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Republic of Turkmenistan
Türkmenistan Respublikasy
Flag Coat of arms
AnthemIndependent, Neutral, Turkmenistan State Anthem
Capital Ashkhabad
37°58′N 58°20′E / 37.967°N 58.333°E / 37.967; 58.333
Largest city Ashgabat
Official language(s) Turkmen
Language for inter-ethnic
Demonym Turkmen
Government Presidential republic Single-party state
 -  President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
Independence from the Soviet Union 
 -  Declared 27 October 1991 
 -  Recognized 25 December 1991 
 -  Total 488,100 km2 [1](52nd)
188,456 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 4.9
 -  2009 estimate 5,110,000[2] (112th)
 -  Density 10.5/km2 (208th)
27.1/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $30.332 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $5,756[3] 
HDI (2007) 0.739[4] (medium) (109th)
Currency Turkmen new manat (TMT)
Time zone TMT (UTC+5)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+5)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .tm
Calling code 993

The Republic of Turkmenistan (Turkmen: Türkmenistan Respublikasy), also known as Turkmenia (Russian: Туркмения) is a country in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR). It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, Uzbekistan to the east and northeast, Kazakhstan to the north and northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west.

Turkmenistan's GDP growth rate of 11.5% (IMF estimate for 2007) ranks 11th in the world, but official government statistics on which this estimate is based are widely regarded as unreliable.[1] Although it is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas, most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert.

Until recently it was a single-party system; this system was considered to not meet even the most basic standards of democracy.[5] Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (called "Türkmenbaşy" — "leader of the Turkmens") until his sudden death on December 21, 2006. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was elected the new president on February 11, 2007.



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

Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the fourth century BC on his way to Central Asia, around the time that the Silk Road was established as a major trading route between Asia and the Mediterranean Region[citation needed]. One hundred and fifty years later, Persia's Parthian Kingdom established its capital in Nisa, now in the suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat[citation needed]. After replacement of the Parthian empire by Persian Sassanids, another native Iranian dynasty, the region remained territory of the Persian empire for several centuries.

In the seventh century AD, Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them Islam and incorporating the Turkmen into the greater Middle Eastern culture[citation needed]. 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[citation needed].

In the middle of the eleventh century, the Turkoman-ruled Seljuk Empire concentrated its strength in the territory of modern Turkmenistan in an attempt to expand into Khorasan (modern Afghanistan). The empire broke down in the second half of the twelfth 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 inter-tribal wars. Little is documented of Turkmen history prior to Russian engagement. However, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Turkmen formed a distinct ethnolinguistic group[citation needed]. As the Turkmen migrated from the area around the Mangyshlak Peninsula in contemporary Kazakhstan toward the Iranian border region and the Amu Darya basin, tribal Turkmen society further developed cultural traditions that became 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 was characterized as 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.

Soviet Union

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 Ashgabat, 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.

A Turkmen man of Central Asia in traditional clothes, around 1905–1915.

The new Turkmen SSR went through a process of further Europeanization. The tribal Turkmen people were encouraged to become secular and adopt European-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. The Ashgabat earthquake of 1948 killed over 110,000 (2/3 of the city's population).[6] The nation policies of the Soviet Union, particularly in the 1920- and 1930s, actually promoted "the invention of turkmen traditions". Turkmen was enjoying preferable treatment in the Soviet administration and educational system and during the Stalin years did the republic become more national in form (i.e. Turkmen). Turkmen become the official language for example.[7]


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. Turkmenistan declared independence on 27 October 1991,[8] one of the last republics to secede. Turkmenistan gained official recognition in December 25, 1991, a day before the final dissolution of the Soviet Union. Turkmenistan joined the U.N. the following year.

In 1991, Turkmenistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an international organization of former Soviet republics. However, Turkmenistan reduced its status in the organization to "associate member" in August 2005. The reason stated by the Turkmen president was the country's policy of permanent neutrality.[9] It is the only former Soviet state (aside from the Baltic states now in the European Union, and Georgia that withdrew on 18 August 2009) without a full membership.

The former leader of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, Saparmurat Niyazov, remained in power as Turkmenistan's leader after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Under his post-Soviet rule, Russian-Turkmen relations greatly suffered.[citation needed] He styled himself as a promoter of traditional Muslim and Turkmen culture (calling himself "Türkmenbaşy", or "leader of the Turkmen people"), but he became notorious in the West for his dictatorial rule and extravagant cult of personality. The extent of his power greatly increased during the early 1990s, and in 1999 he became President for Life.

Niyazov died unexpectedly on 21 December 2006, leaving no heir apparent and an unclear line of succession. A former deputy prime minister rumored to be the illegitimate son of Niyazov,[10] Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, became acting president, although under the constitution the Chairman of the People's Council, Ovezgeldy Atayev, should have succeeded to the post. However, Atayev was accused of crimes and removed from office.

In an election on 11 February 2007, Berdimuhamedow was elected president with 89% of the vote and 95% turnout, although the election was condemned by outside observers as unfair.[11] He was sworn in on 14 February 2007.


Presidential Palace in Ashgabat.

After 69 years as part of the Soviet Union (including 67 years as a union republic), Turkmenistan declared its independence on 27 October 1991.

President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former bureaucrat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and described as an "eccentric autocrat", ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He retained absolute control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 28 December 1999, Niyazov was declared President for Life of Turkmenistan by the Mejlis (parliament), which itself had taken office a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov. No opposition candidates were allowed.[citation needed]

Since the December 2006 death of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's leadership made tentative moves to open up the country. His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen". In education, Berdimuhamedow's government had increased basic education to ten years from nine years, and higher education had been extended from four years to five. He has also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches - but fears were mounting that the government would revert to Niyazov's draconian style of rule.

The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government. Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan had a single-party system; however, in September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new Constitution. The latter resulted in the abolition of the Council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008. The new Constitution also permits the formation of multiple political parties.

The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, has been the only one effectively permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.

Turkmenistan is among the twenty countries in the world with the highest perceived level of corruption: the 2008 Corruption Perception Index for Turkmenistan is 1.8 on a scale of 0 (most corrupt) to 10 (least corrupt).[12]

Human rights

Although human rights and civil liberties are guaranteed in the Constitution of Turkmenistan (such as social equality, sex equality, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and freedom of movement), human rights remains a contentious issue in the country. Other social and economic rights include the right to work, the right to rest, and the right to education. However, there are freedom of religion issues.[13]

According to the 2007 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the third-worst restrictions on the freedom of the press in the world. Former president Saparmurat Niyazov enforced a ban on satellite dishes[14] and also banned beards, long hair, ballet, opera and recorded music in Turkmenistan.[15] These restrictions are now being gradually relaxed by the new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. Although there were modest improvements, the government continued to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remained poor.[16]

Turkmenistan had done a progress in area of human rights. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov had announced laws of enabling more than one party. That will change totally authoritarian regime in Turkmenistan. [2]

Administrative divisions

Provinces of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces or welayatlar (singular welayat) and one capital city district. The provinces are subdivided into districts (etraplar, sing. etrap), which may be either counties or cities. According to the Constitution of Turkmenistan (Article 16 in the 2008 Constitution, Article 47 in the 1992 Constitution), some cities may have the status of welaýat (province) or etrap (district).

Division ISO 3166-2 Capital city Area[17] Pop (2005)[17] Key
Ashgabat City Ashgabat 470 km2 (180 sq mi) 871,500
Ahal Province TM-A Anau 97,160 km2 (37,510 sq mi) 939,700 1
Balkan Province TM-B Balkanabat  139,270 km2 (53,770 sq mi) 553,500 2
Daşoguz Province TM-D Daşoguz 73,430 km2 (28,350 sq mi) 1,370,400 3
Lebap Province TM-L Türkmenabat 93,730 km2 (36,190 sq mi) 1,334,500 4
Mary Province TM-M Mary 87,150 km2 (33,650 sq mi) 1,480,400 5


It is one of the driest deserts in the world, some places have an average annual percipitation amount of only 12 mm. The highest temperature recorded in Ashkhabad is 48.9 °C (120 F°) and Kerki, an extreme inland city located on the banks of the Amu Darya river, recorded 51.7 °C (125 °F) in July 1983.[citation needed]


Map of Turkmenistan
Dust storm over Turkmenistan

At 488,100 km2 (188,500 sq mi), Turkmenistan is the world's 52nd-largest country. It is slightly smaller than Spain and somewhat larger than the US state of California.

Over 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. The center of the country is dominated by the Turan Depression and the Karakum Desert. The Kopet Dag Range, along the southwestern border, reaches 2,912 meters (9,553 ft) at Kuh-e Rizeh (Mount Rizeh).[18]

The Great Balkhan Range in the west of the country (Balkan Province) and the Köýtendag Range on the southeastern border with Uzbekistan (Lebap Province) are the only other significant elevations. The Great Balkhan Range rises to 1,880 metres (6,200 ft) at Mount Arlan[19] and the highest summit in Turkmenistan is Ayrybaba in the Kugitangtau Range – 3,137 metres (10,290 ft).[20] Rivers include the Amu Darya, the Murghab, and the Tejen.

The climate is mostly arid subtropical desert, with little rainfall. Winters are mild and dry, with most precipitation falling between January and May. The area of the country with the heaviest precipitation is the Kopet Dag Range.

The Turkmen shore along the Caspian Sea is 1,768 kilometres (1,099 mi) long. The Caspian Sea is entirely landlocked, with no access to the ocean.

The major cities include Aşgabat, Türkmenbaşy (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Daşoguz.


The country possesses the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources.[21] In 1994, the Russian government'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. Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's tenth-largest producer of it.

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%;[1] the percentage of the population living below the poverty line was thought to be 58% a year earlier.[citation needed] 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 increases in 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 spent much of the country's revenue on extensively renovating cities, Ashgabat in particular. Corruption watchdogs voiced particular concern over the management of Turkmenistan's currency reserves, most of which are 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 non-governmental organization Global Witness.

According to the decree of the Peoples' Council of 14 August 2003,[22] electricity, natural gas, water and salt will be subsidized for citizens up to 2030; however, shortages are frequent. On 5 September 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.[23]

Natural gas

HQ of the Ministry of oil and gas of Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world to Russia, Iran and the United States in natural gas reserves. The Turkmenistan Natural Gas Company (Türkmengaz), under the auspices of the Ministry of Oil and Gas, controls gas extraction in the country. Gas production is the most dynamic and promising sector of the national economy. Turkmenistan's gas reserves are estimated at 8.1-8.7 trillion cubic meters and its prospecting potential at up to 21 trillion cubic meters. The country cooperates with China in the construction of pipelines for the export of natural gas [24].


Most of Turkmenistan's oil is extracted by the Turkmenistan State Company (Concern) Türkmennebit from fields at Koturdepe, Balkanabad, and Chekelen near the Caspian Sea, which have a combined estimated reserve of 700 million tons. The oil extraction industry started with the exploitation of the fields in Chekelen in 1909 (by Nobel brothers) and Balkanabad in the 1930s, then production leaped ahead with the discovery of the Kumdag field in 1948 and the Koturdepe field in 1959. Big part of the oil produced in Turkmenistan is refined in Turkmenbashy and Seidi refineries. Also, oil is exported by tankers through Caspian Sea to Europe via canals.[25]


Turkmenistan is a net exporter of electrical power to Central Asian republics and southern neighbors. The most important generating installations are the Hindukush Hydroelectric Station, which has a rated capacity of 350 megawatts, and the Mary Thermoelectric Power Station, which has a rated capacity of 1,370 megawatts. In 1992 electrical power production totaled 14.9 billion kilowatt-hours.[26]


Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's tenth-largest producer of it.


Most of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Armenians, Azeris, and Balochis.

The CIA World Factbook gives the ethnic composition of Turkmenistan as 85% Turkmen, 5% Uzbek, 4% Russian and 6% other (2003 estimates).[1] According to data announced in Ashgabat in February 2001, 91% of the population are Turkmen, 3% are Uzbeks and 2% are Russians. Between 1989 and 2001 the number of Turkmen in Turkmenistan doubled (from 2.5 to 4.9 million), while the number of Russians dropped by two-thirds (from 334,000 to slightly over 100,000).[27]


Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan (per the 1992 Constitution), although Russian still is widely spoken in cities as a "language of inter-ethnic communication". Turkmen is spoken by 72% of the population, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, and other languages 7%.[1]


The Ärtogrul Gazy Mosque in Ashgabat named after the father of Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire.

Islam is the dominant religion in Turkmenistan (89% of the population); the 9% of the population that adheres to the Eastern Orthodox Church are ethnic Russians; the remaining 2% religion is reported as unknown.[1] Islam came to the Turkmen primarily through the missionary activities of sheikhs. These sheikhs were holy men and they often were adopted as patriarchs of particular clans or tribal groups, thereby becoming their "founders." Reformulation of communal identity around such figures accounts for one of the highly localized developments of Islamic practice in Turkmenistan.

In the Soviet era, all religious beliefs were attacked by the communist authorities as superstition and "vestiges of the past." Most religious schooling and religious observance were banned, and the vast majority of mosques were closed. However, since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule.

Former president Saparmurat Niyazov ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. Religious classes are held in both schools and mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur'an and the hadith, and history of Islam.[28]

President Niyazov wrote his own religious text, published in separate volumes in 2001 and 2004, entitled the Ruhnama. The Turkmenbashi regime required that the book, which formed the basis of the educational system in Turkmenistan, be given equal status with the Quran (mosques were required to displayed the two books side by side). The book was heavily promoted as part of the former president's personality cult, and knowledge of the Ruhnama is required even for obtaining a driver's license.[29]


Turkmen girl in traditional dress.

Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level, the total duration of which was earlier reduced from 10 to 9 years; with the new President it has been decreed that from the 2007 - 2008 school year on, mandatory education will be for 10 years.[citation needed]

Mass Media

There are a number of newspapers and monthly magazines published in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan currently broadcasts 5 national TV channels through satellite. There are no commercial or private TV stations. Articles published by the state-controlled newspapers are heavily censored and written to glorify the state and its leader.

Internet services are the least developed in Central Asia. Access to internet services are provided by the government's only ISP company "Turkmentelekom". It is estimated that as of August 2007 there were 64,800 internet users in Turkmenstan or roughly 0.9% of total population.[30][31]

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace [3] Global Peace Index[32] 101 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 109 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 168 out of 180

See also

Further reading

  • 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
  • Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus by Robert D. Kaplan
  • 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.
  • Theroux, Paul, "Letter from Turkmenistan, The Golden Man, Saparmyrat Nyyazow’s reign of insanity" New Yorker, 28 May 2007
  • Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, Turkménistan, Paris, Non Lieu, 2009.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Turkmenistan, CIA World Factbook. Retrieved on 2008-12-26.
  2. ^ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009) (.PDF). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. 2008 revision. United Nations. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  3. ^ a b "Turkmenistan". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  4. ^ "Human Development Report 2009: Turkmenistan". The United Nations. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  5. ^ Freedom House: Freedom in the world, country report on Turkmenistan
  6. ^ 12 of the Most Destructive Earthquakes. HowStuffWorks.
  7. ^ Terry Martin- the Affirmative Action Empire (Itacha & London)
  8. ^ Tribe, Class, and Nation in Turkmenistan, page 1 Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan
  9. ^ Turkmenistan Reduces Ties To ‘Associate Member' Radio Free Europe, 29 August 2005
  10. ^ "Profile: Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov". BBC. 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  11. ^ "Country profile: Turkmenistan". BBC. 2008-07-30. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  12. ^ 2008 Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International. Retrieved on 14 March 2009
  13. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2008). "Turkmenistan: International Religious Freedom Report 2008". US State Department. Retrieved 2008-11-15. 
  14. ^ Pannier, Bruce (2002-07-26). "Turkmebashi Takes New Interest In Satellite Television". EurasiaNet. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  15. ^ "Turkmenistan bans recorded music". BBC News. 2005-08-23. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  16. ^ U.S. Department of State, Turkmenistan: Human Rights Report 2008, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 25 February 2009.
  17. ^ a b Statistical Yearbook of Turkmenistan 2000-2004, National Institute of State Statistics and Information of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, 2005.
  18. ^ Kuh-e Rizeh on
  19. ^ Mount Arlan on
  20. ^ Ayrybaba on
  21. ^
  22. ^ Resolution of Khalk Maslahati (Peoples' Council of Turkmenistan) N 35 (14.08.2003)
  23. ^ BBC NEWS | Business | Russia reaches Turkmen gas deal
  24. ^ "China plays Pipelineistan'
  25. ^ Turkmenistan Oil and Gas. Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  26. ^ Turkmenistan study. Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  27. ^ Ethnic composition of Turkmenistan in 2001, Demoscope Weekly, No. 37-38, 8–21 October 2001.
  28. ^ Larry Clark, Michael Thurman, and David Tyson. "Turkmenistan". A Country Study: Turkmenistan (Glenn E. Curtis, editor). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (March 1996). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.[1]
  29. ^
  30. ^ Turkmenistan: Internet usage, broadband and telecommunications reports. Retrieved: 25 August 2009.
  31. ^ CIA: The World Factbook 2009.
  32. ^ "Vision of Humanity". Vision of Humanity. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 

External links

General information

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Asia : Central Asia : Turkmenistan
Quick Facts
Capital Ashgabat
Government Dictatorship
Currency Turkmen manat (TMM)
Area 488,100 km2
Population 5,179,571 (July 2008 est.)
Language Turkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, other 7%
Religion Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%
Calling Code 963
Time Zone UTC +5

Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia with a population of about 5 million, and an area around half a million km2, a bit larger than California or almost the size of Spain.

It has a coast on the Caspian Sea, but is otherwise landlocked. Neighboring countries are Iran and Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the North.

It is an extremely poor country even though billions have been spent on the capital Ashgabat in post Soviet times. The traditional life of the Turkmen is that of nomadic shepherds, though some have been settled in towns for centuries. The country has extensive oil and gas reserves undergoing exploration and development.

Map of Turkmenistan
Map of Turkmenistan

The great Garagum (Kara-Kum) desert occupies over 80% of the country in the West and center. The Eastern part is a less desolate plateau. The country shares a mountainous, or at least hilly, border with Iran.

Historically, most of these towns were oases along the Silk Road.

  • Darvaza Flaming Crater — At this spot near the town of Darvaza, an oil rig accidentally struck a large pocket of natural gas in 1971. The rig collapsed into the cavern, resulting in a large crater filled with fire. It was decided to let the fire burn rather than let the poisonous gas escape into the nearby town. The fire burns to this day and it is popular as being easily mistakable for the gates of Hell.

Pay a visit to 'Kow Ata' underground sulfur lake, found in the mountains an hour or so outside Ashgabat. It is possible to swim in the year-round warm, mineral rich, and medicinal waters. Expect a walk down increasingly slippery steps, and a corrugated shack to change in - unless you're handy with your towel.


North Korea may get all the press, but even Kim Jong-Il's cult of personality fades when compared to the surreal totalitarian state set up by Turkmenistan's all-powerful President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov. He adopted the title Turkmenbashi ("Father of All Turkmen"), named the city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) after himself, and built a 15-meter tall golden statue that rotates to face the sun in the capital Ashgabat. The month of January was renamed Turkmenbashi after himself, while the month of April and the word "bread" became Gurbansoltan Eje, the name of Niyazov's mother. Decrees emanating from Niyazov's palace have banned, among other things, lip synching, long hair, video games, and golden tooth caps. Through it all, Serdar Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great (his official title) remained modest: "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want", he said.

Since Niyazov's abrupt if unlamented death in December 2006, his successor Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow has slowly peeled back the worst excesses of the Turkmenbashi, restoring pensions and old names.


The people of Turkmenistan are predominantly Turkmen, also spelt Turkoman, in both ethnicity and language. Turkmenistan traditionally was home to sizable Russian and German populations, but they largely emigrated to their mother countries following the break up of the Soviet Union.


Turkmenistan is largely covered by desert, with intensive agriculture located in irrigated oases. One-half of its irrigated land is planted with cotton, making it the world's tenth largest producer.

Get in

Most all nationalities need a visa to enter Turkmenistan, and it has a reputation for being one of the more difficult to obtain. The hoops you'll need to jump through vary by nationality, but often involve needing to apply in person at their consulate in your home country, and letters of invitation from someone within Turkmenistan.

Arranging a tour may make things easier, as the company can help in getting the LOI and visa. Bear in mind that you might well have to be met by a guide, regardless of how you enter Turkmenistan. This can be particularly important, especially if your inward journey is delayed as is possible when entering across the Caspian Sea by boat.

By plane

Turkmenistan Airlines has direct flights to Ashgabat from London and Birmingham, used predominantly by the British Sikh community as a transit point for further flight to India and Pakistan. Look out for the portrait of Sapamurat 'Turkmenbashi' Niyazov at the front of the cabin. Turkish Airlines flies to Ashgabat from Istanbul. Lufthansa also flies from Frankfurt to Ashgabat.

By train

There is a railway connection to Russia and Iran but no train crosses the border at any point of the country.

By bus

From Iran

Since no public transportation goes across the Turkmen border, to get to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan from Mashhad (Iran), the following option is the most convenient:

  • Take a bus to Quchan: every 2 hours from 6.30am. Cost: 8000 rial. Duration: 2h30.
  • From Quchan, take a private taxi to Bajgiran (village at the border). Cost: 60,000 rial for 2, or less if you can. Duration: about 1h.
  • At Bajgiran, go to the border (opening time: 7.30 - 15.30 Iran time). Crossing the border can take up to 2 hours. Turkmen police will ask for an entry tax of $10 (per person) + $2 of bank fees (per group), to be paid in US dollars only.
  • In the Turkmenistan side, take a taxi to Ashgabat, which can cost up to $15 per person. Duration: about 1h.
Travel Warning

WARNING: According to the US embassy, [1]:Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by “ferry” across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan. Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat. Travelers should be aware that these “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function. Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary. Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark. Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used. For this and other reasons travelers, especially those who plan to enter Turkmenistan by boat, are discouraged from using transit visas to enter Turkmenistan.

Get around

By plane

Internal flights are possible on Turkmenistan Airlines which flies daily between Ashgabat, Mary, Turkmenbashi, Dashoguz and a couple other destinations. Flights are subsidised, and due to fuel costs, extremely cheap. Prices are around $5 US for a flight from Ashgabat to Mary or Dashoguz. Turkmenistan Airlines operates with a new fleet of Boeing 737s, purchased in 2001. Be aware that you might not be able to photograph freely in and around the airport, though this is not unheard of elsewhere.

By boat

The Amu Darya is an important inland waterway for Turkmenistan.

By car

At least in Ashgabat, like in much of the former Soviet Union, "taxis" are mostly unofficial - and can be hailed by flagging down a car by the roadside. Haggle, and agree on the destination and price in advance - knowledge of Russian will definitely come in handy at this point.

The usual sensible precautions apply here. If your instincts suggest that something might be not quite right, then it's best to go with your instincts.

Roadblocks are in place throughout the country, so this method is really best used only within city limits unless you are specifically looking for trouble.

By train

It is possible to travel by train between some of the major cities in Turkmenistan, but journeys are slow (up to 16 hours from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi) - so unless you have a specific interest, plane travel is the best way to get around the country.


Around 70% of the people in Turkmenistan speak Turkmen, and 50% speak decent Russian.


Turkoman rugs are famous, tending towards rich reds with geometric patterns. Sometimes they are called Bokhara rugs because Bukhara in neighbouring Uzbekistan was a center for their trade. Turkoman designs are now often copied in India and Pakistan.

The classic book on Turkoman rugs is "Tappiseries de l'Asie Centrale", in Russian and French by AA Bogolyubov, Tsarist governor of Turkmenistan, 1905. It was a limited edition with hand-painted illustrations, now rare and extremely expensive. A translation (the original French plus English), "Carpets of Central Asia", was published in Britain in the 60s. Even it is now hard to find and expensive. However, if you intend spending a lot on these carpets, it is definitely worth reading. Look for it in libraries.

Why not add to your own despotic library by adding Turkmenbashi's self-penned 'Ruhnama' book, exploring his views on what it means to be a Turkmen. Surprisingly, this is a fairly sensible read.


Expect distinctly average Russian cuisine in restaurants. As in Uzbekistan, plov and more central Asian-type fare can be found in markets.

If you can find it, try sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, sometimes prepared in a 'tempura' style.


Look out for a range of 'Turkmenbashi' labeled vodka, which can be washed down with the range of Russian 'Baltika' brand beer. Tea is excellent and readily available.

Best to err on the side of caution, and stick with bottled water. As in Russia, you may want to specify byehz gah-zah (literally, 'without gas' or 'still; plain') if you do not like fizzy water. 'Borjomi' mineral water from Georgia is available in Ashgabat's shops.

Stay safe

The recent death of Saparmurat Niyazov has created some uncertainty about the situation in the country. Visitors should exercise caution with regard to local politics — keeping aware of developments but avoiding any involvement.

It is possible to take photographs relatively freely in Turkmenistan. However, you are best advised to exercise caution when photographing anyone in uniform or government buildings. Play it safe early on in your visit to give yourself an idea of what is acceptable.

It should not be necessary for your guide to accompany you if you wish to leave your hotel, and go for a wander.

Do not under any circumstances criticize the president, the country or its people. Things have eased a bit since the Turkmenbashi's death, but the country remains a tightly-controlled police state.

The Ruhnama, a book written for the Turkmen people by Supurmurat Niazov is still sold, and still learned in Turkmen schools. As such, it is best regarded to not criticize the former President as well.


Most Turkmen will respect you if you respect them. They detest being called Russians or Soviets.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun




  1. Country in Central Asia. Official name: Turkmenistan.


See also

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Singular only
Nominative Turkmenistan
Genitive Turkmenistanu
Dative Turkmenistanowi
Accusative Turkmenistan
Instrumental Turkmenistanem
Locative Turkmenistanie
Vocative Turkmenistanie

Derived terms


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Simple English

Republic of Turkmenistan

Türkmenistan Jumhuriyäti

File:Flag of File:Turkmenistan coa.gif
Official flag Coat of Arms
National information
National motto: n/a
National anthem: "Independent, Neutral, Turkmenistan State Anthem"
About the people
Official languages: Turkmen
Population: (# of people)
  - Total: 4,952,081 (ranked 112)
  - Density: 10 per km²
Geography / Places
[[Image:|250px|none|country map]] Here is the country on a map.
Capital city: Aşgabat
Largest city: Aşgabat
  - Total: 488,100 (ranked 52)
  - Water:n/a km² (4.9%)
Politics / Government
Established: October 27, 1991
Leaders: President/Chairman: Saparmurat Niyazov
Economy / Money
(Name of money)
Turkmen Manat (TMM)
International information
Time zone: +5 (DST: +6)
Telephone dialing code: +993
Internet domain: .tm

Turkmenistan or Turkmenia is a country in Central Asia. It has borders with Afghanistan, Iran (Persia), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. It has no ocean coastline, but is on the Caspian Sea. The capital of Turkmenistan is Ashghabad.[1]


  1. "Turkmenistan". Central Intelligence Agency - The World Factbook. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 

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