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Flag of Turkmenistan
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Independent, Neutral, Turkmenistan State Anthem
Location of Turkmenistan
Capital Ashgabat
Largest city Ashgabat
Official language Turkmen
Government Single-party state
 - President1 Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow (acting)
Independence from the Soviet Union 
 - Declared 1991-10-27 
 - Recognized 1991-12-08 
 - Total 488,100 km² (52nd)
188,456 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 4.9
 - December 2006 estimate 5,090,000 (113th2)
 - Density 9.9/km² (208th)
25.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $40.685 billion (86th)
 - Per capita $8,098 (73rd)
HDI  (2003) 0.738 (medium) (97th)
Currency Turkmen Manat (TMM)
Time zone TMT (UTC+5)
 - Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+5)
Internet TLD .tm
Calling code +993
1 Niyazov was both President and Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the cabinet) until his death on December 21 2006.
2 Rank based on 2005 figures.

Turkmenistan (also known as Turkmenia) is a country in Central Asia. The name Turkmenistan is derived from Persian, meaning "land of the Turkmen". Until 1991 it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the southwest, Uzbekistan to the northeast, Kazakhstan to the northwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west. 87 percent of the population is Muslim, most of them having Turkish origin. Although it is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas, most of it is covered by the Karakum (Black Sands) Desert. It has a single-party system and was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov until 2006-12-21, when he died of cardiac arrest.




The territory of Turkmenistan has a long and checkered history, as armies from one empire to another decamped on their way to more prosperous territories. The region's written history begins with the region's conquest by the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Persia, as the region was divided between the satrapys of Margiana, Chorasmia and Parthia.

Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century B.C. on his way to India, around the time that the Silk Road was established as a major trading route between Asia and the Mediterranean Region. One hundred and fifty years later Persia's Parthian Kingdom established its capital in Nisa, now in the suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat. In the 7th century A.D. Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them Islam and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle Eastern culture. The Turkmenistan region soon came to be known as the capital of Greater Khorasan, when the caliph Al-Ma'mun moved his capital to Merv.

Magtymguly Pyragy
Magtymguly Pyragy

In the middle of the 11th century, the Turks of the Seljuk Empire concentrated their strength in the territory of Turkmenistan in an attempt to expand into Afghanistan. The empire broke down in the second half of the 12th century, and the Turkmen lost their independence when Genghis Khan took control of the eastern Caspian Sea region on his march west. For the next seven centuries, the Turkmen people lived under various empires and fought constant intertribal wars. Little is documented of Turkmen history prior to Russian engagement. However, from the 13th to the 16th centuries, Turkmen formed a distinct ethnolinguistic group. As the Turkmen migrated from the area around the Mangyshlak Peninsula in contemporary Kazakhstan toward the Iranian border region and the Amu Darya river basin, tribal Turkmen society further developed cultural traditions that would become the foundation of Turkmen national consciousness.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, control of Turkmenistan was fought over by Persian shahs, Khivan khans, the emirs of Bukhara and the rulers of Afghanistan. During this period, Turkmen spiritual leader Magtymguly Pyragy reached prominence with his efforts to secure independence and autonomy for his people. At this time the vast territory of Central Asia including the region of Turkmenistan was largely unmapped and virtually unknown to Europe and the Western world. Rivalry for control of the area between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia led to the establishment of The Great Game. Throughout their conquest of Central Asia, the Russians were met with the stiffest resistance by the Turkmen. By 1894, however, Russia had gained control of Turkmenistan and incorporated it into its empire. The rivalry officially concluded with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Slowly, Russian and European cultures were introduced to the area. This was evident in the architecture of the newly-formed city of Aahgabat, which became the capital. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent political unrest led to the declaration of the area as the Turkmen SSR, one of the six republics of the Soviet Union in 1924, assuming the borders of modern Turkmenistan.

The new Turkmen SSR went through a process of further Europeanisation. The tribal Turkmen people were encouraged to become secular and adopt Western-style clothing. The Turkmen alphabet was changed from the traditional Arabic script to Latin and finally to Cyrillic. However, bringing the Turkmens to abandon their previous nomadic ways in favor of communism was not fully embraced until as late as 1948. Nationalist organizations in the region also existed during the 1920s and the 1930s.

When the Soviet Union began to collapse, Turkmenistan and the rest of the Central Asian states heavily favored maintaining a reformed version of the state, mainly because they needed the economic power and common markets of the Soviet Union to prosper. In 1991, when the Soviet Union split, Turkmenistan was one of the last countries to declare its independence.

The former Soviet leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, remained in power as Turkmenistan's leader after the dissolution of the Soviet Union until his death on 2006-12-21. His policies changed greatly in the post-Soviet era: he was friendly to foreign corporations; he had rather tense relations with Moscow; and he styled himself a promoter of traditional, Muslim, Turkmen culture. However, the extent of his power was greatly expanded starting in the early 1990s. An authoritarian dictator, he referred to himself as "Turkmenbashi" — "leader of all ethnic Turkmen". He became notorious in the Western world for his cult of personality and for the disproportionately harsh measures he took to crush political dissent.



The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government. Turkmenistan has a single-party system.


Human rights

Some human rights are guaranteed in the Constitution of Turkmenistan. However, rights issues in Turkmenistan, an authoritarian state, include freedom of religion issues. According to Forum 18, despite international pressure, the authorities keep a very close eye on all religious groups and the legal framework is so constrictive that many prefer to exist underground rather than to have to pass through all the official processes, which act as barriers. Protestant Christian adherents are affected, in addition to groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the followers of the Hare Krishna movement. The Hare Krishna followers are not allowed to seek donations at the country's main airport, Ashgabat.

According to the 2005 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the second-worst press freedom conditions in the world behind North Korea, and as of a 2006 report, is listed as one of the 13 "Internet enemies", calling President Niyazov a "central Asian Kim Jong-Il."

In early 2005, the President called for all hospitals outside Ashgabat to be closed. Given the restrictions on movement inside the country and the country’s tightly controlled press, outside experts have had difficulty in determining the extent to which the hospital-closing plan has been carried out.

People who have defected from Turkmenistan are subject to prison terms for betraying the country. Any act of homosexuality in Turkmenistan is punishable by up to five years in prison. Liberal political movements which call for democracy or freedom of speech are illegal, and membership in one of them could lead to imprisonment.

The Turkmen educational system is far behind the educational system in Russia. Entering a university often requires a bribe, discouraging talented people from seeking higher education.

Most of the Russian population left Turkmenistan between 1992 and 1999 to seek freedom and stability elsewhere. Many people who lived in Turkmenistan before the collapse of the Soviet Union applied for political asylum in Western countries. Those people are on the black list of the Turkmen government and are subject to arrest by the secret police if they enter the country.


Administrative divisions

Administrative divisions of Turkmenistan.
Administrative divisions of Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces or welayatlar (singular - welayat) and one independent city:

Division ISO 3166-2 Capital City Area (sq. km) Area (sq. mi) Pop (1995) Key
Ashgabat Ashgabat 604,000
Ahal Province TM-A Annau 95,000 36,680 722,800 1
Balkan Province TM-B Balkanabat  138,000 53,280 424,700 2
Daşoguz Province TM-D Daşoguz 74,000 28,570 1,059,800 3
Lebap Province TM-L Turkmenabat 94,000  36,290 1,034,700 4
Mary Province TM-M Mary 87,000 33,590 1,146,800 5


Map of Turkmenistan
Map of Turkmenistan

At 188,457 mi² (488,100 km²), Turkmenistan is the world's 52nd-largest country. It is comparable in size to Cameroon, and somewhat larger than the US state of California.

Some 90% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. The center of the country is dominated by Turan Depression and the Karakum Desert which are mostly flatlands. The Kopet Dag Range, along the southwestern border, reaches 2,912 meters (9,553 ft). The Turkmen Balkan Mountains in the far west and the Kugitang Range in the far east are the only other appreciable elevations. Rivers include the Amu Darya, the Murghab, and the Hari Rud.

The climate is subtropical desert, with little rainfall. Winters are mild and dry, with most precipitation falling between January and May. Heaviest precipitation is in the Kopetdag Range.

Main cities include Türkmenbaşy (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Daşoguz.



Turkmenbashi Palace in Ashgabat
Turkmenbashi Palace in Ashgabat

One half of its irrigated land is planted in cotton, making it the world's 10th-largest producer; and it possesses the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources. [1] In 1994, Russia's refusal to export Turkmen gas to hard currency markets and mounting debts of its major customers in the former Soviet Union for gas deliveries contributed to a sharp fall in industrial production and caused the budget to shift from a surplus to a slight deficit.

Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to sustain its economy. In 2004, the unemployment rate was estimated to be 60%; the percentage of the population living below the poverty line was thought to be 58% a year earlier.[2] Privatization goals remain limited. Between 1998 and 2002, Turkmenistan suffered from the continued lack of adequate export routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive short-term external debt. At the same time, however, the value of total exports has risen sharply because of higher international oil and gas prices. Economic prospects in the near future are discouraging because of widespread internal poverty and the burden of foreign debt.

President Niyazov squandered much of the country's revenue on self-glorification, with cities, Ashgabat in particular, being given extensive renovations whilst the people living outside the capital struggle in conditions of poverty. Particular concern has been voiced by corruption watchdogs over the management of Turkmenistan's currency reserves, most of which seem to be held in off-budget funds such as the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund in the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, according to a report released in April 2006 by London-based NGO Global Witness. According to the decree of the Peoples' Council of 14 August 2003, [3], electricity, natural gas, water and iodized salt will be provided free of charge to citizens up to 2030; however, shortages are frequent. On September 5 2006, after Turkmenistan threatened to cut off supplies, Russia agreed to raise the price it pays for Turkmen natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. Two-thirds of Turkmen gas goes through the Russian state-owned Gazprom. [2]



A native Turkmen man in traditional dress with his dromedary camel circa 1915.
A native Turkmen man in traditional dress with his dromedary camel circa 1915.

The majority of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmen with sizeable minorities of Russians and Uzbeks. Smaller minorities include Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Azeris, Armenians and Tatars. Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, though Russian still is widely spoken as a "language of inter-ethnic communication" (per the 1992 Constitution).

The name Turkmen, both for the people and for the nation itself, is said to be self-referential from the period the Russians first encountered the people, parsing as Tūrk-men, or "I am Tūrk".

Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level, the total duration of which was recently reduced from 11 to 9 years.




Miscellaneous topics


Further reading



  1. [1]
  2. CIA World Factbook. government publication. Central Intelligence Agency (19 December 2006). Retrieved on [[December 21, 2006]].
  3. Resolution of Khalk Maslahati (Peoples' Council of Turkmenistan) N 35 (14.08.2003)

External links

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