their beloveds in sincerity and deep affection are the fortunate ones whose ways are paved by life and Allah.

Men who respect their wives and who can get on well with them without harsh quarrels and without being attached to an excessive extent are those lucky people who have a great fortune. It is unity and integrity, fortune and mutual understanding that prevail in such a family. Such a family is a very fortunate one. [364]


Excerpts from the book’s conclusion:

My dear Turkmen Nation!

The way I’m leading is that of freedom.

In order that the nation could have self-confidence, trust in its power and future and be proud, the nation should be informed of the eminence of its past.

The Turkmens have shown in the five ages they have survived that they are capable of living after overcoming many difficulties. The Turkmen who overcame these difficulties proved that he was the Turkmen. The way of the Turkmens led from one summit to another. The way of the contemporary age unified the Turkmen nation and the individual. Therefore our way is one of unity and integration.

The Turkmens need a centre of attraction that will hold them united in material and spiritual terms in the new age.

The Ruhnama brings the national perception into a system and organization. From now on, the national future of the Turkmens will be completely guaranteed in practice.

My way is the way of our essential qualities; it is the way where spiritual qualities become guiding principles.

The world is proceeding toward a bright future. The people who have good will and who are honest believe so. Benevolence, good will and brightness come from Allah.

Let us establish ways of friendship, brotherhood, unity, justice and proper knowledge. Let us be friends and find benefits, for none will be harmed by brotherhood!

My Turkmen nation,

May your ways be enlightened, your future be filled with the sacred light, your age be of gold, my eternal and immortal Turkmen!

May the Turkmen stand as long as the world stands. May Turkmenistan stand as long as the world stands. May the independent and impartial Turkmenistan last forever! [390-398]

* * * * *

Concluding comments

Aside from the contents of the book being somewhat scattered about, Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy has taken great effort to record much of the Turkmen’s history, folklore, values and spiritual insight lost or forgotten by the population during the years in which Turkmenistan was a Soviet republic. He succeeded admirably in instilling a strong sense of nationalism and ethnic pride among his people while simultaneously maintaining peaceful relations with the neighboring states.

I firmly believe that the president’s motives in writing this book are honorable. He explains:

My beloved people! If this Ruhnama inspires your souls, then you will not need to worry about your powers to sustain the development of Turkmenistan’s independence and the peace and comfort of its citizens and to protect its land.

Our youth and the rest of our nation should be strong morally and be rich in spiritual wisdom.

From now on, we should make sure our entire Turkmen nation, our grandmothers, our grandfathers, our children in kindergarten, our young boys and girls, never loses its enthusiasm. We should always strive to make our people happy. Honesty should be their companion; they should be enthusiastic with pure desires and wishes.

A people living in its own land freely and independently and without fear is a happy people. [371]

Ruhnama launched into space
On 27-August-2005 the BBC reported that the first book of the Ruhnama was launched into space by the Russian Dnepr booster rocket. The book, secured in a capsule along with the Turkmenistan flag and presidential standard, will orbit the earth for the next 150-years.

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