Turkmenistan - Article
Turkmenistan (also known as Turkmenia or Turkmania) is a country in Central Asia. It borders Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Caspian Sea. Before 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, called the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. The name Turkmenistan is derived from Persian, meaning "land of the Turkmen".
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.
Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century B.C. on his way to India. One hundred and fifty years later Persia's Parthian Kingdom established its capital in Nisa, an area now located in the suburbs of the modern-day capital of Ashgabat. In the 7th century A.D. Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them Islam and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle Eastern culture. It was around this time that the famous Silk Road was established as a major trading route between Asia and Europe.
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.
In the middle of the 11th century, the powerful 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 through 16th centuries, Turkmen formed a distinct entholinguistic group. As the Turkmen migrated from the area around the Mangishlak peninsula in contemporary Kazakhstan toward the Iranian border region and Amu Darya river basin, tribal Turkmen society further developed cultural traditions that would become the foundation of Turkmen national consciousness.
By 1894 imperial Russia had taken control of Turkmenistan. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent political unrest led to the declaration of the Turkmen Republic as one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union in 1924. At this time the modern borders of Turkmenistan were formed.
In 1991, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan became independent. The former Soviet leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, remains in power. His policies have changed greatly since Soviet times: He is friendly to foreign corporations, he has rather tense relations with Moscow and he styles himself a promoter of traditional, Muslim, Turkmen culture. One thing that has not changed, however, is the extent of his power which seems to have been greatly enhanced since the early 1990s. Today, Niyazov is one of the world's most brutal and authoritarian dictators. He calls himself "Turkmenbashi," a title which means "leader of all ethnic Turkmen" in a similar style to Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk. He has become notorious in the Western world for his cult of personality and the repressive measures he takes to crush political dissent. Although Turkmenistan has lots of natural resources, for which the country's economy could potentially benefit, all of the revenue that goes into foreign investment of these resources is wasted by Niyazov for grandoise schemes such as erecting solid gold statues of himself in the country's capital. Presently, 60% of the population is unemployed while 58% lives below the poverty line.
- More information on politics and government of Turkmenistan can be found at the Politics and government of Turkmenistan series.
Politics of Turkmenistan take place under a totalitarian dictatorship, whereby the President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated.
Human 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 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 Hare Krishna. The Hare Krishna are not allowed to seek donations at the country's main airport, the Turkmenbashi Flying Aeroplane Station.
According to the 2005 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the 3rd worst press freedom conditions in the world. No one is allowed to describe the President or his family negatively. Also, no reporters are permitted to mention that the President is a very short man (5'1"), or that he wears a toupee.
Turkmenistan is divided into 5 provinces or welayatlar (singular - welayat) and one independent city:
|Division||ISO 3166-2||Capital City||Area (sq. km)||Area (sq. mi)||Pop (1995)||Key|
The country is approximately 488,100 square kilometers (188,457 sq mi). 90% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. The center of 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, Murgap, 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.
Other cities include: Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Dashoguz.
One-half of its irrigated land is planted in cotton, making it the world's 10th-largest producer; and it possesses the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas as well as substantial oil resources. 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 inefficient economy. Privatization goals remain limited. Between 1998 and 2002, Turkmenistan has 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 has squandered much of his 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 Deutsche Bank Frankfurt, according to a report released in April 2006 by London-based NGO Global Witness. President Niyazov has pledged free water, electricity and gas; however, shortages are frequent.
The majority of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmen; other ethnic groups include Russians, Uzbeks, 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 TÅ«rk-men, or
Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level, the total duration of which was recently reduced from 11 to 9 years.
- Akhal-Teke horse breed
- Islam in Turkmenistan
- Music of Turkmenistan
- Education in Turkmenistan
- Communications in Turkmenistan
- Foreign relations of Turkmenistan
- Human rights in Turkmenistan
- Military of Turkmenistan
- Scouting in Turkmenistan
- Transport in Turkmenistan
- Bradt Travel Guide: Turkmenistan by Paul Brummell
- Historical Dictionary of Turkmenistan by Rafis Abazov
- Lonely Planet Guide: Central Asia by Paul Clammer, Michael Kohn and Bradley Mayhew
- The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk
- Tradition and Society in Turkmenistan: Gender, Oral Culture and Song by Carole Blackwell
- Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan by Adrienne Lynn Edgar
- Unknown Sands: Journeys Around the World's Most Isolated Country by John W. Kropf
- Rall, Ted. "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?" New York: NBM Publishing, 2006.