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CAPITAL: Ashkhabad (Ashgabat)

FLAG: Green field with claret stripe of five carpet patterns; white crescent and five white stars symbolizing five major regions of Turkmenistan to the right of the stripe. In 1997, two crossed olive branches were added beneath the carpet patterns.

ANTHEM: Independence Turkmenistan.

MONETARY UNIT: Manat (mn), the unit of currency, was introduced by the government in November 1993. $1 = mn0.00019 (or $1 = mn5,200) as of 2005, but exchange rates fluctuate widely.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Flag Day, 19 February; International Women's Day, 8 March; Novruz Bairam (first day of spring), 21 March; Victory Day, 9 May; Revival and Unity Day, 18 May; Independence Day, 27 October; Neutrality Day, 12 December.

TIME: 5 pm = noon GMT.


Turkmenistan is located in central Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Uzbekistan. Comparatively, Turkmenistan is slightly larger than the state of California, with a total area of 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq mi). Turkmenistan shares boundaries with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the n, Afghanistan on the se, Iran on the sw, and the Caspian Sea on the w. Turkmenistan's boundary length totals 5,504 km (3,420 mi), of which 1,768 km (1,099 mi) is shoreline along the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan's capital city, Ashkhabad (which means "city of love"), is located in the southwestern part of the country.


The topography features flat to rolling sandy desert with dunes to the Caspian Sea, which lies in the west. The Kara Kum desert occupies over 80% of Turkmenistan's total area. The desert is bounded by oases in the north that are watered by the Amu Dar'ya, and by the Murgab, Tejen, and Atrek rivers in the south. Only 4% of Turkmenistan's land is arable with approximately 2.5% under irrigation. The highest point in Turkmenistan is the Gora Ayribaba (3,139 m/10,299 ft), located along the eastern border near Uzbekistan. The lowest point in the country is Vpadina Akchanaya (Akdzhakaya Depression) at 81 m (266 ft) below sea level in the north central region of the country.

The Kopet-Dag Mountains of the southern border are part of a seismically active region that has experienced devastating earthquakes. One of the most destructive earthquakes in history occurred near Ashkabad on 5 October 1948 when a 7.3 magnitude quake resulted in the deaths of 110,000 people.


The climate is arid continental. In July the mean temperature is 28°c (82°f). The mean temperature in January is -4°c (25°f). It can become very hot in the Kara Kum desert, with daytime temperatures of 50°c (122°f) not unusual. It does not rain much in Turkmenistan. Rainfall averages 25 cm (9.8 in) a year).


The Kara Kum (Black Sea) desert covers most of the country, and there is little plant or animal life. Herders raise goats, camels, and sheep in the desert. Farmers use reservoirs for irrigation to grow crops not indigenous to the area. As of 2002, there were at least 103 species of mammals and 204 species of birds throughout the country.


The most significant environmental problems in Turkmenistan include salinization of the soil and water pollution. The nation's water supply is threatened by chemical contaminants from farming activity. The problem is complicated by a lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities. A large share of the Amu Darya River's flow is diverted for irrigation, decreasing its contribution to the water supply from the Aral Sea. Water cycles have also affected the Garabogazol Aylagy, a lagoon-like appendage in the northwest that adjoins the Caspian Sea. It became fully enclosed because of a drop in the volume of the Caspian Sea, but is starting to rise again as the sea returns to previous levels.

As of 2003, 4.2% of the country's total land area was protected. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 12 types of mammals, 13 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 8 species of fish, and 5 species of invertebrates. Threatened species included the cheetah, tiger, Aral salmon, slender-billed curlew, and white-headed duck. Wild goats and cheetahs are listed as vulnerable animals.


The population of Turkmenistan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 5,240,000, which placed it at number 111 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 32% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 97 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.6%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. Between 1990 and 2005, the fertility rate declined from 4.3 births per woman to 3.4. The projected population for the year 2025 was 6,579,000. The population density was 11 per sq km (28 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 47% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.27%. The capital city, Ashkhabad (Ashgabat), had a population of 574,000 in that year. Other large cities (and their estimated populations) include Chärjew (Chardzhou) (203,000), Dashhowuz (Tashauz) (165,400), Mary (123,000), and Nebitdag (119,000).


Emigration to other former USSR republics exceeded immigration by 20,600 during 197990. More than 40,000 people fled from Tajikistan to Turkmenistan in 1992 to escape civil war. Repatriation of the Tajik refugees started in early 1998. As of 1999, nearly 5,000 Tajik refugees had voluntarily repatriated. There were also some 13,000 Tajik refugees, mostly ethnic Turkmen, who expressed the desire to remain in Turkmenistan. Between 1993 and 1995, 100,000 Russians left Turkmenistan. In 2000 there were a total of 223,000 migrants, including 14,200 refugees, living in Turkmenistan. In 2004, there were 13,253 refugees mainly from Tajikistan and 3 asylum seekers. The net migration rate was estimated as 0.82 migrants per 1,000 population in 2005. The government views the immigration level as satisfactory, but the emigration level as too high.


There are over 100 distinct ethnic groups living in Turkmenistan. According to unofficial estimates in 2003, about 85% of the population consists of ethnic Turkmen, Uzbeks account for 5% of the population, and Russians for about 4%. The Turkmen generally divide themselves into five main tribes: the Teke, Yomut, Ersary, Yasyr, and Goklen. Smaller groups of people include Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Armenians, Azeris, Tatars, and Beluji. Other groups present include Belarussians, Germans, Jews, Georgians, Moldovans, Uighurs, and Koreans. Like the Turkmen, the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Azeris are Turkic-speaking peoples.


Turkmen, spoken by about 72% of the population, is mandatory in the schools and the primary language of the government, which has campaigned to make it the only language of official business. It is a Turkic language of the Oghuz group, related to Azeri, Turkish, and Uzbek. Prior to the Soviet era, Turkmen wrote their language using the Arabic script. In Turkmenistan, that script was changed to Latin and then Cyrillic before World War II. The government has begun to institute the Latin script again. The Turkmen language has been influenced by Persian and Arabic elements. In recent decades, many borrowed words from Russian also have been adopted. Russian remains in common use in government and business and is spoken by 12% of the population. Uzbek is spoken by 9%; various other languages are spoken by 7%.


There is no state religion, but about 89% of the population are Muslim, primarily Sunni, with strong elements of local shamanism and Sufi mysticism included in its practices. About 9% of the population are Eastern Orthodox, including Russian and Armenian churches. There are small groups of Bahai's Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and a few other Protestant denominations.

Although the constitution provides for religious freedom, the government does not protect this right in practice. In 2003, the government implemented a new law on religion that requires all religious organizations to be registered with the government; unregistered organizations face criminal charges if they continue to operate by holding services or other activities. Religious education is restricted. As of 2004, only six religions had been officially registered: Sunni Islam, Russian Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventists, Bahai's, Baptists, and Hare Krishnas.


Nebitdag, Ashkhabad, Mary, and Chärjew (Chardzhou) are connected by railroad to the nation's main port of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea. Other lines include a railroad from Mary along the Murgab and Kushka rivers to Afghanistan and a line from Chärjew (Chardzhou) along the Amu Dar'ya which nearly parallels Uzbekistan's border. Smaller rail spurs are located at Dashhowuz (Tashauz) and Kerki. Rail lines were estimated at a total of 2,440 km (1,498 mi) in 2004, all of it broad gauge. Also in 2002, there were an estimated 22,000 km (13,671 mi) of roadways, of which 18,000 km (11,185 mi) were hard-surfaced. In 2003, Turkmenistan had 1,300 km (809 mi) of navigable inland waterways, which includes the Amu Dar'ya River and the Kara Kum canal. As of 2005, the country's merchant marine consisted of seven ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 6,873 GRT. In 2004, Turkmenistan had an estimated 53 airports. As of 2005 a total of 22 had paved runways, and there was also one heliport. In 2003, about 1.412 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The territory of present-day Turkmenistan has been inhabited since the Stone Age, with evidence of agricultural communities as early as 6000 bc and of planned irrigation works from 3500 bc. The first states were Margiana and Parthia, from about 1000 bc. In 7th6th centuries bc, Margiana was part of Bactria, while Parthia was part of the Median state. In the 6th4th centuries bc the region was ruled by the Achaemenids, who were conquered by Alexander the Great at the end of the 4th century. In his wake there emerged a Parthian Empire which lasted until ad 224, when Persians of the Sassanid dynasty seized the territory. In the 5th century much of Turkmenistan was conquered by Ephthalites, who in turn were conquered in the 6th century by the Tiu-chue nomads, of Turkic origin. The Arab caliphate conquered Turkmenistan in 716, and began to introduce Islam. In the 10th century part of Turkmenistan was under Samanid control.

Oghuz Turks began to migrate into Turkmenistan in the 9th century. In 1040 the Seljuk clan took control of the territory, and held sway until the 13th century, when Turkmenistan was part of the Khwarazm-Shah state. The entire region was conquered by Mongols in 121921, and Turkmenistan was split between the Golden Horde and the Chagatai Khanate, as well as the Hulaguid Khanate of Persia.

In the 1380s Turkmenistan became part of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane). By the 16th century part of the territory was ruled by the Khiva Khanate, part by Bukhara, and part by Persia. The course of the Amu Dar'ya River changed, and the Kara Kum desert claimed a great deal of once arable land.

Russia began to make commercial contacts with the Turkmens as early as the 16th century; by the 18th century almost all trade between Europe and Central Asia passed through Turkmenistan. Local tribes were used diplomatically by the Persians, Russians, and British as part of the Great Game of the 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning in 1865, Russia undertook direct annexation, which because of heavy resistance by the Turkmen tribesmen was not complete until the 1885, making Turkmenistan the last portion of the Russian Empire to be conquered. The territory then was called the Transcaspian District.

Turkmen joined the uprising of 1916, when the Tsar attempted to draft Central Asians into work battalions, and remained in general rebellion throughout the period of the revolution and civil war. Muslim and nationalist opposition, whom the Russians called basmachi, resisted the Bolsheviks until 1924, when the area was made part of the Trans-Caspian Republic. In 1925, the presentday territory became a Soviet Socialist Republic.

Throughout the Soviet period, Turkmenistan was the poorest and least assimilated of the republics. In 1985, longtime Communist Party boss M. Gapurov was fired by Mikhail Gorbachev, who picked Sapamurat Niyazov as new republic head. Niyazov has remained in power ever since. On October 27, 1990, Niyazov received 98.3% of the popular vote in an uncontested election to the new post of president of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan declared independence on 27 October 1991. After independence, Niyazov won another uncontested presidential election in June 1992 with 99.95% of the vote. In a referendum in January 1994, he received the support of 99.99% of the vote for extending his term until 2002. An elaborate cult of personality has grown up around Niyazov, who now prefers the title "Turkmenbashi," or "chief of all Turkmen." Niyazov is president, supreme commander of the armed forces, first secretary of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, head of the quasi-legislative Khalk Maslakhaty (People's Council), and chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and the National Security Council. Changes to the constitution were introduced in late December 1999 during a joint meeting of the Mejlis (legislature), the Khalk Maslakhaty, and Niyazov's National Revival Movement, to include naming Niyazov president for life.

Turkmenistan's "neutral" foreign policy is enshrined in its constitution. Niyazov has declared that Turkmenistan's "open door" or "permanent neutrality" policy precludes joining political or military alliances and entails good relations with the East and the West, though priority will be placed on relations with Central Asian and other Islamic states. Turkmenistan joined the Non-Aligned Movement in 1995, and the United Nations General Assembly in 1995 recognized Turkmenistan's status as a neutral state. Turkmenistan has pursued close ties with both Iran and Turkey. In addition to growing trade ties with Iran, Turkmenistan is also interested in cultural ties with the approximately one million Turkmen residing in Iran. Turkey is the largest foreign investor in Turkmenistan and has far surpassed Russia in trade turnover with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan supports some of Russia's policies in the region while endeavoring, where possible, to resist, contravene, or reduce Russian influence. Russian military and border troops assisted Turkmenistan until it built up its own forces, and Russia's presence has been used to counter Uzbek policies in the region. In 1993, Russia and Turkmenistan agreed that Russian border guards would work with Turkmen border guards under Turkmen command at borders with Iran and Afghanistan. In 1999, Turkmenistan canceled this agreement, and the last of Russia's 1,000 border troops in Turkmenistan left in late 1999.

The new country has abundant resources that could bring in ample export earnings, ranging from oil, gas, electricity, coal, aluminum, and cotton to wool, grapes, and carpets. Although the potential for great quantities of exported materials exist, poor infrastructure and government inefficiency has contributed to a 2005 unemployment rate of 60%. Turkmenistan's main natural gas export pipeline runs through Russia, which has closely controlled the volume, price, and destination. Seeking alternatives, Turkmenistan in December 1997 opened a 125-mile gas pipeline to connect with the Iranian pipeline system. On 18 November 1999, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey signed a declaration on a trans-Caspian and trans-Caucasus gas pipeline territory that would deliver Turkmen gas to Turkey (expected to be completed in 2002 with an eventual capacity of 16 billion meters per year), boosting chances for international financing for the pipeline. In December 2002, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan signed an agreement to build a 1,500-km pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad-Donmez field through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

In October 2001, Azerbaijan announced the planned trans-Caspian gas pipeline would not be realized. It had discovered its own huge gas reserves in Shahdeniz, and subsequently demanded a share of the exports to the amount of half of the trans-Caspian pipeline's capacity. Turkmenistan regarded such demands as contrary to its interests. In July 2002, an Azerbaijani tanker exploded in the Turkmen port of Turkmenbashi, killing six Azeri sailors. Some blamed the Turkmen government for the incident. Suspicions between the two governments ran deep in 2002, as mutual enmity between Azerbaijan's president Heydar Aliyev and Niyazov has made the gap between the ethnically close nations wide.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Turkmenistan offered to aid the US-coalition in its military and humanitarian campaign in Afghanistan. Over one-third of all food aid reaching Afghanistan since 11 September transited Turkmenistan. The United States has stated that Turkmenistan can play a positive role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. However, Turkmenistan demonstrates strong discrimination against non-Turkmen, and in 2003 the State Service for the Registration of Foreign Citizens was established to monitor foreign visitors, whose activities are strictly regulated.

On 25 November 2002, an assassination attempt was made on Niyazov. Following the attack on his motorcade, the Niyazov government began a wide investigation, and 61 people were arrested in connection with the assassination plot. Turkmenistan's National Assembly granted powers to the Supreme Court to administer "special punishment" to people found guilty of involvement in the plot. The resolution permits the Supreme Court to hand out life sentences to those convicted, with no possibility of amnesty, pardon, early release, or change of prison. Former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement. As of January 2003, more than 30 people were given lengthy sentences by Turkmen courts, including at least three life sentences amid reports of torture and coerced confessions. The US State Department expressed concern with Turkmenistan's conduct of the investigations into the assassination plot, stating that while the United States recognized the government's right to apprehend those involved, the US government could not condone actions that violate international practice. The United States claimed the Turkmen government conducted summary trials of alleged suspects without due process of law, and cited credible reports of torture and abuse of suspects.

In January 2003, the Turkmen government announced parliamentary elections would be held on 6 April, nearly two years ahead of schedule (elections had been scheduled for December 2004) for the unicameral People's Council or Halk Maslahaty. There was no election campaign, and the state media did not provide information about the candidates, all of whom were nominated by the presidential administration. The People's Council, which is considered the ultimate representative body, has 65 members. All candidates at the elections of April 2003 belonged to Niyazov's party, or the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT). The CEC announced voter turnout of 99.8 %. Also in January, Niyazov ordered the forced relocation of ethnic Uzbeks living along the Turkmen border with Uzbekistan. He stated he wanted "unworthy people" to be moved from the border area and replaced with ethnic Turkmen. The 2004 elections for the unicameral Parliament or Mejlis, which consists of 50 seats, were also all won by the DPT. The next parliamentary elections were to be held in December 2008.


In May 1992, Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian republic to enact a postindependence constitution. It sets up a "secular democracy," and formally upholds the balance of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but in reality the republic is a presidential autocracy, under the control of President Niyazov. The executive branch of government is the responsibility of a prime minister and his cabinet, all of whom are appointed by the president. The republic's economy is centrally planned and controlled, as in Soviet times, giving the government wide powers. Niyazov issues edicts that have the force of law and appoints and removes judges and local officials. The constitution includes an impressive list of individual rights and safeguards (though not freedom of the press), but cautions that the exercise of rights must not violate national morality and public order, or damage national security.

The new constitution created a People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) with mixed executive and legislative powers, consisting of the president, ministers, the 50 legislators of the Supreme Council (Mejlis), 50 "people's representatives," and others. The people's representatives were elected by district in a virtually uncontested vote in December 1992. The Halk Maslahaty serves as a forum and rubber stamp for the president's policy initiatives. Resurrecting pre-Soviet customs, a Council of Elders, hand-picked by Niyazov, was also created to advise the president and choose presidential candidates. Oppositionists complained that both these bodies were designed to stifle dissent. In 2001 Niyazov published Rukhname, a spiritual guide that became an informal legal code for the country. It is a guide to Turkmen national cultural and ethical personal behavior. A new Mejlis of 50 members was elected in December 2004. The candidates were all nominated by Niyazov, ran unopposed, and most were members of his Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT). The Mejlis routinely supports presidential decrees and has little legislative initiative. In the wake of a 25 November 2002 alleged coup attempt, the country's constitution was amended in 2003 to give the Halk Maslahaty dominance over the parliament in the hierarchy of power, and is now Turkmenistan's supreme legislative body.

Elections to the Turkmen 50-seat legislature (Mejlis) were held on 19 December 2004. Niyazov rejected a role for parties and there was no discussion of political issues or problems during the campaign. Niyazov's Party was 'elected' into all 50 seats. The lack of democratization in Turkmenistan was accentuated during the 2003 election of the Halk Maslahaty. Turnout was reported at 99.5%, though some of the candidates ran unchallenged and no real campaigning or political party contestation occurred. All members of parliament are also members of the Halk Maslahaty, a body that has no set number of seats but which is said to have about 3,000 members.


The only legally registered party in the republic is the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which is what the Communist Party renamed itself in September 1991. Seeking to bring together most major cultural, religious, and public groups in a wider political bloc, in early 1994, Niyazov created a National Revival Movement, which he heads. Unregistered parties are tiny and have been severely repressed. Many of their leaders have been forced into exile or arrested. Most significant is the "Agzybirlik" (Unity) popular front. Banned in 1990, it mostly consists of Turkmen intellectuals and backs democratization and ties to Turkey. Opposition figure Avdy Kuliyev, former foreign minister, is in exile. Physician Pirkuli Tangrikuliyev announced that he wanted to create an opposition party and would run in the 1999 Mejlis election, but he was arrested and convicted of corruption. In late December 1999, a constitutional change was enacted naming Niyazov president for life.

The assassination attempt on president Niyazov in 2002 created further crackdown on opposition groups within Turkmenistan.


There are five large regional subdivisions, called velayets. Beneath these are shekhers, then etraps, then ovs. Velayets, shekhers, and etraps have executives called vekils who are appointed and dismissed by the president. In addition each administrative sub-unit has an elected assembly called a gengeshchi, the chairman of which is an archyn.

The clan system is said still to be very strong in Turkmenistan, and the velayets reflect distribution of the five major clans, whose totems are represented in the state flag.


The court system remains substantially similar to that which existed in the Soviet era. There are 61 district and city courts, 6 provincial courts (including one for the capital city of Ashkhabad), and a Supreme Court. A supreme economic court hears cases involving disputes between business enterprises and ministries. Military courts were abolished in 1997 and cases involving the armed forces are now tried in civilian courts. Decisions of lower courts are appealable to higher courts.

The constitution declares the establishment of an independent judiciary. In practice, the president's role in selecting and dismissing judges compromises judicial independence. The president appoints all judges for a term of five years, without legislative review, except for the chairman of the Supreme Court.

Defendants in criminal cases are afforded a number of procedural due process rights, including the right to a public trial and the right to defense counsel. In practice, the government often denies these rights. There are few private lawyers. Defendants may petition the president for clemency. He has traditionally released large numbers of prisoners in periodically declared amnesties, though some political prisoners have appeared exempt from the amnesties. Prisons conditions are unknown as international organizations are not permitted to visit prisons. Although there have been reports of overcrowding and inadequate nutrition and medical care.

Journalists face severe restrictions on what they can report. Even mild criticism of the president is forbidden. Subscription to foreign magazines or other media is also forbidden. Freedom of religion is also severely restricted and there are reports that in 2004 at least 7 mosques were destroyed for unauthorized worship. A 2003 law requires all religious groups to be registered in order to practice. Freedom of assembly is also restricted; there is only one union, the Colleagues Union, which is government-controlled.

Turkmenistan is a member of the United Nations.


In 2005, Turkmenistan's armed forces consisted of 26,000 active personnel. The Army numbered 21,000 with equipment that included 702 main battle tanks, 170 reconnaissance vehicles, 942 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 829 armored personnel carriers and 488 artillery pieces. The country's 4,300-member Air Force had 92 combat capable aircraft that included 22 fighters and 66 fighter ground attack aircraft. In addition, the service also had 10 attack helicopters. Turkmenistan's Navy has an estimated 700 personnel, operating a total of five patrol/coastal boats from a single base at Turkmenbashi. The defense budget for 2005 was $173 million.


Turkmenistan was admitted to the Untied Nations on 2 March 1992; it participates in several nonregional specialized agencies, such as, the FAO, the World Bank, UNSECO, UNIDO, and the WHO. The nation is a member of the Asian Development Bank, the WTO, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, G-77, OSCE, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Turkmenistan is part of the Nonaligned Movement and the NATO Partnership for Peace. In environmental cooperation, Turkmenistan is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


Turkmenistan, though one of the poorest and least developed of the former members of the Soviet Union, boasts rich deposits of oil, gas, potassium, sulfur, and salts. It is the fourth-largest producer of natural gas in the world with proven reserves of about 2.9 trillion cu m (101 trillion cu ft), ranking it within the top 15 countries in the world in terms of natural gas reserves. Proven oil reserves are 546 million barrels, with possible reserves as high as 1.7 billion. Despite this wealth of industrial raw materials, the labor force remains dominantly in agriculture, which, with forestry, generated an estimated 26.9% of the 2005 GDP. Turkmenistan was formerly the world's tenth-largest cotton producer. Industry contributes about 39.5% of the GDP and occupies 13.9% of the labor force, and services account for 33.6% of GDP and occupy 37% of the labor force.

Turkmenistan's transition from a command economy to a free market economy was initially cushioned by its relatively low level of development, as well as by the central government's plans for a gradual reform over a 10 year period with the state continuing to play strong directive and protective roles in the economy. The slow pace of privatization and reliance on central directives has meant that much of the economy has not been exposed to market disciplines, and remains subject to the inefficiencies and distortions inherent in central controls. Although evidence suggests that living standards remain low and that structural development has been impeded, assessment is difficult because the government continues to treat economic statistics like state secrets.

Turkmenistan became independent in October 1991. The initial decontrol of prices resulted in a 90% increase in retail prices in 1991, followed by a megasurge of 800% in 1992. Contraction in output occurred mainly in industrial output while growth in the agricultural and transportation sectorsthe latter particularly due to increased government investmentlessened the rate of decline in the overall economy. Enlarged subsidies, increased wages and family allowances, and the reinstatement of some price controls were used to offset the impact of rising prices and the potential for social unrest, particularly in light of the eruption of violence in Tajikistan and other former Soviet socialist republics (SSRs). In November 1993 Turkmenistan dropped out of the ruble-based monetary union and introduced its own currency, the Turkmeni manat. In the same month, Russia, on whose Gazprom pipelines Turkmenistan relied to take its natural gas to market, cut Turkmenistan's access to the hard currency markets of Western Europe, diverting its competitor's gas instead to the cash-strapped markets of Ukraine and the ex-SSRs of the Transcaucasus. The result was one of the worst bouts of hyperinflation experienced by one of the newly independent states. The manat, introduced at two to a dollar, was at 125 to the dollar before the end of 1994, with unofficial rates often three times as high. In November 1995, with inflation at over 1000% for the year and the Turkmeni government threatening to cut off gas to its late paying customers, an agreement was reached with Russia for the creation of a joint stock company TurkmanRosGaz (TRAO)51% Turkmen, 44% Gazprom, and 5% Itera International Energy Corp. (US)whereby Gazprom would purchase and transport all the gas that Turkmenistan could sell to Ukraine and the Transcaucasus countries. This did not solve Turkmenistan's basic problem of getting hard currency export earnings to back its currency. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine had all run up substantial gas debts. Aggravating the situation, a below average cotton harvest extended poor economic conditions into 1996, as inflation raged on at about 992% for the year. GDP continued its postindependence slide, registering a decline in GDP of -8.2% in 1995 and -7.7% in 1996. Gross domestic product plunged further (-25.9%) in 1997 when Russia cut off access to its pipelines in a dispute over prices to be paid for Turkmeni gas. External debt, which had already increased 86.5% from $401 million to $750 million 1995 to 1996, jumped 136% to $1.77 billion in 1997 as the government was forced to borrow to cover shortfalls in export payments. More promising were the effects of reforms in monetary and fiscal policy adopted in 1996 and 1997.

Although not officially under an IMF program, the government voluntarily undertook to follow IMF recommendations about controlling credit expansion, reducing budget deficits, and liberalizing foreign exchange. From this point inflation began a steady retreat, falling to 84% in 1997, to about 20% in 1998 and 1999, to 14% in 2000, and to a reported 6% in 2001. However, internal evidence from the government's published figures suggested a resurgence of inflation in double digits in 2002. Another positive development was the completion in 2002 of the $190 million, 24 mile Korpedzhe Kurt-Kui pipeline connecting Turkmenistan to the Iranian gas pipeline system. In 2001 agreement was reached on a route whereby Turkmenistan gas could be delivered to Armenia through a still-to-be-built Iran-Armenian pipeline. A more ambitious project is the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline, called the Central Asia Gas Pipeline (or Centgas) that would run 1440 km (900 mi) from the Daulet Abad gas field in Turkmenistan through Qandahār, Afghanistan and end at Multan in Pakistan. The Centgas consortium was set up by Unocal in October 1997, but suspended 22 August 1998 in the face of a lack of success in obtaining funding, continuing civil war in Afghanistan (and opposition in the United States to Unocal negotiations with the unrecognized Taliban regime), and, finally, US cruise missile attacks against al-Qaeda training camps.

In May 2002, Turkmenistan led the reopening of discussions on the Trans-Afghan pipeline, now generally referred to as the TAP, and in December 2003 the leaders of Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan reached an agreement in principle to build the $3.2 billion plus project. The ADB was enlisted to carry out a six-month feasibility study, and a summit is planned for September 2003 to put together the consortium that will build the TAP. In February 2003, the three TAP countries extended an invitation to India to join the project, apparently on the realization that its viability would depend on access to the Indian market. India, not wanting to work with Pakistan, did not accept the offer. In any case, the 1997 opening of the pipeline connection to Iran helped make 1998 the last year of postindependence decline in Turkmenistan's GDP, which reportedly fell only 1% despite the ongoing Russian financial crisis, although earlier reports had put this decline at closer to 11%. Decisive in restoring the economy to growth was the reopening of access to the Russian gas lines in 1998 following the resolution of their price dispute. There followed four years of double digit growth: 16% in both 1999 and 2000, 20.5% in 2001 and an estimated 13% in 2002.

By the agreement reached with Russia in 1998, Turkmenistan was supposed export 20 billion cu m (706 billion cu ft) of natural gas to Russia by 2000 and increase this figure by 10 billion cu m (353 billion cu ft) per year until a level of 5060 billion cu m (1,7652,118 billion cu ft) was reached in 2004 or 2005. These levels were not achieved and in 2003 Russia was seeking a new agreement with Turkmenistan. The Turkmeni economy by US government estimates had reached about 70% of its preindependence level by 2001. The country's production of natural gas in 2001 was at about 60% of its preindependence level. Unemployment has apparently declined sharply during the last several years, dropping from 24% in 1998 to 14% in 2001, though this series of data was incomplete. In the meantime, payments problems with gas customers continue.

On 14 May 2001 Turkmenistan and Ukraine reached an agreement for the supply of natural gas between 2002 and 2006 in exchange for 60% payment in cash and the rest in participation in 20 construction and industrial projects in Turkmenistan worth $412 million. In May 2002, with Ukraine still owing $46 million in cash, President Niyazov expressed concern that work on the projects was progressing too slowly. In the meantime, cotton production experienced an unprecedented shortfall in 2002. Government planners had set an ambitious target of 2 million tons of cotton for the 2002 harvest despite the fact that the level had fallen from 1.3 million tons to 1.136 million tons (12.6%) from 2000 to 2001. To achieve the envisioned 80% increase, the government agreed to sign contracts only with farmers achieving a yield of more than 30 centners (about 1.65 tons) per hectare. The government's long-range targets for cotton are for 3 million tons of cotton by 2010 processed into 900,000 tons of cotton fiber. However, poor harvests in the early- and mid-2000s led to an almost 50% reduction in cotton exports.

Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, relying upon its cotton and gas exports to sustain its inefficient economy, based as it is on an authoritarian, post-Communist political structure and a tribally-based social structure. From 19982005, Turkmenistan suffered from a lack of adequate export routes for its natural gas and from its external debt burden. Nevertheless, due to high international oil and natural gas prices over the 200305 period, Turkmenistan registered a 2030% rise in exports per year. In 2005, the IMF estimated Turkmenistan's GDP growth rate at 7%, while the government's statistics, notoriously unreliable as they are, recorded a 21.4% GDP growth rate. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated the unemployment rate in 2004 to be 60%, and the percentage of people living below the poverty line to be 58% in 2003. The inflation rate was estimated by the CIA at 10% for 2005.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Turkmenistan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $29.4 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $5,900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 10%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 26.9% of GDP, industry 39.5%, and services 33.6%.

Foreign aid receipts amounted to $27 million or about $6 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.4% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Turkmenistan totaled $3.34 billion or about $687 per capita based on a GDP of $5.8 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings.

Approximately 32% of household consumption was spent on food, 14% on fuel, 6% on health care, and 18% on education. It was estimated that in 2003 about 58% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


From 1985 to 1991, the size of the labor force in Turkmenistan grew by 2.7% per year. Of an estimated 2.32 million inhabitants of working age in 2003, it was estimated that agriculture engaged 48.2%, with 13.8% in industry and 37% in the services sector. In 2004, unemployment was estimated at 60%.

The right to form or join unions is not provided by law. As of 2002, there were no independent unions. The Federation of Trade Unions, now renamed the Colleagues Union, the government-associated organization of the Soviet era, is still present. In 2002, the union claimed 1.3 million members. Although Turkmen law does not protect the right to bargain collectively, strikes are allowed. State economic control is still prevalent, and little progress toward privatization has occurred.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. Many industrial workers often labor in unsafe conditions, and agricultural workers especially are subjected to ecological health hazards. The minimum working age is 16 years except for in a few heavy industries where it is 18. Violations of the minimum working age do occasionally occur in rural areas, especially during the cotton harvesting season. There is no set minimum wage. As of 2002, the average wage for public-sector employees was $77 per month.


About 3035% of Turkmenistan is considered arable, but only 4.8% was under cultivation in 2003. Almost 80% of the sown agricultural land is under irrigation. Yields are relatively low because of poor water usage, salinization, inefficient irrigation, and over-development of cotton cultivation. In 2003, agriculture engaged 33% of the economically active population. Agriculture accounts for about 25% of GDP.

Cotton is the main crop, grown on some 500,000 hectares (1.24 million acres), with production on the Mary and Tejen oases and along the Amu Dar'ya. Estimated cotton production for 2004/05 was 501,000 tons, up from 137,000 tons in 1996. Lack of machinery had caused significant portions of the cotton crop to go un-harvested. Wheat also is cultivated to avoid dependency on unstable cotton export earnings. In 2004, estimated production was 2,600,000 tons. Citrus fruit, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, and sugarcane are grown in irrigated groves and fields in the southwest. Sesame, pistachios, and oilseeds are other important export crops.


The inability to raise sufficient fodder impedes livestock development. The livestock population in 2005 included sheep, 13,000,000; cattle, 2,000,000; goats, 370,000; pigs, 30,000; asses, 25,000; horses, 16,000; and chickens, 7,000,000. Karakul sheep are raised for wool export; in 2005, 20,000 tons of greasy wool and 12,000 tons of sheep skins were produced. A private tannery in Mary processes about 100,000 sheepskins per year, selling its product to the staterun leathery factory.

Akhaltekin horses, raised at the Akhaltekin oasis, are a breed which dates date to the 3rd century. Bucephalus, the favorite horse of Alexander the Great, was Akhaltekin. In 1986, an Akhaltekin horse, Dancing Brave, was sold for $50 million. Akhaltekins have a large share of the racehorse breeding market worldwide, and are depicted on Turkmenistan's national emblem.


The Caspian Sea provides fishing resources; fishing is an important export activity. In 2003, the total catch was 14,567 tons, primarily Azov sea sprat.


About 8% of the land is forested. Arid conditions and the expansive Kara Kum desert inhibit the development of commercial forestry. Forestry imports amounted to $3.9 million in 2004.


Turkmenistan had the world's third-largest reserves of sulfur, and was a leading producer of natural gas. Its top industries in 2002 were the production of natural gas, oil, and petroleum products. Gas and oil accounted for 33% and 30%, respectively, of its export earnings in 1999, and 90% of foreign direct investment went into the oil and natural gas sectors.

In 2002, estimated outputs included: sulfur (mined at the Gaurdak complex, in the Gora deposit), 9,000 metric tons; gypsum, 100,000 metric tons; sodium sulfate (from an extensive mirabilite site in the Gararbogazköl), 60,000 metric tons; iodine, 200,000 metric tons; and nitrogen (content of ammonia), 75,000 metric tons. Turkmenistan also produced bentonite, bentonite powder, bischofite, cement, all of the FSU's supply of epsomite, ferrous bromide, lime, and salt (north of Nebitdag).

Ozocerite, iodine, and bromine were found on the Cheleken Peninsula and in Vyshka, Stantsiya. The Garabogaz Aylagy lagoon, off the Caspian Sea, was one of the world's largest sources of raw materials for the chemical industry. Commercial interest in the salts of the region began at the end of the 19th century, and it supplied all of the FSU's supply of medicinal Glauber's salt. Other mineral deposits included potassium and polymetallic ores.


Turkmenistan has large reserves of oil and natural gas, but exports have been hampered by a reluctance to use Russian-controlled pipelines.

Turkmenistan, according to the Oil and Gas Journal and contained in an Energy Information Administration analysis of September 2005, the country has proven oil reserves of approximately 546 million barrels, and natural gas reserves of around 71 trillion cu ft. In 2004, oil production in Turkmenistan averaged an estimated 260,000 barrels per day, while natural gas output totaled 2,312 billion cu ft in that year. Exports that same year averaged around 170,000 barrels per day. Turkmenistan operates a pair of refineries, the Turkmenbashi and the Chärjew (Chardzhou), which have a combined capacity of 240,000 barrels per day. However, the refineries operate well below capacity and in the period from January through May 2005, an average of only 137,000 barrels per day were processed. Turkmenistan has no oil pipelines, which requires that the oil be shipped by sea via tanker to the Russian Caspian Sea port of Makhachkala.

In 2002, Turkmenistan's total electrical generating capacity was 3.921 million kW, of which 3.920 million kW of capacity was dedicated to conventional thermal fuel plants. Hydropower accounted for the remainder of the country's generating capacity. In that same year, net electricity generation was 10.528 billion kWh, of which more than 99% came from fossil fuels. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 8.781 billion kWh.


After growing at an average rate of 2.3% during the 1980s, the industrial sector declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Industrial output declined by 15% in 1992, and fell 25% in 1994 when it became clear that Turkmenistan's gas exports were going to be diverted from hard currency markets, and therefore from external sources of capital finance. After a further decline of 7% in 1995, gross industrial output reportedly surged ahead 17.9% in 1996, despite a 7.7% decline in the wider economy, as agreements were reached for gas supplies to Ukraine and the Transcaucasus. However, in 1997 deepening financial problems stemming from Russia's cutoff of Turkmenistan's access to its Gazprom lines over a price dispute, arrears in payments from its ex-Soviet customers, and declines in cotton processing helped to produce a fall in industrial production of 29.3%. From this low point, however, industrial output has expanded consistently. In December 1997 the $190 million, 124 mile Korpezhe-Kurt Kui pipeline connecting to Iran's gas pipeline system was completed, and in 1998 access was restored to the Gazprom's pipelines.

Industrial production increased 1% in 1998, damped by the effects of the Russian financial crisis, but then rose 16% in 1999, 29% in 2000, and 8% in 2001. Nevertheless, the Turkmenistan economy remains dominated by primary productiongas, oil and cottonand there has been little privatization of medium and large enterprises that might promote industrial development. Industry as a percent of the GDP declined over this period from 50% to 45%, and industrial workers as a percent of the labor force declined from 19% to 15%. By 2005, the industrial sector had declined further, to 39.5% of GDP, employing approximately 14% of the labor force. Economic reforms have been held back by the deliberately gradualist approach adopted by the government, which has left over 90% of economic activity in government hands. Industrial development is a secondary goal, subordinated to the primary objectives of gradualism, maintaining state leadership of the economy and maintaining a comprehensive welfare program. As part of the government's economic diversification policies, investment from the public sector and foreign exchange earnings have been used to build textile and garment manufacturing plants, often in joint ventures with Turkish partners. From 1995 to 2000 the share of the textile sector in total industrial production increased from 10.4% to 26%, while the share of cotton processed domestically rose from 3% to 35%. However, the commercial viability of these joint ventures is difficult to assess because of the implicit subsidies provided by the Turkmenistan government, multiple exchange rates, and incomplete data.

Turkmenistan's leading industries are those related to its main raw material exports. Most of country's plants and infrastructure continue to rely on Soviet-style equipment and technology. The textile industry is dominated by large state-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of 1998, only 33 manufacturing enterprises had been privatized, including one knitting factory whose sales price of 43.3 billion manats (about $8.2 million at official exchange rates) constituted over 40% of the value of all privatized assets. Turkmen carpets are known world wide for their quality and are a source of national pride: ornaments of Turkmen carpets are components of the national flag and the national emblem of Turkmenistan. They are sometimes erroneously identified in Western markets by the label "Bukhara," which is actually just the Uzbekistan city where the carpets are sold. Turkmen carpets feature deep red wool, with stylized geometric patterns.

Fuel-related production (mainly gas and oil) is the second-largest component of the industrial sector, accounting for about 22% of total sector output in value terms. Turkmenistan has two oil refineries and plans for building a third. The older one at Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) has a 116,500 bbl/d capacity and was undergoing a $1.46 billion upgrade and modernization with financing from Germany and Japan. Turkmenistan's record, slightly larger, 120,150 bbl/d capacity Chardzou refinery at Seidi was not completed until 1991, but is also slated for modernization and expansion. The Chardzou refinery depends on Russian oil piped in from Western Siberia, and has been operating at about half capacity. In 2002, the president solicited bids for a third 100,000 bbl/d refinery. Food processing (especially meat and dairy processing), construction materials, and electricity generation account for about 20% of total industrial output. Chemicals and machinery are other important manufacturing subsectors.


The Turkmen Academy of Sciences, headquartered in Ashkhabad, has eight attached institutes concerned with natural sciences and technology. In addition, six independent institutes conduct medical research. In 1991, the Academy of Agricultural Sciences was established, and in 1992, the Academy of Medical Sciences was created, both in Ashkhabad. The Turkmen A.M. Gorkii State University, founded in 1950 at Ashkhabad, has faculties of physics, mathematics, and biology. Also in the same city are the Turkmen Agriculture Institute, the Turkmen Polytechnic Institute, and the Turkmen State Medical Institute (founded in 1932). In 2002, high technology exports were valued at $8 million, or 5% of the country's manufactured exports.


Like the rest of the Turkmenistan economy, much of the country's retail and wholesale sector remain under the control of the central government. However, informal markets also operate in the country, at which a wide variety of consumer goods, including food, clothing and household wares, may be purchased. In 1994, the government established the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange as a means to regulate all trade and to restrict foreign competitors from controlling the market during the economic transition to a free market economy. Domestic trade involving locally produced goods is free from government regulations. Distribution of these products is generally facilitated through a state wholesale network. Most transactions are conducted only in cash. A value-added tax of 20% applies to most goods and services. Commercial advertising is under government control.

The work week is from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, with an hour for lunch. Many government officials and businesses regularly work on Saturday.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 2,505.5 1,785.5 720.0
Russia 1,029.3 254.5 774.8
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 401.3 7.4 393.9
Iran 242.0 90.9 151.1
Turkey 186.0 253.3 -67.3
Ukraine 164.9 214.3 -49.4
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 91.9 5.9 86.0
United Arab Emirates 61.4 158.7 -97.3
Cyprus 48.5 0.4 48.1
Areas nes 38.0 105.3 -67.3
Afghanistan 38.0 38.0
() data not available or not significant.


Like other Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan is highly trade dependent. While natural gas and processed cotton fiber are the country's most important export items, Turkmenistan is heavily dependent on imports for industrial equipment, industrial raw materials, and a number of basic food items such as grain, milk and dairy products, potatoes, and sugar. Agricultural products, of which cotton makes up the vast majority, accounted for about 9% of total exports in 2000, while mineral fuels brought in 81% of export receipts.

Poor harvests in recent years have led to a decline of almost 50% in cotton exports. Continuing difficulties with gas export payments and use of Russian gas pipelines to reach the European market resulted in a decrease in that sector as well.

Turkmenistan's primary export markets in 2004 were: Ukraine (46.6%); Iran (17.3%); Turkey (4.2%) and Italy (4.1%). Primary import partners in 2004 were: the United States (11.8%); Russia (9.7%); UAE (9.2%); Ukraine (9%); Turkey (8.6%); Germany (8%); France (5%); Georgia (4.6%); and Iran (4.5%).


In 2005, the value of Turkmenistan's exports was estimated at $4.7 billion, and imports were estimated at $4.175 billion. The current-account balance was estimated at -$204.3 million.


The State Central Bank of Turkmenistan (SCBT) is charged with issuing currency and executing a monetary policy, and represents the top tier of a two-tiered banking system. Commercial banks are responsible for collection, settlement, and handling of assets for clients and other banks. The State Bank for Foreign Economic

Current Account -580.2
     Balance on goods -230.9
         Imports -1,005.1
         Exports 774.2
     Balance on services -402.8
     Balance on income 84.9
     Current transfers -31.3
Capital Account -8.9
Financial Account 1,060.0
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Turkmenistan 107.9
     Portfolio investment assets -5.4
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets 205.6
     Other investment liabilities 751.9
Net Errors and Omissions -72.9
Reserves and Related Items -398.0
() data not available or not significant.

Activities has been established to provide hard currency credits for foreign economic activities.

The government has not released details of monetary policy since Turkmenistan left the ruble zone in November 1993. The currency reform involved a high degree of confiscation. Since then, the government is thought to have severely contracted the money supply in real terms as part of its bid to tackle inflation.

The banking decree of 20 February 1995 stated that: 75% of 1994 bank revenue was to be used for capital expenditure projects; banks were to lend to state-owned firms at an annual interest rate of 15%; and all excess bank profits were to be transferred to the state. Turkmenistan's banks are shackled with the usual problems of the former communist bloc. The Turkmen banks are poorly capitalized, have large loss-making portfolios to state-owned enterprises, and are burdened by an antiquated payments system which builds up arrears with ease.

Sberbank (the State Savings Bank) ranks second behind the SCBT in significance, holding most household deposits, and is still state-owned. The local branch of Vneshekonombank has been incorporated as an independent foreign trade bank, and is also state-owned. Investbank is the industrial sector bank and Agro-prombank the agricultural sector bank. Both are state-owned via stock distributed to state-owned enterprises. In 1994, there were 10 further banks owned by state enterprises, two cooperative banks and two private banks.


The joint-stock insurance company "TIS" is operating direct insurance lines for aviation, cargo, fire, accident, and auto in Ashkhabad.


Although still a centrally planned economy, Turkmenistan has slowly begun to decrease the size of the public sector's influence. Among the steps it has taken are a drive toward a unified market-based exchange rate, the allocation of government credits by auction, and stricter limits on budget deficits.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Turkmenistan's central government took in revenues of approximately $1.4 billion and had expenditures of $1.5 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$141 million. Total external debt was $2.4 to $5 billion.


Turkmenistan significantly lowered income tax rates in 2002. The top rat was 11%, down from 25% in 2000, and 40% in the 1990s. The marginal rate for the average taxpayer is also 11%. The top corporate rate is 25%, down from 45%. A 15% rate is charged on income from dividends, copyrights, licenses, leases, royalties and other forms of passive income, although investors holding more than 30% of hard currency shares in an enterprise's capital fund are exempt from the dividend tax. Enterprises are not required to pay the profit tax until investors have fully recovered their original investment. Also, companies that reinvest profits are exempt from tax payments on the reinvested capital. Equipment contributing to the capital of joint ventures is exempt from import duties. Free economic zones have been created to attract foreign capital. There us a value-added tax (VAT) imposed on all goods and services, sold or bartered, of 10% for foodstuffs and 20% for all other items. In March 1994, the president exempted from the VAT registered foreign investors, private enterprises (other than Turkmenpotrelsoyuz enterprises) and businesses importing and selling consumer goods.


Technically, Turkmenistan does not levy tariffs except on imports by individuals. However, in practice, the excise tax system applies higher rates to imported goods than domestic, effectively putting an unspoken tariff in place. Additionally, certain domestic products are exempted from the VAT and, by special presidential decree, government regulatory agencies have the power to go into certain markets and determine the prices of domestically produced goods and the prices for which importers pay for foreign products. Certain imports from countries outside the rural area are prohibited or require a license. Turkmenistan is not a member of any free trade agreements and is not a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States customs union. It has signed trilateral agreements with Iran and Ukraine, Iran and Armenia, Iran and Bangladesh, and Iran and the Philippines and is pursuing more such agreements. Turkmenistan has most-favored nation status with the United States and Austria. Duties run from 10100%, the average being 30%.


A law on foreign investment and other legislation regarding private entrepreneurship passed since 1991 now provides most of the conventional guarantees to foreign investors in Turkmenistan. However, until 1994, the purchase of property by foreign parties remained highly restricted. Reflecting some of this ambiguity, by 1992, only 23 joint ventures had been established, most of a relatively small scale and with negligible impact on foreign trade. Nevertheless, the country's political stability and rich natural resources are likely to make it a favored target for foreign investors in the near future. Significant inflows of foreign assistance have already allowed expansion of the petroleum industry to begin. Negotiations with foreign firms and several countries are underway for establishing a liquefied natural gas plant and the joint construction of a new gas pipeline to Europe that would bypass the need to transverse potentially unstable states of the former USSR.

In 1994, Turkmenistan's laws were modified to offer greater protection for property and rights of foreign investors and exemptions from duties and taxes for specific categories of investment; foreign investors registered in Turkmenistan, and enterprises importing and selling consumer goods there have been exempt from the value-added tax since March 1994. The Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, created in 1994 to regulate all commercial transactions in Turkmenistan, registers individual trade contracts concluded by foreign companies and joint ventures, and charges a 0.2% commission. The State Agency for Foreign Investment (SAFI), established by presidential decree in 1996, monitors investments, reviews proposals and foreign currency credits, and may award priority status to projects favored by the government. There were no investment statistics available in 2005. However, leading sectors for US investors include: the oil and gas sector, in terms of exploration, development, equipment, and services; electrical energydevelopment, equipment, and services; the chemical and mining sectorequipment, development, and services; transportationinfrastructure construction, distribution, and services; communicationsequipment and services; environmental technology and services; health care and the medical industry; and agriculture.


Turkmenistan's president Niyazov, or Turkmenbashi (Father of the Turkmen) as he has increasingly insisted on being called, has spoken of his country becoming the next Kuwait after its independence in 1991, with the state funding a high standard of living, a comprehensive welfare program, and industrial development from the invested proceeds of state-owned natural gas, oil and cotton operations. To date this vision has foundered on Turkmenistan's geographical and political isolation from hard currency markets for its exports, a position that help produce, after an initial soft landing in 1992, a sharp decline in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing external debt from 1993 to 1998. Although official statistics show double-digit growth since 1999 and inflation reduced to a single digit by 2001 (6%), the reliability of these statistics that the government treats like state secrets is highly questioned. The country does not submit economic information to the scrutiny of the IMF, which it has avoided by avoiding balance of payments problems (though not without difficulty judging from the harsh measures, including gas cut-offs, it has employed to get delinquent country's to pay their gas debts).

Turkmenistan's relatively well-educated population and natural resources provide a promising foundation for the growth of a diverse set of industries. The government's transition strategy consisted of three overarching principles: a gradualist pace to privatization and liberalization, a leading role for the state in developing the economy, and the maintenance of a full array of welfare supports to minimize the human costs of the economic transition. It is within these constraints that the government has pursued goals of food self-sufficiency and economic diversification.

The guiding principles of this program were detailed in a formal document in early 1991 calling for a series of legislative, fiscal, and monetary measures related to price controls, privatization, and industrial infrastructure development. More specific measures followed, including new laws on privatization and foreign investment adopted in 1992, price decontrol measures taken the same year, adoption of a value-added tax and other tax reform, and measures taken in 1996 and 1997 to control the growth of money supply. Under the liberalized property regime, leasing arrangements have expanded in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. The leasing or purchase of individual enterprises by workers is favored by the current legislation, although land, water, and the oil and gas industries are excluded from the possibility of outright purchase by private individuals or companies. Public money and foreign exchange earnings have been used to establish textile and garment manufacturing plants, often as joint ventures with Turkish partners. The share of the textile sector in total industrial production has increased since independence from about 11% to about 26%, and the percent of Turkmenistan's cotton production processed domestically instead of exported has increased from 3% to 35%. However, it is difficult to judge the competitiveness of these state-supported enterprises. Overall the gradualist pace in privatization has left over 90% of the economy by value under state control employing about 80% of the work force. Most medium and large industrial enterprises continue to run on the basis of centrally planned state orders and resource allocations, although there has been a substantial amount of privatization among small enterprises and in the service sector.

Following the government's expressed commitment to minimizing the negative impact of post-Soviet economic restructuring on the population, the terms for Turkmenistan's social safety net are more generous than many other former Soviet countries: allowances for large families, social security payments, and pensions have all been increased substantially since 1992, and as of 1993 all citizens were to receive free electricity and free water. Potential fiscal imbalances resulting both from these increased expenditures and the end of transfers from the Soviet government have thus far been avoided by increased profit transfers from key enterprises, export duties, and a variety of smaller revenue sources. Twenty-nine percent of the 1992 budget expenditures was allocated to price-differential subsidies paid to retail agencies required to sell food and medicines below wholesale prices. Capital expenditures claimed a further 12% of total expenditures while combined social and cultural expenditures allocated to education, health care, and social security totaled about 30%. In 2002, an estimated 80% of the government's budget was spent reinforcing the social welfare safety net.

Historically, landlocked Turkmenistan has depended on imports for most its food. Although there has been marked improvement in the government's prime target of wheat production since independencetotal grain production, including wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice and miscellaneous grains, was 776 metric tons in 1992 whereas wheat alone had attained the government target of 1.2 metric tons by 1998the goal has not been fully met. In recent barter deals with Ukraine over past gas debts Turkmenistan has contracted for shipments of Ukrainian wheat and sugar.

A five-year production and investment plan set out in 1992 proposed large investments in the development of infrastructure and the energy sector financed by tax receipts and foreign exchange receipts from gas and cotton exports. The budget for 1993 included financing for projects to expand grain production and cotton processing. Under the government's central planning approach to economic development, the ambitious targets set have often not been met. In allotting its reduced cotton production, the needs of the newly expanded domestic industry appear to be given priority over exports, although raw cotton is an important foreign exchange earner.

The key to Turkmenistan's economic success rests on securing development finance through the exploitation of its natural gas resources. The completion of the Korpezhe-Kurt Kui Pipeline to the Iranian gas pipeline system in December 1997 plus restored access to Gazprom's pipelines in 1998 laid the basis for the economy's first return to growth since independence in 1999.

In 1998 the government restructured its oil and gas industries into several state-owned companies to better attract foreign investment. Progress has been made on two other gas pipeline schemes: the Iran-Armenian pipeline that would allow Turkmenistan to deliver its gas to Armenia, and the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP), that, as originally envisioned, would pipe Turkmenistan gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan. Neither, however, is free of economic and political problems. Armenia remains a poor and uncertain market, particularly, as a source of hard currency, plus it is not clear if the arrangement would be exempt from US sanctions against countries dealing with Iran. Representatives of the three main participants in the TAP project have attempted to persuade India to agree to be the final terminus for Turkmenistan's gas apparently on the realization that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan could provide markets large enough to justify the $3.2 billion cost of construction. India initially refused participation because of its conflicts with Pakistan, but in 2005 expressed interest in the idea of participating in the project, despite its geostrategic fears and security issues. For oil, Turkmenistan's third major export earner, the president announced a 10-year program to reach an output of one million barrels per day in 2010. The US Department of Energy forecasts Turkmenistan's oil production level in 2010 at only 200,000 barrels per day.


Turkmenistan's current social security system provides old age, disability and survivor pensions to employed persons. A social pension is provided to those not eligible for employment-related pensions. Old age benefits are provided at age 62 for men who have 25 years of covered employment and at age 57 to women with 20 years of employment. The social security program is financed by contributions from employers and employees. The government provides subsidies as needed and completely funds social allowances. Unemployment benefits are provided for up to one year. Sickness and maternity benefits and workers' compensation were introduced in 1998, and a child care allowance is also available.

Women are entitled to equal rights as men under the law, however due to societal constraints the woman's role is primarily that of homemaker and mother. Opportunities for education and careers outside the home are limited. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is not discussed and victims keep silent. Women are underrepresented in management positions in most state economic enterprises. Despite constitutional provisions, Muslims often follow religious practices giving men precedence over women in property and inheritance matters.

Turkmenistan's human rights record is extremely poor. Arbitrary arrest, detention, unfair trials, and interference with citizens' privacy and correspondence are reported. Security forces beat and mistreat suspects and prisoners. There are no international or domestic human rights monitoring groups operating in Turkmenistan. The government funds almost all print media and completely controls television and radio. Academic freedom and publishing are restricted. All forms of religious expression are controlled by the government. The government severely restricts freedom of speech and completely controls and censors the media, forbidding the expression of criticism of the government.


As of 2000, systematic health care reforms had been undertaken, including enhancement of primary care, training programs for medical personnel, and infrastructure improvements. Serious inadequacies remained in the condition of medical facilities and equipment. Primary care was provided by two types of rural health units and by urban health centers. The number of hospital beds has been greatly reduced since independence. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 5.2% of GDP. As of 2004, there were an estimated 317 physicians, 619 nurses, 23 dentists, and 25 pharmacists per 100,000 people. Approximately 58% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 100% had adequate sanitation.

Immunization rates for children up to one year old were tuberculosis, 97%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 87%; polio, 94%; and measles, 90%. The rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 98% and 97%. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 73.08 per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate was 65 per 100,000 live births. Average life expectancy was 61.01 years in 2005.

In this former Soviet republic, mortality rates have increased significantly since the breakup. Leading causes of death were communicable diseases and maternal/perinatal causes, noncommunicable diseases, and injuries. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 200 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


In 1989, 27.3% of all privately owned urban housing had running water, 7.2% had sewer lines, 16% had central heating, and 1% had hot water. In 1990, Turkmenistan had 11.1 sq ft of housing space per capita and, as of 1 January 1991, 108,000 households (or 30.9%) were on waiting lists for urban housing.


Before the Soviet Union established control over the region in the 1920s, few schools, mainly Muslim, existed. The government has control over all aspects of education. Education is now state-funded and compulsory from the age of 7 to 16. Basic education is completed in two stages of three and six years. Students may then take a two- to four-year specialized academic program or a one-year vocational program. In most schools, instruction is in the Turkmen language; Uzbek, Russian, Kazakh, and Karakalpak languages are used in others. In the early 1990s, primary school enrollment was estimated at about 77% of all age-eligible students.

In 1990/1991, all higher-level institutions had 76,000 pupils enrolled. There are 14 institutions of higher learning, including one university at Ashkhabad, the Turkmen State University (founded in 1950) with an enrollment of over 11,000 pupils. Turkmenistan also has 90 technical colleges. As of 1995, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.3% of GDP. The adult literacy rate has been estimated at about 98%.


The National Library of Turkmenistan in Ashkhabad holds 5.5 million volumes and is the largest in the country. The Republican Scientific and Technical Library of Turkmenistan holds 900,000 volumes and the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, in the capital, holds 2.1 million volumes. Turkmen University has the nation's largest academic library, holding 542,000 volumes.

In early 2005, President Saparmurat Niyazov called for the closure of nearly all of the nation's public libraries, with the exception of the National Library and some libraries associated with educational institutions. The president called for these closings claiming that most of the citizens don't read books or visit libraries.

There are several fine museums in Ashkhabad, including the National Museum, the State Museum of Fine Arts, and the Carpet Museum, as well as museums devoted to history and literature. There are historical and ethnographical museums in the cities of Mary, Turkmenabat, and Turkmenbashi.


Telephone links to other former Soviet republics and Iran are provided by land link or microwave and to other countries through Moscow. In 2003, there were an estimated 77 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 36,800 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately two mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Turkmen Radio in Ashkabad broadcasts transmissions from Moscow, as does Turkmen Television, which also receives Turkish television broadcasts. All broadcasts are controlled by the government. In 2005, there were four television channels and two radio stations, all owned and operated by Turkmen TV and Radio. Many programs can be received from Russia and Turkey. Orbita and INTELSAT are received by satellite earth stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 279 radios and 182 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, only two of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet, available only through the government-owned Turkmen Telecom.

In 2004, there were 22 newspapers published in Turkmen and 1 official newspaper in Russian. The two main daily papers are Turkmenistan (circulation 73,170 in 1995) and Turmenskaya Iskra (in Russian, 40,000). There are also a number of periodicals, mostly in Ashkabad.

The constitution provides for free expression, but in practice the government is said to severely limit press rights. The government owns and directly controls all radio, television, and print media, and is said to rarely allow criticism or opposition opinion in even the mildest forms.


The economic affairs and other concerns of workers are handled by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Federation of Trade Unions of Turkmenistan, respectively. The most important mass movement in the country is the Communist Party. It controls all aspects of Turkmenistan's politics, society and culture. Its organizations of control are the Committee on National Security, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and various trade unions. The trade unions, all controlled by the state, serve to promote government production plans and policies. Cultural and educational associations are somewhat restricted by the government. There is a national chapter of the Red Crescent Society.


Tourism has been designated a priority area of economic development with a focus on its infrastructure. Turkmenistan is home to the largest modern airport in Central Asia, and Turkmenistan Airlines flies nonstop to Europe. The hotels do not yet take credit cards but are working to improve their system. Geological and archeological sites and museums are primary tourist spots in this mostly desert state. Casinos and health spas are popular at the five-star hotels. A valid passport as well as a visa is required to enter Turkmenistan. There are no vaccination requirements although precautions against malaria, typhoid, and hepatitis are recommended.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily expenses of staying in Ashkhabad at $108.


Saparmuryat A. Niyazov (b.1940) has been president of Turkmenistan since December 1991. Outstanding representatives of culture and literature of Turkmenistan include Abdulhekin Qulmukam Medoghli, a writer, researcher and political activist who was killed in 1937 during one of Stalin's purges, and the poet and thinker, Maktum Kuli, who first envisioned an independent Turkmenistan. The country has established the Makhtumkuli International Prize in his name and awarded it to President Niyazov.


Turkmenistan has no territories or colonies.


Abazov, Rafis. Historical Dictionary of Turkmenistan. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2005.

Dailey, Erika. Human Rights in Turkmenistan. New York: Helsinki Watch, 1993.

History of United Turkmenistan. Ankara: Turkish Association for Friendship with Turkmenistan, 1995.

Kort, Michael. Central Asian Republics. New York: Facts On File, 2004.

Mandelbaum, Michael (ed.). Central Asia and the World: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, and Turkmenistan. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994.

Maslow, Jonathan Evan. Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy. New York: Random House, 1994.

Seddon, David (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

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Republic of Turkmenistan

Major City:

Other Cities:
Chardzhou, Mary, Nebit-Dag, Tashauz


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated April 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Bordered by Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan is in the heart of Central Asia. Long on historyAlexander the Great passed through (and, according to local legend, his horse Bucephalus was from here); the Parthian Kingdom, a nemesis of the Romans, was located here; and later the Silk Road passed through the areaTurkmenistan is one of the newest countries in the world. It is now struggling to transform its political and economic systems to meet the challenges of the future.

The most significant geographic feature is the Kara Kum Desert, which covers 80% of the country's total land area. During the summer, temperatures consistently exceed 40 degrees centigrade. Turkmenistan possesses significant natural resources. It has the fourth largest reserves of natural gas in the world, significant oil reserves, and a variety of mineral resources. It is also located in one of the world's high seismic regions and has suffered serious earthquakes.



Ashgabat is located on the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, at 58° 20' E and 37° 58' N. Immediately south is the Kopet Dag Mountain range. To the north, on the other side of the Kara Kum Canal, lies the Kara Kum Desert. The city is in the foothills at an altitude of 775 feet. Ashgabat is the country's largest city with a population of over 460,000.

There are surprising numbers of trees and parks in the city, considering the inhospitable climate. From Friday through Sunday, wedding parties pose in front of the Magtymguly Statue (in honor of a famous 18th century Turkmen poet) near the Museum of Fine Arts.

The city boasts three small museums: the Turkmen History and Ethnography Museum, the Fine Art Museum, and the Carpet Museum. There is also an Exhibition Hall featuring works by contemporary Turkmen artists.

The Hippodrome on the eastern edge of town offers Ahal Teke horse racing in the early fall and late spring. A soccer club, Kopet Dag, plays in the stadium in the center of town.

Because of its history of catastrophic earthquakes, Ashgabat architecture tends toward low-level buildings; huge high-rise apartment blocks, such as those seen in many parts of the former Soviet Union, are a recent development.

Fifteen kilometers west of Ashgabat are the ruins of Nisa. This Parthian city was founded in the 3rd century BC. The palace fortifications are punctuated by the remains of a series of towers. Among the buildings that can be identified at the site are a palace, two Zoroastrian temples, kitchens, and a treasury.

Twelve kilometers east of Ashgabat on the south side of the road to Mary lies Anau. There are 3 mounds at this site. The easiest to spot is the site of a 15 century AD mosque which was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake. On and off, Anau is excavated by an American team from the University of Pennsylvania.


Fresh meat, fish, poultry and produce are limited and often of poor quality. During the winter months, fresh vegetables consist of beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Fruit is limited to lemons, oranges, grapes and apples. During the summer, there is a slight improvement in selection, including eggplant, sweet peppers, melons, cherries, apricots and peaches.

The quality of the fruits and vegetables in the markets is low by U.S. standards, much of it being bruised or broken. Produce with broken skins not be consumed due to hazardous levels of nitrates, as well as parasites and worm eggs, on the surface of the fruits and vegetables.

Beef, lamb and pork are available in the local markets, though not always in familiar cuts. Because it is displayed in the open air, all meat should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Chicken and other poultry is of very inferior quality. Fish is rarely seen in the markets.

Milk, butter and cheese are locally produced but are unpasteurized, so are considered unsafe. Eggs are available, though they should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

There are a number of small Turkish-run stores which stock bread, juices and other canned goods, but the selection is limited and inconsistent.

Turkish beer is usually available locally, and Turkish wine can occasionally be obtained from local Turkish firms. Imported soft drinks are also usually available, although in limited flavors (cola, orange and lemon/lime).


For the summer, bring lightweight, washable clothing. Cotton is the most comfortable fabric. For winter, bring sweaters, a coat, and waterproof shoes or boots. The streets are very uneven, so comfortable walking shoes are important for all seasons. Purchasing clothing and shoes locally is not an option.

Dress for work and social occasions is relaxed in Turkmenistan. Turkmen rarely wear suits in the summer, although most office workers do wear ties. Slacks and skirts are acceptable attire for women. Tank tops and shorts worn in public will inevitably draw unwanted attention and are discouraged.

Supplies and Services

There are dry-cleaning establishments, though they are expensive and the results are inconsistent. Shoe repairs are available, but materials are not up to U.S. standards. Repairs take a long time, are not guaranteed, and often require extensive paperwork.

Some household products are sold in the Turkish stores, but they are of inconsistent quality and are not always available.

Religious Activities

There are two Russian Orthodox Churches in Ashgabat which have regular Sunday services. Several large mosques are under construction. There are Bahai, Jewish and Christian communities, but none has permanent facilities for meeting.


The Ashgabat International School, run by Quality Schools International, opened in September 1994. It offers English language education for students from five to thirteen years of age.

The curriculum includes English (reading, grammar, composition, keyboarding, and spelling), mathematics, cultural studies (history, geography, economics, etc.), science, computer literacy, art, music, and physical education.

For additional information contact Quality Schools International in care of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, or by phoning them at 7-3632-445580. They can also be contacted by writing to Box 2002, Sanaa, Yemen (phone: 967-1-234 437).

Turkmenistan's public schools welcome foreign pupils. However, the language of instruction is either Russian or Turkmen. The schools are short of textbooks and all supplies. From an American point of view, the curriculum is rigid. The foreign families that have tried the local schools have not been satisfied.

Recreation and Social Life

During the racing season (in the spring and fall), you can watch the famous Ahal-Teke horses in action. While horses are for rent at the race track and at rental stables, they are not pleasure riding horses.

Just north of the city is a reservoir lake which is used for recreation, swimming, boating, sailing, and sunning. However, as summer progresses the water is increasingly polluted and it reaches the point where it is no longer usable for recreation.

Jogging is popular among foreigners, though not among the Turkmen. Joggersespecially womenshould expect to draw much attention and occasional harassment. The Ashgabat Hash House Harriers meet every other Sunday for a family-style run through the countryside.

Bicycle riding is an increasingly popular sport and means of transportation, though in the winter the cold weather and slick streets could present problems. The city is very flat, so multiple gears are not necessary.


There are two drama theaters, one Russian and one Turkmen, and an opera/ballet theater in Ashgabat. Tickets are not expensive. The season runs from October to April.

There are three concert venues and classical music concerts are held frequently. There are movie theaters which show foreign films dubbed into the local languages, but they are uncomfortable and are rarely if ever frequented by Americans.

Some of the larger hotels have good-quality restaurants, ranging in price from $10-$30/person. (Dollars only can be used in the major hotels; none accepts credit cards and only a few accept local currency.)

There are other, smaller restaurants popular among the Western community. Most serve a variation of Turkish cuisine at very low prices.

Because of the lack of structured entertainment facilities, socializing with family and friends is the most popular form of entertaining.

Social Activities

There are few Americans in Turkmenistan, and no organizations which provide social activities geared specifically for them. A newly-organized International Women's Club welcomes women's participation.


CHARDZHOU , with a population of 164,000, is Turkmenistan's second largest city. Situated in the eastern part of the country, on the border with Uzbekistan, the city is an important rail and cotton trading center. The industrial sector consists mainly of cotton, silk, and chemical factories.

MARY , located 180 miles east of Ashkhabad, had a population of 94,000 in 2000. Until 1937, the city was known as Merv. Mary is the administrative center of an extensive cotton growing region. Its location on the Kara-Kum Canal and on a rail line have made the city an important transport center.

NEBIT-DAG , which means "oil mountain", has been the center of the country's oil industry since the 1930s. The city is located in western Turkmenistan, at the foot of the Great Balkan mountain range. The 2000 population of Nebit-Dag was 89,000.

TASHAUZ is in the northern section of the country, on the border with Uzbekistan. As the only city in the region, it is a transport and administrative center. Tashauz has 114,000 residents.


Geography and Climate

Situated in Central Asia, Turkmenistan lies north of the Kopet Dag mountain range between the Caspian Sea and the Amu Darya River. The country has borders with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the north and northeast; Iran and Afghanistan on the south and southeast. Turkmenistan has an area of 488,100 square kilometers or 188,417 square miles (slightly larger than the state of California).

The most significant geographic feature is the Kara Kum Desert. One of the world's largest deserts, it covers 350,000 square kilometers or 80% of the country's total land area. The temperatures in the desert stay in the upper 40s centigrade from June through August. The Repetek Sandy Desert Biosphere Reserve near Charjew, which was set up in 1928, monitors the unique desert flora and fauna found in the Kara Kum.

The Kopet Dag mountain range to the south forms a 2,000 meter high natural border between Iran and Turkmenistan. The stark slopes are home to a number of endangered species, including leopards and mountain sheep. Most of the mountains are inaccessible, as they fall within restricted border areas.

Cities, towns, and farms are confined to the Amu Darya (historic Oxus) river valley and to the narrow strip of arable land along the Iranian and Afghan borders.

The "silk roads" ran from the central regions of China through Turkmenistan to the Mediterranean coast during the ancient and middle ages. The caravans carried silk, tea, china and lacquerware to the European markets. Significant ruins related to these trade routes are located outside the present day cities of Mary (Merv) and Dashhowuz.

Precipitation in the inhabited regions averages 19 centimeters per year. Most of this falls between December and April. As you would expect in a desert climate, it does get very hot. In June, July, and August it is often uncomfortable to be outside during the day as the temperatures consistently exceed 40°C. At times in August, the "Afghan Winds" come from the east and the temperature can soar into the high 40's. However, by late September the temperatures cool and pleasant "autumn-like" weather prevails.

The winter, which begins in late November, can be chilly, wet, and muddy with temperatures between 0°C and 15°C in the daytime, with occasional light snow. Because the snow doesn't stay on the ground for long, the terrain on and near the Embassy housing compound can be quite muddy.

In Turkmenistan, there are the usual insects and snakes associated with a desert climate: scorpions, spiders, sandflies, cobras and other poisonous snakes. There are also mosquitoes and flies. All of the houses on the compound are screened and there have been no unusual problems with insects or vermin in homes. Care should be taken, though, if exploring the desert or countryside because poisonous snakes have often been seen there.

Turkmenistan is in one of the world's high seismic regions. During the past 100 years there have been four disastrous earthquakes with intensities of 6+ on the Richter Scale, each one resulting in great loss of life and property. In 1948, Ashgabat suffered a quake of tremendous strength. All but six buildings were destroyed and the entire city shifted two meters to the north. More than 30,000 of the 130,000 residents died and an additional 85,000 were injured.


In 2000, Turkmenistan had an estimated population of approximately 4,436,000. The Turkmen trace their ancestry back to the Oguz tribe, one of the early Turkic tribes to move west from north Asia. The Oguz came to present-day Turkmenistan in the 9th or 10th Century A.D. That same tribe founded the Seljuk Empire and was the first Turkic group to colonize Anatolia. With the fall of the Seljuk Empire to the Mongols in the 13th Century, the Turkmen entered a period of tribal fragmentation and foreign domination which did not end until independence in 1991.

From the 14th to the 19th Centuries, the area was dominated by Persians (in the south) and the Khanae of Khiva and Emirate of Bokhara (in the north and east, respectively). Through it all the nomadic Turkmen tribes lived a largely isolated existence on the margins of the Kara Kum Desert.

The Turkmen were the last of the Central Asians to fall under Russian domination in the 19th century. The battle of Goektepe (some 40 miles west of Ashgabat) in 1880, ended Ahal Teke resistance and allowed the Russians to consolidate their Central Asian dominions. The nomadic life of the Turkmen did not change markedly under the Russians until the Bolshevik Revolution. Forced collectivization in the 1930s resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

The Soviets were ambivalent about ethnic identification. At first, they did not recognize a Turkmen nationality and identified people by their tribe. Later, they created the "national" republics, largely as an effort to prevent the development of a pan-Turkic nationality in Central Asia. Since creation of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in the thirties, the Turkmen nationality has been recognized in the USSR.

Today of the five or six Turkmen tribes which flourished 500 years ago, basically two tribes remain, each of them divided into two distinct groups: the Ahal and Mary Teke; and the Western and Northern omud. The Teke is the largest of the modern Turkmen tribes. Its two subgroups, however, share little in common and are political and economic rivals. The Ahal Teke occupy most of the Ahal Region, a populous area in the south center of the country which includes the capital, Ashgabat. The Mary Teke occupy much of the Mary region, located to the east of Ahal and bordering on both Iran and Afghanistan.

The western Yomud occupy much of the Balkan Region, which borders on the Caspian Sea. Their territory extends southward into Iran. The northern Yomud live in Dashhowuz Region in the north. The Yomud were separated in the 19th century during the wars against Russia.

Remnants of the other Turkmen tribes still live in the country: The Ersari in Lebap Region, bordering on Uzbekistan and occupying much of the Amu Darya River Valley, the Salor and Saryk in Mary and Lebap regions; the Choudour in the north and east; and smaller groups like the Alili and Ata. The emblems of the five major historical tribes (Teke, Yomud, Ersari, Salor and Saryk), best known from being the focal point of carpet designs, are preserved in the national flag of Turkmenistan.

The value that modern Turkmen place on tribal identity varies considerably according to age, location and social status. Not surprisingly, the young, urban and well-educated are less likely to consider tribal origins important than the old, rural and less-educated. Still, it is the rare Turkmen who completely discards tribal identity. Fully one quarter of Turkmen marriages in Ashgabat are between relatives, a clear reflection of tribal loyalty.

Accents, intonation, vocabulary, and grammatical style are strong tribal/regional identifiers. Dress, particularly among women, can be another giveaway: color choices, embroidery patterns, and jewelry styles vary from tribe to tribe. Names can also give a hint of tribal identity. Preferences for given and surnames and the use of name endings (-geldy, murad) vary from region to region.

There exists a small, but important, groupthe russified Turkmen elitewhich has genuinely lost most of its tribal identity. These Turkmen, many of whom occupy key government positions, speak Russian in the home and are barely conversant in Turkmen.

Turkmen social events revolve around the family. Memorials, weddings, and birthdays are celebrated with large parties called "toi." The menu for such occasions consists of traditional nomadic food. A favorite party specialty is dograma, a thick soup made from dry bread, raw onions, and mutton fat. A "must" at any Turkmen meal for foreigners is the local version of the ubiquitous Central Asian lamb and rise dish "plov."

Public Institutions

Turkmenistan formally declared its independence from the USSR on October 27, 1991. It became an independent state when the Soviet Union disbanded on December 25, 1991. President Niyazov, who was elected (uncontested) on October 27, 1990, was previously Chairman of Turkmenistan's Supreme Soviet and First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Republic's Communist Party. He won reelection for a 5-year term in June 1992. In January 1994, a referendum was held which ensured that President Niyazov will remain in office until June 2002.

Democratization in Turkmenistan has proceeded at a very slow pace. It remains as single party state, with the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (formerly the Communist Party), chaired by the president, as the only registered party. Criticism of government policy is not tolerated and the press is completely government-controlled and tightly censored.

Most government power is vested in the presidency. There is no vice president or prime minister. The president is advised by a cabinet of ministers and a number of offices within the presidential apparatus. According to the Constitution, the Chairman of the Parliament (Mejlis) assumes the presidency upon the death or permanent incapacitation of the president and then calls an election to replace him/her.

The Mejlis consists of 50 members, half of whom work permanently and half of whom are called for short sessions two or three times a year. The Mejlis was chosen in December 1994 elections with only one candidate per constituency. While largely a rubber stamp for presidential decisions and decrees, the Mejlis is slowly developing into a professional parliament. Mejlis members serve for five years.

The Turkmen constitution adopted two traditional advisory/legislative organs. One is the Council of Elders (Aksakal Maslahaty) which is used as a sounding board by the president to validate policies. The other is the People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) which is identified in the constitution as the supreme representative body of popular rule. Chaired by the president and composed of ministers, Mejlis members, Supreme Court judges and some 60 directly elected members, the Halk Maslahaty approves policy directions and constitutional amendments. It meets twice a year.

The court system in Turkmenistan has not been reformed since Soviet days. It consists of a supreme court, regional courts (including one solely for the capital city of Ashgabat), and at the lowest level, 61 district and city courts. There are also military courts to handle crimes involving military discipline, criminal cases concerning military personnel and crimes by civilians against military personnel; and a supreme economic court, which hears cases involving disputes between state economic enterprises and ministries. The president appoints all judges for a term of five years without legislative review, except for the chairman (chief justice) of the supreme court, and he has the sole authority to remove them from the bench before the completion of their terms.

Arts, Science, and Education

Turkmen maintain the traditional arts of their nomadic and "silk road" ancestors.

Poets, both traditional and contemporary, have the status of national heroes. The work of Magtymguly, an 18th century poet, is especially honored. Turkmen love to recite poetry and use it often in their speech.

Folk dancing is highly regarded, and dancing groups make frequent appearances during local holidays and at important social events. Turkmen folk music features the "dutar," a two string wooden instrument shaped like a mandolin.

Silversmiths, weavers, and carpet makers are the most highly appreciated artisans. There are very few traditional jewelers left. Traditional Turkmen jewelry-making include fire-gilding, painting an amalgam of gold and mercury on the silver and then heating the piece over charcoal fire.

Carpets from Turkmenistan are known in the West as "Bokhara" rugs. They are made of wool or silk and usually come in various shades of red with white and black making up the tribal symbols and design. Their geometric patterns have been copied by virtually every major rugproducing country in the world. It is accepted that the carpets on the market now are of modern vintage, with genuine antiques only rarely found outside the museums.

There are schools of classical music (including opera) and dance in Ashgabat, and a regular music season in the winter. Unfortunately, none of the performing arts receives state funding so performances are often notable for their lack of proper costumes, instruments or stage props. There is a privately financed chamber music group which has concerts throughout the year.

There are two universities in Turkmenistan, the principal one being the Magtymguly State University in Ashgabat. There are a number of scientific and technical institutions, as well as training institutes for teachers.

The education system is undergoing changes, the most significant being a reduction of the number of years students spend in formal education. Students leave secondary school at age 16, and they complete university or institute training by the age of 20.

While Turkmen is the official language, there is a dual primary and secondary school system: some teach in Turkmen, and some in Russian. As of January 1996, education in the Turkmen language school system is compulsory through grade nine; in the Russian language system, through grade 10 (both equivalent, in theory at least, to a secondary education in the U.S.). The Turkmen Government has made the study of English a high priority, resulting in an increase in schools teaching English. There is one "magnet" high school where the entire curriculum is in English.

Commerce and Industry

Turkmenistan is rich in natural resources including natural gas, oil, iodine-bromine, sodium sulfate, salts, sulphur, potassium, gold, platinum, molybdenum, and coal.

Turkmenistan's major exports are cotton, gas, oil products, food products, chemical raw materials, and small manufactured products such as carpets, textiles, leathers, and furs. Major imports are machinery, agricultural and industrial equipment and vehicles, metals, chemicals, synthetic rubber, raw materials and processed products (nonfood), timber, paper, small manufactured goods and food products, raw material for food flavoring, and sugar. The country's major trading partners are Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Turkey, and Iran.

Natural gas was first discovered here in the 1960s. Turkmenistan has the world's fifth largest proven gas reserves and enormous unexploited oil reserves. These extensive and largely untapped hydrocarbon reserves promise to provide hard currency earnings in the future, and mining for precious metals and other minerals also hold potential.

Cotton production was increased during Soviet rule through extensive irrigation, albeit at the cost of environmental degradation. The government is now seeking ways to diversify agriculture and reduce the number of acres under cotton cultivation while maintaining current levels of production through increased efficiency and introduction of new technology. Other key economic sectors include textiles, Caspian Sea fisheries, and the production of karakul lamb pelts. Agriculture accounts for 25% of GDP and about 44% of total employment.

Turkmenistan is among the top ten cotton producers in the world and cotton provides 17% of GDP. Other important products include grains, vegetables, fruit, and livestock. Livestock accounted for nearly one-fourth of total gross agricultural production in 1992. Inefficiencies exist in processing agricultural goods: only 8% of fruit and vegetables, and 4% of cotton are processed, and much produce spoils because processing plants are located too far from the farms. The government is strongly promoting investment in cotton processing, with a goal of raising the percentage of the cotton processed locally to 15% of GDP. Agricultural yields are comparatively low, due to years of inefficient water use, salinization, inappropriate land irrigation, and overdevelopment of cotton cultivation.

The large degree of specialization of the agricultural sector has rendered the economy heavily dependent on food imports. Efforts are underway to make the country self-sufficient in grains and to introduce sugar beets to reduce dependence on imported sugar.

Industry is dominated by the extraction of fuel and minerals. Other industrial activities include textiles and chemicals. Industry accounts for only 19% of total employment.

Turkmenistan hopes to create a market economy with a strong private sector, with the state retaining control of strategic sectors (e.g., hydrocarbons). However, given the low level of industrialization prior to independence, and shortage of resources for investment, the privatization process will be a long one. Land privatization began in February 1993 and in December 1993 the government announced gradual privatization of the trade and services sector. In early 1996 the government announced an aggressive program of privatization in agriculture to begin after the 1996 harvest season. The transportation industry has been designated as the next industrial/commercial sector to be privatized.

Turkmenistan's major trading partners remain Ukraine and Russia, although trade with Turkey and Iran has increased significantly since independence. Turkmenistan's 2000 exports were valued at $2.4 billion and its imports at $1.6 billion, yielding a positive balance of trade. It must be noted that most of the gas exports were to Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia which pay over time in a mixture of cash and commodities. The U.S. granted Turkmenistan Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status in October 1993, but bilateral trade remains quite low although there are no significant trade barriers. In 1995 Turkmenistan exported goods valued at $23 million to the U.S. and imported $14 million of goods from the U.S.

Turkmenistan has agreements with the World Bank, the IMF, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank. Among U.S. institutions Turkmenistan has agreements with the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency.



Taxis are available in Ashgabat, but they are not recommended. There have been numerous reported incidents of both men and women passengers being molested or mugged by local taxi drivers.

Ashgabat has a shortage of public transportation, due to the poor condition of the buses. Bus service is available to cities outside of Ashgabat, but the buses are overcrowded and uncomfortable. There is no bus service from the city center to the housing compound.


Traffic in Turkmenistan may not be as bad as you have experienced in other developing countries. Generally, drivers adhere to traffic signals and speed limits, though they don't always stay in the proper lanes! The main city streets are very well maintained. Side streets can be dangerously ill-kept, however, with open man holes, huge potholes, no lighting and other obstacles. Pedestrian traffic can also present a hazard, as individuals stand well into the roadway hitching rides or hailing taxis.

Major intercity highways are in reasonable shape, but can be very dangerous, particularly at night when there is no lighting whatsoever. No driving be done outside the city after dark. Long vehicle trips should not be undertaken alone.

There are four land routes out of Ashgabat. For Americans, the road to the south stops at the Iranian border. The road to the west leads to the Caspian Sea, an eight-hour drive through the desert. The northern road goes directly across the Kara-Kum, ending six hours later in Dashhowuz. The road to the east leads to Mary, Turkmenistan's second largest city, near the site of ancient Merv (5 hours by car).

It is possible to take trains across the country, but they are in bad condition. They are not air-conditioned, there is no food or drink available, and the toilets are unusable.

Flights within the country and the CIS region are possible via Turkmen Airlines. Many of their planes are former Soviet aircraft and can be quite uncomfortable, although new Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft service major international routes (Istanbul, New Delhi, London, Abu Dhabi). Their safety record is good, though they can be quite unreliable, with last-minute cancellations leaving travelers stranded until the next available flight. However, the flights within the country, and even on the limited routes to neighboring countries, are frequent and inexpensive.

Turkish Air flies four times a week to Istanbul; Lufthansa has a twice weekly flight to Frankfurt; and PIA flies to several cities in Pakistan


Telephone and Telegraph

Direct dialing and operator assisted calls can be made from Turkmenistan though both methods are very expensive ($4.00-7.00/minute). Fax is also available.

Radio and TV

Local television programs are in either Turkmen or Russian, as are the local radio broadcasts. A multisystem or PAL/Secam television set is necessary to receive these broadcasts.

BBC and VOA can be heard, but the reception is very poor.

Newspapers, Magazines and Technical Journals

There are no locally published English-language newspapers or magazines, and only rarely is English reading material sold in bookstores. Some hotels carry limited English-language newspapers (e.g., USA Today), but generally, such material is unavailable.

The local press does not subscribe to international news wire services, and carries scant international news.

The National Library has a collection of several thousand books and a number of dated magazines in English in its foreign language collection. The University also has English-language books in its library, primarily for the use of its foreign language students.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Local medical care and facilities are extremely poor, due to lack of equipment, staff and sanitary conditions. The VIP Hospital, considered the best in Ashgabat, is considered one of the poorest in the former Soviet Union.

Local dentistry lacks modern techniques, equipment, medication, and basic sanitation.

Community Health

Community sanitation levels are low. Tap water is not potable, and restaurant food is often of questionable safety. There have been cases of Typhoid, as well as numerous incidents of E. coli contamination and other gastrointestinal ailments. Care should be taken in eating in restaurants, and all produce should be soaked in iodine or bleach tablets before consumption at home.

Western standards of public cleanliness are not observed in Turkmenistan. Public toilets are in poor condition and those on planes and trains are often virtually unusable. Though the main streets are swept each day, on the side streets garbage is often placed unwrapped in open containers outside residential buildings for collection once a week.

Turkmenistan's health indicators are among the worst in the former Soviet Republics. Infant mortality is reported to be 50 per 1,000 and anemia is common. There is a high rate of Hepatitis A and B. Amoebas and gastroenteric disease is common. Cutaneous Leishmaniasis, a parasite quite common throughout Central Asia spread by sandfly bites, is prevalent. Typhus, spread by body lice, and crub Typhus, spread by mites, are both considered endemic in Turkmenistan. Rabies is present in Ashgabat.

At a minimum this includes Hepatitis A and B, Typhus, Typhoid, Diphtheria/Tetanus and Rabies.

Leishmania is a parasite found throughout Central Asia. It is quite common and is spread by sandfly bites. Typhus, a disease spread by body lice, and Scrub Typhus, spread by mites, are both considered endemic in Turkmenistan. Hepatitis A and other water borne diseases are common. In general, the immunization status is lower than in the U.S., and everyone coming to Ashgabat should have all routine vaccinations before arrival.

Preventative Measures

The water is considered dangerously contaminated. Foodstuffs can be exposed to a variety of contaminating agents, such as flies and rodents. Due to unregulated pesticide and fertilizer use there is a hazardous nitrate level on fruits and vegetables. Therefore, personnel are advised to buy only undamaged fruit and vegetables and clean them carefully with a mild detergent, followed by soaking in a chlorine solution for 15 minutes, then rinsing with potable water before consuming or storing in the refrigerator. Raw meat should be purchased as early in the day as possible to avoid contamination, and should be cooked thoroughly before consuming.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Turkish Air, Lufthansa and Pakistan Air fly from various locations to Ashgabat. The most common route from the U.S. is through a European transit point (usually Frankfurt) to Istanbul, then to Ashgabat on Turkish Air.

American citizens must have a valid passport and visa to enter and exit Turkmenistan. To apply for a visa, all U.S. citizens must complete an application and have a letter of invitation approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Ashgabat. A letter of invitation must be submitted to the MFA on behalf of an American citizen by an individual or organization in Turkmenistan. The MFA requires at least ten working days for approval. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Turkmenistan. Applications for a Turkmen visa can be submitted to the Turkmen Embassy in Washington, D.C. or directly to the MFA in Ashgabat. Recent travelers to Turkmenistan have found it difficult to secure visa issuance from the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C. A traveler with a stamped and approved invitation letter from the MFA may also obtain a visa at the Ashgabat Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan.

The price for the visa will vary according to the intended length of stay. The visa can be extended from its initial validity for any period of time up to one year at the MFA in Ashgabat for an additional charge. Any traveler arriving without a visa or without the needed documents to obtain a visa will be denied entry and may be held at the airport or border until the traveler has secured transportation out of Turkmenistan. Travelers departing Turkmenistan must have a valid visa or they will be denied exit while they extend the validity of the visa. In addition, U.S. citizens traveling in Turkmenistan should be aware that they may require special permission from the MFA to travel to some areas of the country that have been restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan.

For complete information concerning entry and exit requirements, as well as internal travel restrictions, U.S. citizens should contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan at 2207 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 588-1500. The Embassy may also be reached at its homepage on the Internet:

There are local Turkmen registration requirements. Americans who plan to stay more than five days in Turkmenistan must register with the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). OVIR offices are located in all of Turkmenistan's five major cities: Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbashi. Visitors who do not register may have to pay fines upon departure. According to the MFA, all foreigners staying in Turkmenistan more than 3 months must be tested for HIV. Testing should be performed upon arrival in Turkmenistan. Before extending a visa, the MFA requires a certificate from the Blood Transfusion Center located on 53 Gerogly Street, Ashgabat. U.S. test results are not accepted. Previous travelers have reported sporadic enforcement of this regulation.

Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers who want to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet is not of historical value. In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated on the size of the carpet.

Americans living in or visiting Turkmenistan are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat to obtain updated information on travel and security within Turkmenistan. Registration with the Embassy can assure quick communication during an emergency and help replacement of a lost and/or stolen passport. The U.S. Embassy is located at 9 Pushkin Street, off Magtymguly Street, tel. (993-12) 35-w00-45; fax (993-12) 51-13-05. The Consular Section can also be contacted by e-mail at: The Embassy's Internet address is


There is no quarantine requirement in Turkmenistan. All dogs and cats must be accompanied by a certificate of good health, bearing the seal of the local board of health and signed by a veterinarian. The certificate must be issued not more than 10 days prior to the animal's arrival in country. A valid rabies certificate is also necessary. Pets are not allowed in the local hotels.

The national currency is the Manat, which circulates in 20, 50, 100, 500, 100 and 5000 denomination notes (a 10,000 note may be introduced shortly). Exchange is about 5,200M=US$1 (January 2001).

The government exercises strict controls over import and export of Manat and foreign currencies.

Dollar transactions are permitted at the banks, hotels, airlines, phone company and some restaurants. All other merchants are required to accept payment in Manat.

Credit cards are not accepted at most local hotels or restaurants. Turkish Airlines will accept an American Express Card or Visa Gold Card as payment for a Turkish Airlines ticket to Istanbul.

The metric system is used in Turkmenistan for all forms of measurement.

Disaster Preparedness

Turkmenistan is an earthquakeprone country. Building practices within Turkmenistan do not generally meet U.S. seismic standards. In addition, local authorities do not have sufficient resources to respond to a large-scale disaster. American citizens traveling to Turkmenistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy Consular Section. Registration can assist the Embassy in quickly contacting American citizens during an emergency. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Jan. 12 Memorial Day

Feb. 19 National Flag Day

Mar. 8Women's Day

Mar. 21Novruz Bairam

Apr. 6 Drop of Water is a Grain of Gold Holiday

Apr. 27 Horse Day

May 8-9 Victory Days

May 18Revival and Unity Day

Oct 6Remembrance Day

Oct. 27 Independence Day

Nov. 17Youth Day

Nov. 30Harvest Holiday

Dec. 12 Neutrality Day


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adha*



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Akchurin, Marat. Red Odyssey: A Journey through the Soviet Republics. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1992

Akiner, Shirin, ed. Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia. New York: Keegan Paul, 1991.

Alladatov, D.A. Turkmenistan: A Land of White Gold. Ashkhabad: Turkmenistan Pub. House, 1972.

Blunt, Wilfrid. The Golden Road to Samarkand. Viking Press: New York, 1973

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International: New York, 1992

Kalter, Johannes. The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. Thames and Hudson, Inc.: New York, 1984

Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. New York: Free Press, 1975.

Mackie/Thompson. Turkmen Tribal Carpets and Traditions. Textile Museum: Washington, DC, 1980

Maslow, Johnathan. Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy. R andom House: New York, 1993

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Turkmenistan is located in central Asia, bordered by Iran (992 kilometers/616 miles) to the south, Uzbekistan (1,621 kilometers/1,007 miles) to the northeast, Kazakhstan (379 kilometers/235 miles) to the north, Afghanistan (744 kilometers/462 miles) to the southeast, and the Caspian Sea (1,786 kilometers/1,110 miles) to the west. Turkmenistan has an area of 488,100 square kilometers (188,455 square miles), slightly larger than the state of California. The capital, Ashgabat, is located in the south-central part of the country, near the border with Iran.


The Turkmenistan population is smaller than in other central Asian states. According to the last Soviet census in 1989, 2.54 million Turkmens lived in the republic. In 1989 Turkmens comprised 68.4 percent of the population, Russians 9.5 percent, Uzbeks 9 percent, and Kazakhs 2 percent. Due to the emigration of Russians, in 1998 Turkmens made up 77 percent of the population, and Russians only 6.7 percent. Of all the former Soviet Republics, Turkmenistan had the highest infant mortality rate73.25 per 1,000 in 1997and the shortest life expectancy, 61 years in 2001 (both figures estimated). During the next decade, population growth is expected to slow considerably as infant mortality rates increase and health care deteriorates.

Only 3 percent of Turkmenistan's land is arable. The Kara Kum, or Black Sand Desert, occupies almost 75 percent of Turkmenistan's territory. The 16 urban areas along its borders and coastline account for 45 percent of the population. Almost 50 percent of the population lives around the capital, Ashgabat, and only 2 other cities have populations with more than 100,000 inhabitants.


Turkmenistan is one of the most politically conservative and impoverished of the former Soviet republics. It has made little progress toward restructuring its economic foundation. Between 1991 and 1998, Turkmenistan's economic activity plummeted 45 percent. Its economy is agricultural, accounting for almost half of the gross domestic product (GDP), primarily marked by livestock raising and cotton production. Prior to independence in 1991, Turkmenistan was the second-largest cotton producer in the Soviet Union (behind Uzbekistan) and tenth largest in the world. It produces more cotton per capita than any other country in the world. Turkmenistan has the world's fifth largest reserves of natural gas and considerable oil resources. Turkmenistan is also known for subtropical fruits, melons, and nuts, especially pomegranates, figs, olives, and almonds.

Since gaining independence in 1991, Turkmenistan's government has emphasized grain production to increase its self-sufficiency and to limit Russian influence. The government has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, though. In 1992 the government of President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced his Ten Years of Prosperity program, which provided for Soviet-style subsidies for natural gas, electricity, and drinking water to all households in the republic. The program was afterwards modified to Ten Years of Stability, yet continues to subsidize for social needs, accounting for almost 60 percent of the state budgetary expenditures.

In the 1970s the Soviets made major investments in oil and gas production in Turkmenistan. By 1992 gas production accounted for almost 60 percent of GDP. Combined with the failure of trading partners to make payments, Russia's refusal to allow Turkmenistan gas transportation through its territory resulted in reduced output by more than 40 percent, mounting debts, and a sharp decline in overall industrial production. Turkmenistan continues to rely upon its abundant natural resources and cotton production to sustain its inefficient and declining economy.

Sources differ greatly on Turkmenistan's macroeconomic indicators since 1991. Government figures are often inflated to provide a more positive picture. Unemployment statistics for Turkmenistan are unreliable, but according to government sources in 1997 it was 5 percent. Real wages have declined by 25 percent since 1997 and inflation , which peaked in 1993 at more than 3,000 percent, dropped to 30 percent in 1999. The chief reason for the economic collapse was the failure of Russia, Ukraine, and other central Asian republics to pay for goods. In addition, the decline in energy prices hurt the economy.


Turkmenistan was the first central Asian republic to create a new constitution, which proclaimed the country a presidential republic. It is dominated by Saparmurat Niyazov, who won election in June 1992. In January 1994 a referendum extended his rule from a 5-year term to a ten-year term; in December 1999 he was made president for life. He is the leader of the state and supreme commander of the armed forces. In accordance with the Turkmenistan constitution, he also appoints all cabinet ministers. Presidential powers extend to all facets of the country's economic and political life, even including the right to issue edicts that have the force of law.

The 1992 Turkmenistan constitution established a national assembly with 50 members elected to 5-year terms. Its primary duties are to enact and approve criminal legislation and ratify presidential decrees. In practice, however, international observers have criticized this body for its failure to limit the expansion of presidential powers over domestic and foreign affairs. In addition, there are the national council and a council of elders, both of which wield little power or influence in political affairs.

In December 1991 the Communist Party of Turkmenistan was renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT). It controls all political activity in Turkmenistan, though ostensibly allowing political opposition. In 1992, under an initiative proposed by Niyazov, a party called the Peasant Justice Party was formed, consisting of regional secretaries of the DPT. A small opposition party, independent of government sanction, was formed in 1989 but was banned in 1990. The Agzybirlik (Unity) Party operates mostly in exile from Moscow.

Since 1991 Turkmenistan has attempted to establish relations with neighboring countries and potential trading partners in order to exploit its natural resources. Internal reform, however, has hampered economic development. In 1992 and 1993 the government passed laws on foreign investment, banking, property ownership, and intellectual property rights designed to attract foreign investment. The laws allow 100 percent ownership by foreign investors, but in practice the government restricts this right and prefers joint ventures rather than the full purchase of plants, factories, and other facilities by foreigners.

In 1993 the government began an ambitious 10-year plan that was designed to double per capita income, which was less than US$3,000 per year in purchasing power parity terms. The government freed the population from certain fees, such as for heating and electricity, and initiated in December 1992 the Ten Years of Prosperity program, which envisioned a transition to a free market economy, the dismantling of Soviet-style planned management, and extensive social welfare services. Soon thereafter, however, the government changed the slogan to Ten Years of Stability when anticipated investments and profits failed to materialize. Nevertheless, the government took great strides to attract investment for the plan, as Turkmenistan struggled to upgrade its basic infrastructure . The government started a national airline and built a new airport, along with new roads, buildings, and hotels in Ashgabat. Emphasis later shifted to constructing new pipelines, or expanding capacity in old ones, to diversify its markets and avoid further dependency upon Russia to export its natural gas.

In 1994 Turkmenistan was in the midst of a severe economic crisis. The government was forced to ration food, GDP fell more than 20 percent, and inflation was growing at 1,100 percent. In 1995, the government fixed the minimum wage at TMM1,000, which, according to some sources, corresponded to roughly 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of meat or potatoes.

Roughly two-thirds of Turkmenistan's revenues come directly from gas exports. The decline in international energy prices forced the government to broaden the tax base to lessen the impact of revenue shortfalls. No information is available on tax compliance, but it has been estimated that it is quite limited. Corporate and income tax rates range from 25 percent to 35 percent, although collection procedures, liability, and individual rates are often complicated, contradictory, subject to abuse, and arbitrarily applied.


Turkmenistan inherited an aging infrastructure from the Soviet Union, with 13,000 seriously depreciated railway cars, insufficient signaling and communication equipment, and inadequate staffing. The Turkmenistan government has ambitious plans for a highly extended transport infrastructure, with priorities devoted to railroad and pipelines development. Turkmenistan's transport system carries freight chiefly via rail, roads, internal waterways, and pipelines. Air transport accounted for less than 1 percent of transportation in the early 1990s. Turkmenistan still uses the Turkmenbashi-Ashgabat-Chardzhou Line as its primary railroad, which links Turkmenistan with Russia and Europe through Uzbekistan. Construction of this

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Turkmenistan N/A 276 201 N/A 1 N/A N/A 0.56 2
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Iran 28 265 157 0.0 6 N/A 31.9 0.05 100
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

railroad began in the 1880s to connect Turkestan with the Russian Empire. In recent years, construction has begun on a line expected to link Turkmenistan with Iran, although most observers do not expect it to develop as a primary trade route. Plans are being made to build 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of new railroads, but this requires substantial foreign investment which is lacking. Another plan has called for a railroad that would connect Istanbul with Beijing, running through Turkmenistan, but this too has failed to materialize.

Turkmenistan has focused considerable attention on expanding its present pipeline capacity and building new pipelines. In April 1993, Niyazov announced that an agreement had been reached with Iran to construct a new pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Iran to the Persian Gulf. These plans were met with serious international opposition, particularly from the United States and Russia. The Russians profit from the Turkmenistan dependence upon old Soviet transport routes; however, aging pipelines and insufficient capacity subject Turkmenistan to the whims of Moscow and the inability of former Soviet consumers to make payment. The United States encouraged Ashgabat to construct a line under the Caspian Sea to Turkey, or increase merchant fleet trade, in order to export its most valuable commodity.

Roads in Turkmenistan vary considerably in quality, with 2 major highways that crisscross the country. In 1990, there were nearly 23,000 kilometers (14,292 miles) of roads, of which a little more than 15,000 kilometers (9,321 miles) were paved. Poor maintenance and increased freight and passenger traffic have severely strained the system.

Turkmenistan has 64 airports of varying sizes and capacities, with only 22 having permanently surfaced runways. The main airport, in Ashgabat, includes a new international complex connecting the country to China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and European locations. There are plans to upgrade Turkmenistan Airlines with Boeing airplanes, replacing some of the aging Aeroflot aircraft.

Telecommunications is provided exclusively by the Turkmenistan Ministry of Communications, which also manages the country's postal services. There are 2 state-controlled broadcasting centers, the Orbita station in the capital and another in Nebitdag. The telephone network is inadequately maintained and insufficiently developed. Less than 30 percent of households have a telephone, and those are principally in the capital. The government has been upgrading the system, including signing agreements with Turkey to install electronic exchanges and international circuit capacity designed to improve local, long distance, and international communications.

Electrical power is one resource that Turkmenistan exports. Approximately 99.94 percent is supplied by fossil fuel, particularly natural gas, and 0.06 percent is hydraulically produced. In 1998, 8.745 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity was produced, of which 2.7 billion kwh were exported. In May 1998, a new line was developed to export electricity to Iran. Plans to export electricity to Afghanistan and Turkey are also being negotiated.


Turkmenistan's economy is dominated by state control of agriculture and industry, legacies of Soviet economic developments and regional links. The CIA World Factbook indicated that agriculture accounted for 25 percent of GDP and industry for 43 percent in 1999. Given that about 44 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, Turkmenistan has attempted privatization schemes, but with little success. Moreover, Turkmenistan, which has never opted for a market economy, continues Soviet-like systems with multiple exchange rates , state orders, and regulated prices, making expanded trade with neighboring states extremely difficult.

The best option for Turkmenistan to restructure its economy, and to develop some sort of sustainable growth, appears to be its ability to market and sell its natural resources, in particular natural gas. The absence of infrastructure, however, raises doubts about Turkmenistan's ability to do so at the pace necessary for economic expansion. Since transportation and export problems have caused problems throughout Turkmenistan's entire economy, especially for the international trade of its energy resources, establishing new markets and routes for trade is of crucial importance. Foreign investment in Turkmenistan has been substantial, although due to the political environment it has decreased almost 70 percent since 1995. In 1992 investment was US$11 million, peaking in 1995 at US$233 million, but falling to only US$62 million in 1998.


Since 1991, Turkmenistan has attempted to restructure the agricultural sector to reduce its dependency upon other former Soviet republics. Agricultural policy has focused upon grain production, which has resulted in significant increases in non-cotton production, but the new crops are unlikely to thrive unless changes are also made to the procurement and transportation sectors. Due to the distance between farms and processing plants, less than 10 percent of fruits, vegetables, and cereals are processed in the country. Livestock raising remains an important part of Turkmenistan's agricultural sector, primarily in meat products such as beef, mutton, and chicken. In 1997 agricultural exports, chiefly cotton, amounted to US$364.5 million, whereas the value of agricultural imports was US$271.7 million.

To understand Turkmenistan's agriculture, it is necessary to understand Soviet practices and collectivization schemes. Roughly 50 percent of arable land is planted in cotton. Due to Soviet planning and economic specialization, Turkmenistan has few textile factories and manufactures less than 1 percent of the cotton grown. It must continue to import cotton fabrics and clothing from Russia and other states in the region. Turkmenistan has made little progress in restructuring the agricultural economy, with only limited privatization and expanded diversification of crop production. Moreover, Turkmenistan is heavily dependent upon irrigation for agriculture. Dilapidated canals and inefficient water management, however, result in only half of the water being delivered to the fields.

The Soviets practiced surface level irrigation, in which water is provided along furrows rather than direct application. Consequently, watering sometimes took days instead of hours, even with around-the-clock irrigation. In addition, the Soviets abandoned nighttime irrigation in favor of daytime irrigation, increasing water usage substantially. Almost no mechanism was in place to determine optimal application, or if there was adequate monitoring equipment, it was in disrepair. The result was endemic over-watering and a casual disregard for resource management.

Management and maintenance of the country's irrigation network is expensive. The budget allocated for maintaining the existing irrigation canals has fallen from US$3.2 million to only US$20,000. In addition, the government has failed to reduce sediment in the canal, due to failing equipment and insufficient financial resources, cutting annual clearance requirements by more than 50 percent. Staffing for the irrigation network has also become a critical problem for Turkmenistan, falling from 1,700 personnel in 1987 to only 640 in 1999. Relatively few young people are employed in irrigation and water management, so Turkmenistan could be facing a severe crisis unless newly-skilled replacement personnel are found.


Soviet industrialization left a legacy of ecological devastation, uneven development, and an obsolete, rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. Furthermore, Soviet industrialization often ignored local conditions, conflicting with a traditional society hesitant to embrace new technology. Thus, the Soviets proceeded to emphasize heavy industry that was more and more based upon imported labor from the European regions of the Soviet Union. Local labor has not materialized to replace this technically skilled workforce. Turkmenistan has a strong resource base but inadequate training and financial resources to expand its domestic industry in the near future. Nevertheless, the government is taking steps to lessen its dependency upon industrial trade.

Turkmenistan has a critical shortage of industrial capacity to process its agricultural products and natural resources, a situation that has deteriorated considerably since 1991. Most industrial development in Turkmenistan under Soviet rule was oriented toward heavy industry, especially in chemicals and petrochemicals such as sulfuric acid, ammonia, detergents, and fertilizers. Small-scale steel production was used to manufacture water pumps and construction. Since independence, Turkmenistan has invested in the development of cement production and farm machinery; however, these form a very limited part of Turkmenistan industry. Turkmenistan has also begun to develop local leather works and foodstuffs industries, which remain underdeveloped due to low mechanization and an insufficiently trained workforce. Turkmenistan has no textile factories, only spinning and clothing; however, the Turkmenistan carpet industry remains vibrant and has an international reputation for excellent quality. The Turkmenistan Carpet Production Association manages 10 factories, although household production accounts for a considerable share of overall production.

Turkmenistan has developed numerous joint ventures with international companies in order to update its industrial capacities, increase productivity, and lower pollution levels, which remain high. In addition, it has increased investment in light industry, particularly in consumer and durable goods, but Turkmenistan relies on trade for most products.


The service sector in Turkmenistan accounted for roughly 32 percent of GDP in 1999 and employed an estimated 37 percent of the workforce in 1996. Transportation, energy, and health care are particularly important. Tourism is relatively small, although in 1997 more than 250,000 tourists traveled to Turkmenistan, an increase of more than 400 percent from 1993.

Financial services are strictly controlled by the government, particularly currency exchanges and lending. Loans are provided to finance projects in the republic, with particular emphasize given to agriculture. The retail sector is rather primitive, with few major retail centers, as most citizens buy products at local bazaars and through state-run stores.

Health care in Turkmenistan continues to be free to all citizens, although the system lacks modern technology. Basic medicines are in critically short supply and treatment is crude at best. Medical training has also deteriorated since 1991. According to one study, in Dash-howez Province half of the patients treated died because physicians lacked proper training and surgical supplies. Moreover, most facilities do not have running water and central heating. In addition, pharmaceuticals must be purchased with hard currency , which is scarce and costly. In rural areas, many Turkmens must rely solely upon traditional healers, who use prayer and herbs.


Since independence, Turkmenistan has sought to advance its sovereignty by entering only bilateral trade agreements. The country's potential prosperity is dependent upon its ability to maintain peace and stability in a possibly volatile region. Thus, its international relations and trade are focused within former Soviet territories of central Asia, Russia, and the Caucasus, while seeking to cultivate new relations with Asia, Europe, and America. Since transportation and export problems have caused problems for Turkmenistan's economy, especially for the international trade of its energy resources, establishing new markets and routes is of crucial importance. Foreign investors are, however, hesitant to work in Turkmenistan, usually because the socioeconomic infrastructure has deteriorated or laws necessary to protect their investments can be violated by presidential decree.

Russia continues to be the most important partner for Turkmenistan's international trade. Russia dominates 50 percent of all trade within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), particularly among natural resources, and appears unlikely to relinquish control in the near future because it commands the transportation grid built during the Soviet era. Thus, for example, with oil and gas, the pipelines run through Russia, which has often punitively regulated the amount of central Asian goods allowed to traverse its territory.

Russia was the only CIS country to export natural gas to the outside world until Turkmenistan signed an agreement with Iran in 1997. A pricing feud over supplies to Ukraine with Russia's state-run petroleum and natural gas company Gazprom severely disrupted Turkmenistan's ability to export any gas. Shipments were halted with the concomitant effect of handicapping all Turkmenistan trade, causing its exports to fall 61 percent in 1997 and GDP tumble 26 percent. Opening an export route through Iran eased some of Turkmenistan's economic woes. A resolution with Gazprom was reached, but the prices were so high that Turkmenistan will realize minimal profits.

Turkmenistan's trade with CIS states hovered around 50 percent in 1997. This was a slight decrease from previous years and represented Turkmenistan's somewhat successful efforts to reduce its dependency on Russia. Nevertheless, its export-import income has fallen significantly since independence. Export trade in 1992 was roughly US$1.5 billion and US$751 million in 1997. Exports have increased slightly since then, but the low volume reflects the country's continuing struggle to sell its natural gas. Imports, however, rose dramatically from the 1992 figure of US$446 million, jumping the next year to US$2.1 billion, but decreasing to US$1.2 billion by 1997. Because trade with the CIS consists mostly of energy resources, rather than manufactured goods, Turkmenistan has generally maintained a positive trade balance, but it has fluctuated widely since 1992. It is the only former Soviet republic to have a consistently positive trade balance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Efforts have been made by central Asian leaders to increase trade, but these have generally been rebuffed by Turkmenistan, which prefers bilateral trade agreements. Turkmenistan rejected Kazakhstan's attempt to create a Euroasiatic Union, but Niyazov agreed to join the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which was founded by Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in 1960. The ECO was designed to coordinate economic policies between these states and was given new life by the inclusion of the 5 central Asian republics. The move strengthened relations between Turkmenistan and Iran, a feature that disturbed Russia. Russia's demand that they choose between membership in the CIS or the ECO was hardly acknowledged.

Outside of the CIS, Turkey is Turkmenistan's most important trading partner and continues to be Turkmenistan's most vital supplier of technical and financial support. In 1993, for example, it provided the Turkmenistan government with credits worth US$92 million. Turkey further regards Turkmenistan as a country of transit to central Asian markets. Moreover, Turkmenistan is valued by Turkey essentially as a seller of natural gas. In a basic accord signed in October 1994, Turkey agreed to purchase natural gas from Turkmenistan for the next 30 years.

Turkmenistan has signed natural gas export agreements with Iran, believing its southern neighbor to be the most logical conveyor of Turkmenistan resources, even though the United States opposes the arrangement and central Asian leaders have strongly criticized Niyazov's attempts to enhance this relationship. In 1993 Turkmenistan and Iran signed a 25-year accord with the objective of delivering 28 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Delivery will be through a pipeline, jointly built but principally financed by Iran. In order to accelerate the process, in 1995 the countries agreed to transfer 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.


Turkmenistan maintains an official exchange rate (US$1=TMM5,200), but currency exchanges on the

Exchange rates: Turkmenistan
Turkmen manats per US$1
Jan 2001 5,200
Jan 2000 5,200
Jan 1999 5,350
Jan 1998 N/A
Jan 1997 4,070
Jan 1996 2,400
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

black market are often 3 times the official rate. The government has not significantly intervened to artificially support the national currency, although in January and again in April 1995 the Central Bank attempted unsuccessfully to unify the 2 exchange rates. Subsequently, the government decided to limit foreign exchange sites, which resulted in greater disparities between the official and black-market rates. Most banks in Turkmenistan are government owned and the principle lending task is to channel foreign loans into designated state-run enterprises. In 1998, prudent steps taken by the government required businesses to have minimum capital equal to US$1 million; however, audits to determine solvency and adherence to banking laws have been sporadic. In December 1998, the government suspended free convertibility of hard currency to limit capital flight .

Turkmenistan has a single stock market, with 300 joint-stock companies. In 1993, the Law on Securities and Stock exchanges was adopted, although companies have not been allowed to issue stock freely. The success of Turkmenistan's stock market will depend upon further privatization projects and a more transparent legal and accounting system, which remain the same from Soviet times and are not likely to be changed in the near future.


By most accounts, living standards in Turkmenistan have not dropped as dramatically since 1991 as they have in other former Soviet republics, although conditions are worsening. During the Soviet era, Turkmenistan was considered one of the poorest republics, with roughly 45 percent of the population living below the official poverty line in 1989. The CIA World Factbook reported that, by 1999, 58 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, uneven economic developments have served to create a tiny stratum of the population in Turkmenistan that holds most of the wealth. For the average Turkmenistan citizen, the availability of food and consumer goods has declined while prices have risen. Most people continue to receive their income from state employment. Wages are based upon the old Soviet method, with people working in industry,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Turkmenistan N/A N/A N/A 1,154 486
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Iran 1,611 1,129 1,208 1,056 1,275
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Turkmenistan
Lowest 10% 2.6
Lowest 20% 6.1
Second 20% 10.2
Third 20% 14.7
Fourth 20% 21.5
Highest 20% 47.5
Highest 10% 31.7
Survey year: 1998
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

transportation, and science faring better than individuals employed in health, education, and services. By 1995, real wages had dropped nearly 48 percent since independence. Conditions in rural areas are often much worse than in urban, where unemployment is as high as 60 percent, although this is difficult to determine with any precision. It was estimated in 1997 that households in Turkmenistan spent 63 percent of income on food, which will likely increase as prices continue to rise and real wages decline.

Since independence, Turkmenistan has experienced significant increases in the rural population. This growth is expected to aggravate economic conditions in rural areas. Worsening economic conditions might force many to leave the rural areas to find work in the country's urban centers. Turkmenistan's cities are not able to accommodate rural migrants seeking employment in urban industries, however, thereby keeping wages below subsistence levels.


Working conditions in Turkmenistan have declined since independence, chiefly because the government has made almost no progress toward economic reform. Most Turkmens are employed in state enterprises and guaranteed a minimum wage. The CIA World Factbook reported that the labor force consisted of 2.34 million people (roughly 50 percent of the population) in 1996. Some sources indicate that the labor force is declining due to emigration and relative population stagnation. The majority of the population works in agriculture and decreased productivity and failing infrastructure means growing impoverishment for most Turkmens. Extremely limited privatization in rural areas also will lead to distressing economic and social conditions in the near future.

A Soviet-style trade union, the Federation of Trade Unions, is the only labor union in Turkmenistan. The government does not permit collective bargaining. The political environment acts as a sufficient obstacle to independent union formation and activity, however. Child labor laws are comprehensive, although children in rural areas often must work. Moreover, high school students are often deployed in the fields during intensive harvest periods, particularly in cotton fields. Women make up a significant percentage of the workforce, although they face discrimination. Labor disputes often go unresolved because the judiciary serves at the pleasure of the president, who appoints and can dismiss them at will.


1881. Russians defeat Turkmenistan tribes and annex Turkmenistan into the Governorship of Turkestan.

1888. Russians start construction of railway from Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) to Ashgabat.

1916. Widespread revolt in central Asia against the tsarist government's use of local troops during World War I.

1917. Russian Revolution and Civil War begin.

1920. Soviet General Frunze captures Ashgabat, ending the anti-Soviet government in Turkmenistan.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Turkmenistan 32 6 14 6 18 11 14
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Iran 20 10 32 12 8 9 10
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

1921. New Economic Policy begins in Soviet Union.

1924. The Turkmenistan Soviet Socialist Republic is established.

1929. Collectivization begins in central Asia, widespread famine as Turkmens resist.

1930s. Pastoral nomadism ends in Turkmenistan; cotton production increases.

1959. Construction begins on the Karakum Main Canal.

1990. Turkmenistan declares its autonomy from the Soviet Union in August.

1990. Saparmurat Niyazov is elected president in October.

1991. Turkmenistan declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

1991. The Communist Party is renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan in December.

1992. Niyazov introduces the Ten Years of Prosperity economic reforms.

1992. Turkmenistan joins the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), designed to coordinate economic policies among Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan and given new life by the inclusion of the 5 Central Asian Soviet republics.

1993. New Turkmenistan currency, the manat, is introduced.

1998. The financial collapse in Russia affects Turkmenistan's energy trade.

1999. Niyazov is named president for life.


Turkmenistan is regarded by most observers as the most restrictive state in the region. Human rights organizations have consistently criticized the political and economic environment in Turkmenistan. President Niyazov has promoted a political system that rigorously opposes any liberalization or reform programs. Many specialists believe that Turkmenistan has the natural resources necessary to make an effective economic recovery; however, the political environment is considered by most to be a major impediment to future prosperity. For instance, the investments made by major transnational petroleum companies have thus far ended up in the bank accounts of political elite.

The best option for Turkmenistan to restructure its economy and develop some sort of sustainable growth appears to be its ability to market and sell its natural resources, in particular its natural gas. The absence of infrastructural preconditions, economic reforms, and political liberalization raises doubts about Turkmenistan's ability to do so quickly enough for expansion. The most serious non-political obstacle to Turkmenistan's economic future is its lack of access to markets with clients capable of paying for Turkmenistan's trade resources.


Turkmenistan has no territories or colonies.


Capisani, Giampaolo. The Handbook of Central Asia: A Comprehensive Survey of the New Republics. New York and London: I. B. Tauris, 2000.

Country Watch. Turkmenistan 1999/2000. <>. Accessed March 2001.

Curtis, Glenn, editor. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan: Country Studies. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1996.

Freedom House. "Turkmenistan." <>. Accessed February 2001.

Freitag-Wirminghaus, Rainer. "Turkmenistan's Place in CentralAsia and the World." In Post-Soviet Central Asia, edited by Touraj Atabaki and John O'Kane. London and New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 1998.

Gurgen, Emine, and others. Economic Reforms in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund, 1999.

O'Hara, Sarah, and Tim Hannan. "Irrigation and Water Management in Turkmenistan: Past Systems, Present Problems and Future Scenarios." Europe-Asia Studies. Vol. 51, 1999.

Steven Sabol




Turkmen manat (TMM). One manat equals 100 tenge. There are notes of TMM1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 tenge.


Natural gas, petroleum, cotton, chemicals, processed food, minerals.


Machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals, fuel, food and dairy products, sugar, textiles.


US$19.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$2.4 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$1.65 billion (c.i.f., 2000 est.).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Turkmenistan
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 4,518,268
Language(s): Turkmen, Russian, Uzbek
Literacy Rate: 98%
Number of Primary Schools: 1,947
Compulsory Schooling: 7 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 4.3%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 372,170
  Higher: 76,000
Teachers: Primary: 16,300

History & Background

Turkmenistan was known for most of its history as a loosely defined geographic region of independent tribes. Now it is a landlocked, mostly desert, nation of about 4.2 million people (the smallest population of the Central Asian republics and the second-largest landmass). The country remains quite isolated on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, largely occupied by the Qizilqum (Kyzyl Kum ) Desert. Many believe traditional tribal relationships still form a fundamental basis for Turkmen society, and telecommunications service from the outside world has only begun to have an impact. Like the Kazaks and the Kyrgyz, the Turkmen peoples were nomadic herders until the second half of the nineteenth century when the arrival of Russian settlers began to deprive them of the vast expansion needed for livestock.

Today's Turkmen territory was part of the ancient Persian Empire until the forth century B.C. when Alexander of Macedonia took over the territory. Parthians gained control after the Macedonian Empire crumbled and established their capital at Nisa. Another Persian dynasty, the Sassanids, gained control in the third century, but it was invaded in the fifth century by the Turks. Mongol invasions took place in the tenth century, and Turkmen trace their history from this time when Islam was first introduced. Seljuk Turks seized control in the eleventh century. The Mongol ruler Genghis Khan seized power in the thirteenth century. Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, the whole region was Islamized. Mongols continued to rule until the Uzbek invasion.

The Turkmen people exercised opposition to the Czarist forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but were defeated and became part of what was called the Transcaspian Region in 1885. The Bolsheviks attempted to dominate the area but met with much opposition, producing years of political disorder. This ceased in 1924 when the Red Army took control of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, and the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was established. During the next 60 years despite religious and political repression, limited advances were made under the Soviet system, especially in the health and social areas. However, Turkmenistan was a relatively neglected republic in the Soviet block. Very few investments were made in industry, and the development of the infrastructure was somewhat neglected. The under-representation of the Turkmenistan republic in the Soviet Communist party and the periodic purging of the Turkmenistan Communist party continued throughout this period. In 1985 Saparamurad Niyazov became the Turkmenistan Communist party leader, and in 1991 he became president of newly independent Turkmenistan.

In 1990 Turkmen was declared the official language of the country, and the transition from Russian to Turkmen was to be completed by January 1, 1996. However, given the ethnic diversity of the country and the lack of updated technical vocabulary in the Turkmen language, Russian is still commonly used by many people, including Turkmen, in urban areas. In May 1992, it was announced that Turkmenistan would change to a Latin based, Turkish modified script. This is the third type of script adopted by the country. In 1929 Arabic script was altered to Latin. As a result of Soviet influence, Latin script was exchanged for Cyrillic script in 1940.

During the 75 years of Soviet domination, Turkmenistan was completely dependent on the USSR for energy resources, educational materials, banking, postal services, and all major planning and administrative activities. Since declaring its independence, the Republic of Turkmenistan has been working to establish institutional and economic stability. Turkmen nationalism and a reawakening interest in Islam is slowly taking place as traditional beliefs and ways of life are being encouraged, and a new national identity is emerging after the dissolution of Communist rule. The introduction of several foreign influences after decades of isolation adds to the changing social structure of Turkmenistan.

Living Standards: Although living standards have not declined as sharply in Turkmenistan as in many other former Soviet republics, they have dropped in absolute terms for most citizens since 1991. The availability of food and consumer goods also has declined at the same time that prices have generally risen. The difference between living conditions and standards in the city and those in the villages is immense. Aside from material differences such as the prevalence of paved streets, electricity, plumbing, and natural gas in the cities, there are also many disparities in terms of culture and way of life. Thanks to the rebirth of national culture, however, the village has assumed a more prominent role in society as a valuable repository of Turkmen language and traditional culture.

Most families in Turkmenistan derive the bulk of their income from state employment of some sort. As under the Soviet system, wage differences among various types of employment are relatively small. Industry, construction, transportation, and science have offered the highest wages; health, education, and services, the lowest. Since 1990 direct employment in government administration has offered relatively high wages. Agricultural workers, especially those on collective farms, earn very low salaries, and the standard of living in rural areas is far below that in Turkmen cities, contributing to widening cultural differences between the two segments of the population.

In 1990 nearly half the population earned wages below the official poverty line, which was 100 rubles per month at that time. Only 3.4 percent of the population received more than 300 rubles a month in 1990. In the three years after the onset of inflation in 1991, real wages dropped by 47.6 percent, which caused a decline in the standard of living for most citizens.

Government & Politics: The post-Soviet government of the Republic of Turkmenistan retains many of the characteristics and the personnel of the communist regime of Soviet Turkmenistan. The government has received substantial international criticism as an authoritarian regime centering on the dominant power position of President Saparmyrat Niyazov. Nevertheless, the 1992 constitution does characterize Turkmenistan as a democracy with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. According to a law passed in December 1992, all permanent residents of Turkmenistan are accorded citizenship unless they renounce that right in writing. Dual citizenship is held by Turkmenistan's 4,000,009 ethnic Russians. Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov announced on 18 February 2001 that he would be stepping down in 2010 because after 70 "age takes its toll."

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

On May 18, 1992 Turkmenistan became the first newly independent republic in Central Asia to ratify a constitution. It is also termed a presidential republic, one that is "based on the principles of the separation of powerlegislative, executive, and judicialwhich operate independently, checking and balancing one another." The legal system is based on a civil law system, and suffrage beginning at age 18 is universal.

The Law of the Turkmen SR on Language (May 20, 1990) established the Turkmen language as a state language through Article 13. The law contains 36 articles dealing with rights of citizens to choose/use language, and it guarantees protection of such rights, establishing frameworks for operation of the state language in public authorities, enterprises, institutions, in spheres of education, science and culture, and administration of justice. The law also regulates use of language in names and also in the mass media. There is a special chapter for the protection of the state language. Russian is given the status of "the language of interethnical communication."

Centers of Political Power: In 1994 members of the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan continued to fill the majority of government and civic leadership posts, and much of the ideologically justified Soviet-era political structure remained intact. Besides serving as head of the Democratic Party, as the reconstituted Communist Party of Turkmenistan is called, and as chairman of the advisory People's Council and the Cabinet of Ministers, Niyazov also appoints the procurator general and other officers of the courts. Experts cite the "cult of personality" that has formed around President Niyazov. A law "Against Insulting the Dignity and Honor of the President" is in force.

At the same time, Western and Russian criticism generally has revealed misunderstandings of the social dynamics of the region that dilute the authority of such evaluations. Beneath the surface of the presidential image, political life in Turkmenistan is influenced by a combination of regional, professional, and tribal factors. Regional ties appear to be the strongest of these factors. They are evident in the opposing power bases of Ashgabat, the center of the government, and the city of Mary, which is the center of a mafia organization that controls the narcotics market and the illegal trade in a number of commodities.

Political behavior also is shaped by the "technocratic elites" who were trained in Moscow and who can rely on support from most of the educated professionals in Ashgabat and other urban areas. Most of the "elites" within the national government originate from and are supported by the intelligentsia, which also is the source of the few opposition groups in the republic. Tribal and other kinship ties rooted in genealogies play a much smaller role than presumed by analysts who view Turkmen society as "tribal" and, therefore, not politically sophisticated. Nonetheless, clan ties often are reflected in patterns of appointments and networks of power.

Educational SystemOverview

According to Soviet government statistics, literacy in Turkmenistan was nearly universal in 1991. Experts considered the overall level of education to be comparable to the average for the Soviet republics. According to the 1989 census, 65.1 percent of the population aged fifteen or older had completed secondary school, compared with 45.6 percent in 1979. In the same period, the percentage of citizens who had completed a higher education rose from 6.4 percent to 8.3 percent. In 1993, approximately 92 percent of the school age population was enrolled in the school system, spending an average of 5 years in school.

Education is free of charge; although, introduction of fees is being considered by selected institutions. Formal schooling begins with kindergarten (bagcha ) and primary school (mekdep ). School attendance is compulsory through the eighth grade. At this point, students are tested and directed into technical, continuing, and discontinuing tracks. Some students graduate to the workforce after completing the tenth grade, while others leave in the ninth grade to enter a trade or technical school.

The education sector has also been undergoing major reforms as it tries to adapt to the needs of a market economy and of the next century. It is the largest branch of the social sector, employing 47 percent of workers in the social sector, and receiving 61.5 percent of state budget expenditures allocated for social and cultural measures in 1994. Turkmenistan has achieved great success in education. By 1989 the level of literacy had reached 99.6 percent, and the number of workers with higher and secondary education is growing at an increasing rate. However, a new education policy was introduced in 1993 with a view to adapting the education and training system to the future needs of the country. A similar process is under way with respect to science and technology, in order to reorient the areas of priority from away those required by the former Soviet Union toward the priorities of the new state.

The Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 not only brought independence to the countries of the region, it also accelerated the development of new attitudes toward education. Free education and an extremely high (99 percent) literacy level were major achievements of the Central Asian countries as a part of the former Soviet Union in terms of human development. The next challenge was to maintain these achievement levels within relatively less centralized administrative structures. As soon as public education in Central Asia lost its compulsory and universal nature after 1991, internal efficiency plunged under the budgetary constraints of the transition period. It took three to four painful years for public opinion in Central Asian countries to accept that their decentralized education systems were faced with imminent collapse. The regional and local authorities that had taken over the running of the schools simply did not have the necessary human or financial resources to ensure state backing at the previous levels. This structural adjustment effectively blocked the quantitative expansion of the systems; double and triple shift systems were brought in to compensate. In order to stop the decline of internal efficiency, strong central authority was reestablished.

In Turkmenistan an education sector review process was conducted from February through July 1997. The purpose of the review was to analyze strengths and weaknesses of the system of education and training, to recommend solutions to priority problems, and to outline possible priority areas for investment. Reforms of the education system in Turkmenistan are being implemented in accordance with the National Program of New Education Policy Implementation of the President of Turkmenistan, 1993 to 1997. The report has been prepared in two parts on the education and training systems, including a detailed description of the system, explanation of recent reforms, identification of problems, and recommendations for solutions. The review covers such education sections as Basic Education, Vocational Training, and Higher Education. This report is subject to caveats that the findings and recommendations can only be tentative, subject to further elaboration, study, and change.

Although the education system in Turkmenistan retains the centralized structural framework of the Soviet system, significant modifications are underway, partly as a response to national redefinition, but mainly as a result of the government's attempts to produce a highly skilled workforce to promote Turkmenistan's participation in international commercial activities. Reforms also include cultural goals such as the writing of a new history of Turkmenistan; the training of multilingual cadres able to function in Turkmen, English, and Russian; and the implementation of alphabet reform in schools.

Turkmenistan's educational establishment is funded and administered by the state. The Ministry of Education is responsible for secondary education and oversees about 1,800 schools offering some or all of the secondary grades. Of that number, 43.5 percent are operated on one shift and 56.5 percent on two shifts (primarily in cities). Secondary schools have 66,192 teachers who serve 831,000 students. Thirty-six secondary schools specialize in topics relevant to their ministerial affiliation. The primary and secondary systems are being restructured according to Western models, including shorter curricula, more vocational training, and human resource development.

Instruction in 77 percent of primary and general schools is in Turkmen; although, the 16 percent of schools that use Russian as their primary language generally are regarded as providing a better education. Some schools also instruct in the languages of the nation's Uzbek and Kazak minorities. Especially since the adoption of Turkmen as the "state language" and English as the "second state language," the study of these two languages has gained importance in the curriculum, and adults feel pressure to learn Turkmen in special courses offered at schools or at their workplaces.

The percentage of women within the total workforce of Turkmenistan was 41.7 in 1989, reflecting a near constant since 1970 (39.5). The percentage of women within the total number of specialists in the work force who have completed middle and upper special education rose from 44.0 in 1970 to 49.4 in 1989. Workers under thirty years of age who have completed a secondary general education accounted for 66.4 percent of Turkmenistan's work force in 1989; those with middle specialized education, 16.0 percent; those with an incomplete higher education, 1.6 percent; and those with a complete higher education, 8.7 percent. Plans call for the Ministry of Labor to be replaced by a State Corporation for Specialist Training, with the bulk of the ministry's non-training functions to shift to the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Banking.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The Resolution on Transition to the New Alphabet of Turkmen Language in Educational Institutions, September 29, 1994, by the President of Turkmenistan secured the transition to the new Turkmen alphabet in primary and secondary schools beginning in the 1995-1996 academic year. The resolution obliged the Ministry of Education, the Publishing Committee, and the Ministry of Trade and Resources to arrange the preparation and publishing of textbooks in the new alphabet. It also obliged the Ministry of Education and the State Professional Training Association (Senet ) to start a gradual transition, beginning on January 1, 1996, to the new alphabet in all educational and professional training institutions, giving special attention to the preparation of respective curricula and to the appropriate training of teachers and professors. The Ministry of Economy and Finance are obliged to allocate funds for the program. The overall supervision powers over the program are given to the State organizational Committee, created to implement the program.

Secondary Education

The organization of Turkmen education does not include the concept of "secondary school" but is organized around a single nine year unit as discussed in the previous section on primary education. Workers under thirty years of age who have completed a secondary general education accounted for 66.4 percent of Turkmenistan's workforce in 1989; those with middle specialized education, 16.0 percent; those with an incomplete higher education, 1.6 percent; and those with a complete higher education, 8.7 percent.

The curriculum followed by schools is standardized, allowing little variation among the country's school districts. The prescribed humanities curriculum for the ninth and tenth grades places the heaviest emphasis on native language and literature, history, physics, mathematics, Turkmen or Russian language, chemistry, foreign language, world cultures, and physical education. A few elective subjects are available.

Higher Education

After completing school, students may continue their education at one of the dozens of specialized institutes or at Turkmenistan State University in Ashgabat. Admittance into higher education institutions often is extremely competitive, and personal connections and bribes may play a role in gaining entry and later advancement. Prospective students must pass a lengthy, pressure-packed entrance examination. Like all the other tests and evaluations in the educational system, this examination consists of both written and oral parts.

Completion of a course of study in higher institutions may take up to five years. Attempts are being made to decrease the number of years one must study so that young women may finish their higher education by their twentieth or twenty-first birthday, by which time they are expected to be married. Graduate study is an option for outstanding students at the university or in one of the Academy of Science's many research institutes.

The recently formed Council of Higher Education supervises Turkmenistan State University, the republic's eight institutes, and its two pedagogical institutes; these institutes are located in Ashgabat with the exception of a pedagogical institute in Charjew and an institute in Mary. These higher education institutions served 41,700 students in 1991, of which 8,000 were enrolled in the State University. Some institutes that train professionals for specific sectors of the national economy fall under the aegis of the relevant ministries. An education committee also functions under the president of the republic.

In March of 2001 Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov harshly criticized the country's higher education system for poor professional standards and widespread bribery. Speaking at a meeting with teachers and students of the National Economy Institute in Ashgabat on 14 March, as broadcast by Turkmen TV the same day, Niyazov said:

You, our scholars, yourselves do not realize the potential of our national economy. Here I mean our national currency, its circulation in Turkmenistan and its position against other currencies. You have not carried out any serious research work or developed any theories in this field. All your present books are copied from Soviet-era articles. I myself sometimes read your articles, but they do not suit us. You are still using Soviet-era textbooks and lecture notes because you yourselves have been trained in this way.

Niyazov demanded that new Turkmen language textbooks on history and economy be published within a year, stating:

We will buy for you computers and textbooks, but we have to start publishing Turkmen national textbooks no later than at the end of this year and there should be textbooks on history and on economics. Therefore you have to set up a special group to translate them from Russian and from other European languages. There are a lot of books on economics for the young people and all of them should be translated into Turkmen. But please do not expect any privileges or reward for this work and no one should expect to be recognized the sole author of a textbook. All textbooks should be drafted by a group of authors.

Niyazov also said proper education could be a way to fight corruption:

I have come here and demand that you train good students. So far, anyone I appoint to any post, immediately starts to seek personal benefits. Such habits as stealing are usually transferred to the next generation. It always happens so that if the father is a thief, his son surely becomes the same. This cannot be seen immediately but in the long run, bad habits are always inherited.

He also warned against bribery at higher education institutions when he told his students, "Bribery is said to be practiced here; if one wants to be enrolled at an institute he must pay, to pass exams one must pay too. Do not work in such a way, you must feel your responsibility and remember that you are living at the government's expense."

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Plans call for the Ministry of Labor to be replaced by a State Corporation for Specialist Training, with the bulk of the ministry's non-training functions to shift to the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Banking. On January 16, 2001 the National Institute for Government Statistics and Information told Interfax that Turkmenistan had a state budget surplus of 98.6bn manat, the official currency, or 0.43 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2000. Budget revenues and spending totaled respectively 5,898bn and 5,799bn manat or 2 percent and 10 percent less than planned.

Tax revenues amounted to 5,706bn manat or 96 percent of all revenue. This included 1,687bn manat (23.5 percent) in value added tax; 1,200bn manat in contributions to government social insurance (21.3 percent); 769bn manat in excises (13.4 percent), 689bn manat in profit tax (12.07 percent); and 433bn manat in personal income tax (7.5 percent). The oil and gas industry and the consumer sector contributed respectively 50.7 percent and 30 percent of all tax revenue. Spending on social programs and public needs totaled 4,203bn manat of 72.4 percent of the total. This included 1,554bn manat on education, 814.7bn manat on health care, and 990.7bn manat on general government services. Turkmenistan's GDP measures 22,900bn manat in 2000. The official exchange rate is 5,200 manat for one dollar. Budget expenditures in education for 2001 comprised 28 percent of the budget.

Nonformal Education

The first connection from Turkmenistan to the global Internet was registered in May 1997; although, there had been some earlier irregular contact. Information Technology (IT) is regulated by the "Laws on Communication" adopted December 20, 1996. A Presidential Decree of February 24, 2000 under this law established "Provision 4584," relating to licensing activities, and gave strong powers to the Ministry of Communication. As a result a number of licenses were repealed. The state provider STC "Turkmen Telecom" has become essentially the only method of access.

It is presidential policy reflected in the "Social and Economic Reforms in Turkmenistan in the Period to 2010" decree to develop advanced IT in Turkmenistan. At present the Web site hosts per thousand is 0.004/1000, a very low participation. Internet users are listed at 0.24/1000, and the number of country domains at 0.006/1000. According to IT Forecaster research, Turkmenistan belongs to the category of Strollerscountries that face more difficulties in catching up since their populations and infrastructures constrain IT expression.

Due to a lack of infrastructure, most Internet access center activity provides access to NGOs. An Internet Access and Training Project Center is administered by IREX and is a part of the American Center. The Center provides Internet training and the use of a computer room for alumni of U.S. funded educational programs. In May of 2000 the number of Internet registered users was 1200, 40 percent of whom were private users. Over 95 percent of Internet and e-mail users are in Ashgabat.

The Turkmen-Turkish University (TTU) is the only educational structure that provides Internet access and instructs students on use of the Internet. The university has over 100 connected computers; 20 of them are for student use, 50 for use in laboratories, and 30 for the faculty. TTU enrolls 730 out of the total of 21,000 students in Turkmenistan. There are two educationally based Web sites. Of the 30 known Web sites, some of which are based internationally, 13 are in Russian, 8 in English, 7 with English and Russian and 2 in Turkmen. The major barrier to further expansion is the "last mile" problem, the lack of electrical infrastructure and equipment.

Turkmenistan joined the World Bank in September 1992. The Bank's lending program, designed to provide impetus to the implementation of critical structural reforms through the provision of technical assistance and institution building, started with an Institution Building Technical Assistance Loan (US$25 million) that was approved in 1994. The project is currently being restructured to focus on improved budget management and computerization.

Contrary to initial expectations that Turkey would play a "big brother" role in Turkmenistan's social and cultural development following independence, Turkmenistan charts its own course in such matters. An example is the adoption of a Latin script that owes little if anything to that used for Turkish. However, Turkey has played a prominent role in the development of Turkmenistan's economic potential. Turkish firms are constructing US$1 billion worth of enterprises, stores, and hotels in Turkmenistan. The Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency manages a slate of projects in agriculture, civil aviation, education, health care, minerals extraction, reconstruction of infrastructure, initiation of small enterprises, and the construction of a complex of mosques and religious schools. Turkish high schools and universities are hosting more than 2,000 Turkmenistani students, and in 1994 Turkey began daily four-hour television broadcasts to the republic.

Teaching Profession

In early 2001 President Niyazov announced a cutback of 10,000 positions in education. Some teachers of foreign language will be transferred to Language Learning Centers, which will charge tuition.


There is an enormous concern to develop adequate means for developing the region's potential in education. After an initial period of rejecting everything from the recent past and a rush to indiscriminately adopt everything foreign, the transition is gradually moving from the present centralized system to one that emphasizes national identity and diversity. Following are some of the new directions that have been adopted as new educational laws within the Central Asian countries:

  1. Reducing the length of compulsory education from eleven to nine years, in order to avoid educational wastage.
  2. Allowing private and other types of non-public education at all levels.
  3. Gradually introducing tuition fees in higher education and various types of user fees at lower fees.
  4. Discontinuing the practice of guaranteed employment for graduates.
  5. Converting from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet and promoting the use of local languages for instruction.


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Virginia Davis Nordin

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Turkmenistan
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 4,603,244
Language(s): Turkmen,Russian,Uzbek
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 488,100 sq km
GDP: 4,404 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 3
Number of Television Sets: 820
Television Sets per 1,000: 0.2
Number of Radio Stations: 26
Number of Radio Receivers: 1,225,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 266.1
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 6,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 1.3

Background and General Characteristics

Turkmenistan borders both Iran and Afghanistan on the south and the Caspian Sea on the west, with a total area of 188,456 sq. miles. Mainly a desert country, the Kara Kum, or Black Sand Desert, covers the central part of the republic. The Kopet Dag mountains lie in the south, along the Iranian border. The land has vast reserves of natural gas and oil, and is a leading cotton producer. Of the Central Asian Republics, Turkmenistan remains the most closed and least reformistessentially a one-man state. It has the longest border with Afghanistan, and its supportive role in supplying humanitarian relief for Afghanistan has been essential, having facilitated more than 30 percent of food aid for Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan was known for most of its history as a loosely defined geographic region of independent tribes. Now it is a landlocked, mostly desert nation of about 4.5 million people (the smallest population of the Central Asian republics and the second-largest land mass). The country remains quite isolated on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, largely occupied by the Qizilqum (Kyzyl Kum) Desert. Many believe traditional tribal relationships still are a fundamental base of society, and telecommunications service from the outside world has only begun to have an impact. Like the Kazaks and the Kyrgyz, the Turkmen peoples were nomadic herders until the second half of the nineteenth century, when the arrival of Russian settlers began to deprive them of the vast expansion needed for livestock.

Today's Turkmen territory was part of the Ancient Persian Empire till the fourth century B.C. when Alexander of Macedonia took over Parthians gained control after the Macedonian Empire crumbled and established their capital at Nisa. Another Persian dynasty of Sassanids gained control in the third century A.D. It was invaded by the Turks in the fifth century A.D. Mongol invasions took place in the tenth century A.D. and Turkmen trace their history from this time when Islam was first introduced. Seljuk Turks seized control in the 11th century A.D. Mongol ruler Genghis Khan seized power in the thirteenth century A.D. Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries the whole region was Islamized. Mongols continued to rule until the Uzbek invasion.

The Turkmen people exercised opposition to the Czarist forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but were defeated eventually and became part of what was called the Transcaspian Region in 1885. The Bolsheviks attempted to dominate the area but met with much opposition, producing years of political disorder. This ceased in 1924 when the Red Army took control of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, and the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was established. During the next 60 years, despite religious and political repression, limited advances were made under the Soviet system, especially in the areas of health and social issues. However, Turkmenistan was a relatively neglected republic in the Soviet block. Very few investments were made in industry and the development of the infrastructure was somewhat neglected. The under-representation of the Turkmenistan republic in the Soviet Communist party and the periodic purging of the Turkmenistan Communist party continued throughout this period. In 1985 Saparamurad Niyazov became the Turkmenistan communist party leader, and in 1991 he became President of newly independent Turkmenistan.

Today's ethnic population is 72 percent Turkmen, 9 percent Russian, 9 percent Uzbek, and 2 percent Kazak. 89 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. 77 percent speak Turkmen as their native language with another 12 percent speaking Russian. In 1990, Turkmen was declared the official language of the country and the transition from Russian to Turkmen was to be completed by January 1, 1996. However, given the ethnic diversity of the country and the lack of updated technical vocabulary in the Turkmen language, Russian is still commonly used by many people, including Turkmen, in urban areas. In May 1992, it was announced that Turkmenistan would change to a Latin-based Turkish-modified script. This is the third type of script adopted by the country. In 1929 Arabic script was altered to Latin. That was in turn altered to Cyrillic script in 1940 as a result of Soviet influence. Sources put literacy at 98 percent of the population without specifying what form that literacy might take.

The post-Soviet government of the Republic of Turkmenistan retains many of the characteristics and the personnel of the communist regime of Soviet Turkmeni-stan. It is a one-party state dominated by its president and his closest advisers, and, as a nation, it made little progress in moving from a Soviet-era authoritarian style of government to a democratic system. As of 2002 the government had received substantial international criticism as an authoritarian regime centering on the dominant power position of President Saparmurad Niyazov. Saparmurad Niyazov, head of the Turkmen Communist Party from 1985, renamed the Democratic Party in 1992, and President of Turkmenistan since its independence in 1991, legally was permitted to remain in office until 2002. Niyazov, however, announced on 18 February, 2001 that he would be stepping down in 2010 because after 70 "age takes its toll." Nevertheless, the 1992 constitution does characterize Turkmenistan as a democracy with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

In May 1992, Turkmenistan became the first newly independent republic in Central Asia to ratify a constitution. It is also termed a "presidential republic," one that is "based on the principles of the separation of power, into legislative, executive, and judicial branches, which operate independently, checking and balancing one another."

The Law of the Turkmen SR on Language established the Turkmen language as a state language. The Law contains 36 articles dealing with rights of citizens to choose/use language, and guarantees protection of such rights, establishing frameworks for operation of the state language in public authorities, enterprises, institutions, in spheres of education, science and culture, and administration of justice. The law also regulates use of language in names and also in the mass media. There is a special chapter for the protection of the state language. Russian is given the status of "the language of interethnical communication."

Saparmurad Niyazov was unchallenged in the 1992 presidential election. In 1994 the electorate extended his term until 2002, and in 1999 he was declared President for life, thus confirming, in effect, his complete domination of government. There is no political dissent within Turkmenistan, and most political opponents to Niyazov are in exile, or in prison. The Democratic Party has a monopoly on political power, and parliament (the Mejlis) has no real authority. The judicial branch, unreformed since Soviet times, provides no check on executive power. Turkmenistan is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and does not participate in regional military groupings.

The two Turkmen newspapers that were touted as independent, Adalat (Justice) and Galknysh (Revival), are no longer even nominally independent. They were founded by Niyazov's decree in 1997, and they are censored. The president is the founder of all the country's newspapers except Ashgabat. Journalists are state employees, and their assignment is to cover Niyazov. Accordingly, the nation's newspapers and other publications ring with praise for the president and his policies. In addition to employing newspaper staffs the state also controls the distribution of their product. The state-run publishing house has to report directly to the cabinet of ministers since its governing body, the Government Press Committee, was abolished. The top newspapers are the Neytralnyy Turkmenistan, a Russian-language newspaper published six times a week; the Turkmenistan, a Turkmen-language newspaper, published six times a week; the Watan, a Turkmen-language newspaper, published three times a week; the Galkynys, Turkmen-language weekly, mouthpiece of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan; the Turkmen Dunyasi, a Turkmen-language monthly and mouthpiece of the Ashgabat-based World Turkmens Association; the Adalat (Justice) in Turkmen; and the Edebiyat we Sungat (Literature and the Arts) in Turkmen.

Economic Framework

Turkmenistan is largely a desert with the raising of cattle and sheep, intensive agriculture in irrigated areas, and huge oil and gas reserves. Its economy remains dependent on central planning mechanisms and state control, although the government has taken a number of small steps to make the transition to a market economy. Agriculture, particularly cotton cultivation, accounts for nearly half of total employment. Gas, oil and gas derivatives, and cotton account for almost all of the country's export revenues. In 2002 the government was proceeding with negotiations on construction of a new gas export pipeline across the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey, and was also considering lines through Iran and Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan's economic growth is heavily reliant on exports, benefiting in 2000 from high global commodity prices and the resumption of gas sales to Russia and Ukraine. Agriculture, the largest sector of the economy, is still unreformed and may actually have declined over the past few years. The limiting factor is the scarcity of water resources. Turkmenistan has large deposits of oil and gas, and is able to finance its economic polices through gas sales, most of which are made to Russia and other NIS countries. Convertibility problems top the list of business-related problems for foreign investors. The official exchange rate, required for foreigners, is roughly a fourth of the black-market rate. Foreign firms convert the local currency, the manat, into hard currency with substantial losses. Official corruption is another obstacle to foreign investment, and is fueled by the double exchange rate. In the late 1990s, the GDP ballooned to 17.6 percent (2000), leveled off to real GDP growth at 9 percent in 2001, and is falling to 7 percent in 2002.

During the 75 years of Soviet domination, Turkmenistan was completely dependent on the U.S.S.R. for energy resources, educational materials, banking, postal services, and all major planning and administrative activities. Since declaring its independence, the Republic of Turkmenistan has been working to establish institutional and economic stability. Turkmen nationalism and a reawakening interest in Islam is slowly taking place as traditional beliefs and ways of life are being encouraged and a new national identity is emerging after the dissolution of Communist rule. The introduction of several foreign influences after decades of isolation add to the changing social structure of Turkmenistan.

Although living standards have not declined as sharply in Turkmenistan as in many other former Soviet republics, they have dropped in absolute terms for most citizens since 1991. Availability of food and consumer goods also has declined at the same time that prices have generally risen. The difference between living conditions and standards in the city and the village is immense. Aside from material differences such as the prevalence of paved streets, electricity, plumbing, and natural gas in the cities, there are also many disparities in terms of culture and way of life. Thanks to the rebirth of national culture, however, the village has assumed a more prominent role in society as a valuable repository of Turkmen language and traditional culture.

Most families in Turkmenistan derive the bulk of their income from state employment of some sort. As they were under the Soviet system, wage differences among various types of employment are relatively small. Industry, construction, transportation, and science have offered the highest wages; health, education, and services, the lowest. Since 1990 direct employment in government administration has offered relatively high wages. Agricultural workers, especially those on collective farms, earn very low salaries, and the standard of living in rural areas is far below that in Turkmen cities, contributing to a widening cultural difference between the two segments of the population. In 1990 nearly half the population earned wages below the official poverty line, which was 100 rubles per month at that time. Only 3.4 percent of the population received more than 300 rubles a month in 1990. In the three years after the onset of inflation in 1991, real wages dropped by 47.6 percent, meaning a decline in the standard of living for most citizens. There is almost no competitive business sector in Turkmenistan, and over-regulation continues to stifle any potential for growth in this sector. Due to the lack of transparency and an unwillingness to share information, precise numbers on Turkmenistan's per capita GDP and debt are not available, although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the GDP per capita income is $652.

Press Laws

The Law on the Press and other Mass Media, practically the only document regulating the activities of the media in Turkmenistan, was carried on, before the fall of the Soviet Union, by the Supreme Soviet of the Communist party of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, and signed by the president, Saparamurad Niyazov.

The law prohibits media intrusion into the private lives of citizens or anything that might constitute an attack on their honor and reputation. The republic's laws place a particular accent on the protection of the honor and reputation of the president. In June 1997 a new Criminal Code was passed by the Medzhilis (parliament) in which any infringement into the life of the president could be punishable by 15 years of imprisonment or capital punishment (although in 1999 capital punishment was dropped). For libel or insult of the president the minimum sentence is five years in prison.

Any citizen of Turkmenistan of over 18 years of age has the right to found a media company, as does any association that has been legally registered to operate in the republic. In order to register a periodical publication, it is necessary to submit documentation and if permission is received, the publication can be registered with the advertising-publishing company Metbugat. Then the publication must receive a license to actually publish. All documents submitted for register are forwarded to the personal attention of the vice-premier, the minister of culture. Even though journalists in Turkmenistan tend to censor themselves, the government has an official censor, namely the State Committee for Protection of State Secrets, where even the smallest publications are required to register. Libel is a criminal offense, but in practice it is not an issue because controls on media are more rigid today than in the Soviet era. In order to regulate printing and copying activities, the government ordered in February 1998 that all publishing houses and printing and copying establishments obtain a license and register their equipment.

The government prohibits the media from reporting the views of opposition political leaders and critics, and it never allows even the mildest form of criticism of the president in print. The government has threatened and harassed those responsible for critical foreign press items.


The Constitution of Turkmenistan provides for the right to hold personal convictions and to express them freely. In practice, however, the government severely restricts freedom of speech and does not permit freedom of the press. Continued criticism of the government can lead to personal hardship, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment. Freedom House has consistently rated Turkmenistan as "not free," with the lowest ranking of political rights and civil liberties possible on its scale. A weak judiciary follows the will of the President for Life and is unprepared to protect civil and commercial rights. Civic action is still very risky, though a handful of National Government Offices (NGO), such as water-user associations, has taken up issues at the local level to some effect. Democratic culture in Turkmenistan will require, first and foremost, government receptiveness to reforms and increasing the popular demand for reform among both citizens and governing elites.

Registration remains one of the biggest challenges for the development of nascent civic organizations and only a dozen or so organizations have been registered. Most of these are sport clubs or groups organized under quasi-NGOs, holdovers from the Soviet times. Given the registration constraint, Turkmen NGOs must be more innovative in obtaining legal status. Recently, several organizations were registered as cooperatives, which gives them most of the rights and benefits afforded to noncommercial organizations in the country. NGOs face increasing pressure from the government, which is suspicious of and resists civil society development. Government continues to tighten its grip on the Turkmen society, regularly blocking civil society activities, restricting the media, discouraging educational innovation and trampling citizens' human and religious rights. At present, the Committee for National Security (KNB) actively restricts NGO activity, especially when NGOs' work attracts the attention and presence of international organizations. This negatively influences the attitudes of regional (velayat ) and district (etrap ) level officials towards NGOs, making it more difficult than in other countries in Central Asia to increase opportunities for citizen participation in governance.

State-Press Relations

The government completely controls radio and television, and it funds almost all print media. The Government censors newspapers and uses Turkmen language newspapers to attack its critics abroad; the Committee for the Protection of State Secrets must approve prepublication galleys. Russian language newspapers from abroad now are available by subscription and some Russian and other foreign newspapers are also available in several Ashgabat hotels. However, the two nominally independent newspapers established under presidential decree, Adalat and Galkynysh, are no longer even nominally independent.

The constitution guarantees "the right to freedom of thought and to the free expression thereof, and also to obtain information, if it is not a government, service or commercial secret." However, in practice the government severely restricts freedom of speech and does not permit freedom of the press. It completely controls the media, censoring all newspapers and rarely permitting independent criticism of government policy or officials.

There are no independent media outlets. All broadcast outlets that do exist are strictly controlled, and nearly all print media receive their funding from the state.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded attacks on journalism at a level unabated since 1992. Journalists who represent Radio Liberty, which is the only regularly available non-state source of news, seem particularly vulnerable. In order to regulate printing and copying activities, the government ordered in February that all publishing houses and printing and copying establishments obtain a license and register their equipment. Criticism sanctioned by the President of government officials is commonplace. The government has subjected those responsible for critical foreign press items to threats and harassment. The KNB arrested a former presidential spokesman one day after he criticized the government on Radio Liberty. The former press secretary was released 10 days after the arrest, after he said that he was coerced into making antigovernment statements by the radio service. The government revoked the accreditation of the Ashgabat-based Turkmen-language Radio Liberty correspondent in 1996 because of broadcasts by an opposition politician in exile, but it has not prevented him from continuing to file reports. Following his release from a psychiatric hospital in Geok-Depe in April, dissident Durdymurad Khodzha-Mukhammed was warned by a member of the states internal security apparatus to refrain from political activity, including meeting with foreign diplomats. In August after meeting with the British ambassador in Ashgabat, Khodzha-Mukhammed was abducted and beaten severely by unknown persons; he remains in very poor physical condition. Members of Khodzha-Mukhamedós family also reportedly have been threatened with harm if he resumes political activities. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Yoshan Annakurbanov was released in November 1997 from a KNB prison but remained under investigation for allegedly attempting to smuggle "military secrets" out of the country. He was forbidden to leave his apartment, meet with journalists and foreign officials, or discuss his case. In August he left the country and now lives in the West.

In this Central Asian nation, the stamp of the first and only post-Soviet leader, Saparmurad Niyazov, is pervasive. Statues and renamed public buildings honor the "Turkmenbashi," or "leader of the Turkmen," add an aftertaste of the Soviet era to contemporary life, a flavor that permeates the news media as well. Niyazov officially gained the title "founder" of the Turkmen media in September 1996. In December 1999, Niyazov was made the country's president for life in an unopposed vote. Despite earlier objections to the idea, Niyazov reversed himself in response to what he termed the people's will. In February 2000, Niyazov decreed that the country's mass media should publish fewer of his pictures. According to the decree, the country's publications must carry pictures of Niyazov only when they were reporting on official meetings. Meanwhile, the president extended his "personality cult" to his parents. The nation's only women's magazine was given the name of his mother. Niyazov's father was named a "Hero of Turkmenistan" in May 2000 and his mother was named a national heroine in July 2000. The Committee on National Security (KNB) has the responsibilities formerly held by the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB), namely, to ensure that the regime remains in power through tight control of society and discouragement of dissent. The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which work closely with the KNB on matters of national security. Both operate with relative impunity.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

According to a law passed in December 1992, all permanent residents of Turkmenistan are accorded citizenship unless they renounce that right in writing. Dual citizenship is held by Turkmenistan's 400,000 ethnic Russians. Russian-language newspapers from abroad are available by subscription, and some Russian and other foreign newspapers are all available in several Ashgabat hotels. Since 1999, the government has ceased to restrict citizens' ability to obtain foreign newspapers and a wide variety of Russian and Western newspapers have become available. Prior to that Turkmens who would attempt to obtain their news from other sources abroad were stymied by a ban on subscriptions to foreign newspapers and magazines. The ban, in place since October 1996, applied to individuals and organizations and included Russian publications.

According to a reporter who managed to visit the country, many people who would usually read the state newspapers are unable to because of the country's abrupt switch from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet. The tri-language daily Ashgabat dropped its English and Russian sections and is now printed in Turkmen only. The government also ended the publication of Golos Turkmen bashi, the Russian-language daily in the city. Turkmenbashi is the city with the highest concentration of ethnic Russians in the country.

News Agencies

The only news agency existing is the government run Turkmen State News Service (TSNS), the official news agency of the Turkmen government.

Broadcast Media

Cable television already had begun to take root in Turkmen cities by the late 1980s and by the early 1990s the country boasted commercial television stations in at least three cities. The commercial broadcasters, however, disappeared by 1994, ensnared in official allegations of financial impropriety. The state body, National TV and Radio, controls all broadcasting and operates three stations. The State Commission of Radio Frequencies, which is a division of the Ministry of Communications, manages frequencies. Only two radio stations are run from Turkmenistan.

Russian public television, ORT, is available on the airwaves throughout the country, but Russian-language broadcasts into the country provide little deep coverage of Turkmen events. ORT programming is censored by a special commission in Turkmenistan before being aired. Programs that contain nudity or political programs in which Turkmenistan is mentioned negatively are usually subject to censorship.

Apart from ORT, two channels broadcast locally-produced programming, airing mainly official news. Both the content and technical level of television in Turkmenistan has deteriorated since the Soviet era. In August 2000, a new television channel, the "Epoch of Turkmenbashi" was created by the president. The channel features the president for hours daily.

Owners of satellite dishes have access to foreign television programming, and Internet access is available as well; however, satellite dishes and Internet access remain so expensive that they are out of reach for the average citizen. In August 2000, the president urged the Turkmen State News Service (TSNS) to increase its contacts with outside news agencies.

Electronic News Media

The journalists' rights group Reports Sans Frontieres (RSF) included Turkmenistan in its list of 20 Internet enemies. The group has named countries that control access, censor Websites or take action against users. Turkmenistan was labeled an information "black hole" by RSF for its restrictions on Internet access. The first connection from Turkmenistan to the global Internet was registered in May 1997 although there had been some earlier irregular contact. In June 2000, Turkmenistan's communications ministry revoked the licenses of all private Internet and e-mail servers, setting up the government company Turkmentelekon as the sole provider. The ministry referred to "faults" within the private providers' documents as the reason for the action. No specific violations were cited.

IT (Information Technology) is regulated by the "Laws on Communication," adopted December 20, 1996. A Presidential Decree of February 24, 2000, promulgated under this law established "Provision 4584" relating to licensing activities and gave strong powers to the Ministry of Communication. As a result a number of licenses were repealed. The state provider STC "Turkmen Telecom" has become essentially the only method of access.

It is presidential policy reflected in the "Social and Economic Reforms in Turkmenistan in the Period to 2010" decree to develop advanced IT in Turkmenistan. According to IT Forecaster research, Turkmenistan belongs to the category of "strollers," countries who face more difficulties in catching up since their populations and infrastructures constrain IT expression.

Due to a lack of infrastructure, most Internet access center activity provides access to NGO. An Internet Access and Training Project Centre is administered by IREX and is a part of the American Centre. The Centre provides Internet training, and use of a computer room for alumni of U.S. funded educational programs. In May of 2000 the number of Internet registered users was 1,200, 40 percent of whom were private users. Over 95 percent of Internet and e-mail users are in Ashgabat.

Education & Training

The government does not tolerate criticism of its policy or the president in academic circles, and it discourages research into areas it considers politically sensitive. The government-controlled Union of Writers has in the past expelled members who have criticized government policy; libraries have removed their works.

Similar to programs in other Central Asian countries, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has sponsored training programs in journalism to high school and university level students. Major universities such as the Magtymguty State University in Ashghabat maintain programs in journalism that had originally been designed under the Soviet system, and two institutions have initiated the new program of international journalism. No media programs are currently funded in Turkmenistan because of pervasive government control and lack of commitment to economic and political reforms.


Journalists are state employees and their assignment is to cover the president's daily activities, which are detailed on television. The constitution guarantees "the right to freedom of thought and to free expression." However, in practice, the government severely restricts freedom of speech. It completely controls the media, censoring all newspapers and rarely permitting independent criticism of government policy or officials. The country has "one of the worst records for press freedom in the former Eastern bloc and one of the worst media climates in the world," according to the Canada-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange forum. The Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded attacks at a level unabated since 1992. Journalists who represent the US-funded Radio Liberty, which is the only regularly available non-state source of news, seem particularly vulnerable to harassment.

The trend to more oppressive governance and less individual freedom only has intensified over time in Turkmenistan. Since 2000, control of the media has been further impeded by the drastic reduction of Russian produced TV programs, as President Niyazov reduced to a few hours in the evening, relayed from the Russian television channel ORT, which has the biggest audience in the country. ORT programs are censored by a special commission in Turkmenistan before being aired, and those containing nudity or reporting negatively on Turkmenistan are usually subject to censorship. The second blow to individual choice in media was the revocation of Internet provider licenses in 2000.


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Viginia Davis Nordin

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Official name: Turkmenistan

Area: 488,100 square kilometers (188,456 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ayribaba (3,139 meters/10,299 feet)

Lowest point on land: Akchanaya Depression (81 meters/266 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 5 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: 3,736 kilometers (2,321 miles) total boundary length; Afghanistan 744 kilometers (462 miles); Iran 992 kilometers (616 miles); Kazakhstan 379 kilometers (235 miles); Uzbekistan 1,621 kilometers (1,007 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Turkmenistan is located in central Asia, sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The country also has a western shore on the Caspian Sea. With a total area of about 488,100 square kilometers (188,456 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of California. Turkmeni-stan is administratively divided into five welayatlar.


Turkmenistan has no outside territories or dependencies.


Turkmenistan's subtropical desert climate features exceedingly hot summers followed by cold winters, with temperature ranges that are fairly uniform for the country as a whole. In January, temperatures range from -6°C to 5°C (21°F to 41°F); in July, the range is generally between 27°C and 32°C (81°F and 90°F).

Annual rainfall amounts in some parts of the country can vary from 8 to 40 centimeters (3 to 16 inches), but nearly two-thirds of Turkmenistan receives less than 15 centimeters (6 inches) of precipitation.


The terrain of Turkmenistan is mostly low and flat, with nearly all of the western and central portions of the country covered by the great Kara-Kum (Garagum) Desert. The KaraKum is itself a part of the Turan Lowlands, a vast area of desert and steppe that extends throughout Central Asia.

The desert gives way to mountains in the south. The eastern region is a plateau called the Garabil. Although Turkmenistan is considered landlocked, it borders the saltwater Caspian Sea on the west. Turkmenistan is on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. Violent earthquakes are frequent in the mountains of the south.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Turkmenistan is landlocked with no ocean coasts. It does lie along the Caspian Sea, however, which forms its entire western border for 1,768 kilometers (1,096 miles). The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. Its area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean depth is about 170 meters (550 feet), deepest in the south. Although connected to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Black Sea by extensive inland waterways (chief of which is the Volga River), the Caspian Sea has no natural outlet.

Islands and Archipelagos

Ogurchinskiy Island is located in the Caspian Sea south of the tip of the Cheleken Peninsula.

Coastal Features

The Cheleken Peninsula juts into the Caspian Sea in the middle of the western shoreline.


Kara-Bogaz Lake (Kara-Bogaz Gol) was once a bay of the Caspian Sea. Through evaporation, however, the water level has dropped so much that the bay is now separated from the Caspian Sea by a strip of dry land, turning the bay into a salt lake. The water level (as well as the area) of the lake varies greatly because of this continued net water loss. Evaporation also allows for natural salt deposits along the shores of this lake. The largest natural inland lake in Turkmenistan is Lake Sarygamysh, which covers a total area of about 800 square kilometers (309 square miles). It is shared with Kazakhstan.


The Atrek River flows along part of the border with Iran, emptying into the Caspian Sea. The Amu Dar'ya (Amu River) is the country's longest river. Though it has a total length of about 2,540 kilometers (1,580 miles), only part of the river flows through Turkmenistan. The river enters from Afghanistan and then flows westward into Turkmenistan to form a section of the border with Uzbekistan. It flows northwest near the northeastern border and eventually empties into Lake Sarykamysh in the north.

Two other significant rivers are the Morghāb and the Harīrūd (Tejen), both of which originate in Afghanistan. These waters flow northwest into Turkmenistan before drying up in the desert. No significant rivers originate in Turkmenistan.


Covering an area of about 284,900 square kilometers (110,000 square miles), the Kara-Kum desert is one of the world's largest sand deserts. It extends westward from the Amu Dar'ya almost to the Caspian Sea and stretches from the Ust-Urt Plateau in the north to the Kopet-Dag Mountains in the south. The Kara-Kum occupies almost all of the country.

The name "Kara-Kum" means "black sand" in the Turk language, which aptly characterizes the coloration of much of this vast wasteland. The desert's chief features are rolling sand dunes as well as extensive regions of hard-packed clay and rock. Little in the way of vegetation can be found there, although in the southeast steppe areas some bushes and flowering plants do survive.

East of the Amu Dar'ya is the Sundukli Desert. This desert is an extension of the Kyzyl Kum Desert in Uzbekistan.


In the northeast, where the great Turan lowland dips into Turkmenistan, there is steppe land (a semiarid, grassy plain).

To the north of the Kopet-Dag Mountains is a chain of foothills, which features a belt of oases fed by its mountain streams. Otherwise, Turkmenistan is notably low in elevation, averaging less than 500 meters (1,640 feet). The lowest point occurs in the Akchanaya Depression (Vpadina Akchanaya) of north central Turkmenistan, which is 81 meters (266 feet) below sea level.


The highest point in the country is Mount Ayribaba (Gora Ayribaba), which stands at about 3,139 meters (10,299 feet). It is located in the small part of the Kugitang range of mountains that extends across the border from Afghanistan in the east. The Kopet-Dag Mountains rise south of the Kara-Kum Desert and straddle the Turkmenistan-Iran border. One of the highest points in this mountain range is Mount Shahshah, at 2,912 meters (9,554 feet). Frequent, violent earthquakes occur in these mountains.


The Kugitang Mountains, which are part of the Kugitang State Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan, contain many deep canyons. The longest canyon is Hodjachilgazbaba, which has a total length of about 28 kilometers (17 miles). Daraya Canyon is one of the steepest, with vertical walls that reach up to 600 meters (1,969 feet) high. The Umbardepe Canyon features twenty-eight beautiful waterfalls. The reserve also contains karst (limestone) caves, including the Karluick Caves. Scientists here study the caves' rock formations, their underground thermal springs, and species of cave fish that live there.


Two plateaus occupy portions of Turkmeni-stan. The larger of these is the Garabil Plateau, which lies in the eastern portion of the country near the Afghanistan border. In the north, the fringes of the Ust-Urt (Ustyurt) plateau extend across the border.


The Kara-Kum Canal, which runs east to west across southern Turkmenistan for more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles), is one of the longest canals in the world. It starts at the Amu Dar'ya near the Afghanistan border, extending across Turkmenistan to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea. About 300 kilometers (188 miles) of the canal is an enclosed aqueduct, but for most of its length it remains uncovered. Small river craft can navigate the canal for nearly half its length.

The Kara-Kum Canal provides irrigation water to most of southern Turkmenistan. In the northeast, other lesser canals redirect the Amu Dar'ya's waters to irrigate portions of the country along the Uzbekistan border. Without these river-fed canal systems, Turkmenistan would have limited freshwater resources for cultivating crops or providing drinking water. The diversion of so much water, however, has contributed to the drying up of the Aral Sea (the body of water into which the Amu Dar'ya empties).


Located within the Kugitang State Nature Reserve, Dinosaur Plateau contains nearly three thousand well-preserved dinosaur footprints in the Jurassic rock layers of the region. The tracks seem to belong to a variety of dinosaurs, with the smallest prints (of a three-toed dinosaur) at about 18 to 20 centimeters (7 to 8 inches) long and the largest (a megalosaur print) at about 71 centimeters (28 inches) long. The plateau contains the longest set of dinosaur tracks in the world. Within the thousands of dinosaur footprints, scientists have found two human footprints as well.



Alladatov, D.A. Turkmenistan: A Land of White Gold. Ashkhabad: Turkmenistan Publishing House, 1972.

Mandelbaum, Michael, ed. Central Asia and the World: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994.

Nichol, James, and Leah Titerence. "Turkmenistan: Basic Facts." CRS Report for Congress. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Services,1993.

Thomas, Paul, and John Channon. The Central Asian States: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan (Former Soviet States). Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.

Web Sites

Ayan Tourism and Travel Company: Turkmenistan. (accessed May 12, 2003).

"The State of the Environment in Turkmenistan."

The United Nations Environment Programme. (accessed May 12, 2003).

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Turkmenistan (tōōrkmyĕ´nyĬstän´), republic (2005 est. pop. 4,952,000), 188,455 sq mi (488,100 sq km), central Asia. It borders on Afghanistan and Iran in the south, Uzbekistan in the east and northeast, Kazakhstan in the northwest, and the Caspian Sea in the west. Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) is its capital and largest city.

Land and People

The desert lands of Kara Kum occupy some 80% of Turkmenistan's total area; the population is concentrated in oases at the foot of the Kopet Dag Mts. in the south and along the Amu Darya, Murgab, and Tejen rivers. In addition to the capital, Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk), Chärjew, Nebitdag, Dashhowuz, and Mary are the major cities and industrial centers. Part of the Kara Kum Canal crosses the desert, furnishing water for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

The Turkmens (or Turkomans) make up 85% of the population; the remainder are Uzbeks (5%), Russians (4%), and smaller groups of Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Armenians. The Turkmens are a Turkic-speaking people who are largely Sunni Muslims. Unlike other Central Asian groups, they still retain tribal and clan divisions. They are descendants of the medieval Oguz tribes (to which the Seljuk and Osmanli Turks also belonged). Besides the Turkmen language, Russian and Uzbek are also spoken. About 10% of the people belong to the Orthodox Eastern church.


More than 90% of Turkmenistan's cultivated land is irrigated. Cotton, grown along the Kara Kum canal and in the Murgab and Tejen oases, is the chief crop; wheat, barley, corn, millet, sesame, vegetables, melons, wine grapes, and alfalfa are also cultivated. The diversion of water from the Aral Sea for irrigation is drying up the sea and reducing the flow of freshwater in the region. Karakul sheep (which provide wool for the region's famous carpets), cattle, horses, and camels are raised, and silkworms are bred.

The nation's numerous mineral resources include rich deposits of oil and natural gas under the Caspian Sea and along its coast. Other resources include sulfur, salt, coal, phosphate, iodine, and lignite. Turkmenistan's industries include oil refining, fish canning (along the Caspian), meat processing, and the production of petroleum products, chemicals, and textiles. The country has numerous hydroelectric stations. The Trans-Caspian RR is the main transportation route.

Exports include gas, crude oil, petrochemicals, cotton fiber, and textiles. Machinery and equipment, chemicals, and foodstuffs are imported. The country's chief trading partners are Ukraine, China, Russia, and Poland.


Turkmenistan is governed under the constitution of 2008. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Members of the nation's parliament, the 125-seat National Assembly, are popularly elected to serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into five provinces, or weloyats, and the capital area.


Originally a part of the kingdom of ancient Persia, Turkmenistan was conquered in 330 BC by Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death the area became part of Parthia, which fell in 224 AD to the Sassanid Persians. In the 8th cent. Turkmenistan passed under the domination of the Arabs, who brought Islam to the region. In the 11th cent., it was ruled by the Seljuk Turks (see Khwarazm), whose empire collapsed in 1157. Jenghiz Khan conquered the region in the 13th cent., as did Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th cent. After the breakup (late 15th cent.) of the empire of Timur's successors, the Timurids, Turkmenistan came under Uzbek control in the north and Persian rule in the south. After a period of decline (14th–17th cent.), Turkmen culture underwent a revival in the 18th cent. In the early 19th cent., the Turkmens became subject to the khanate of Khiva. Russian military forces founded Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) in 1869 and began to conquer the Turkmens, whose fierce resistance to Russian encroachment was broken in 1881 with the bloody conquest of the Dengil-Tepe fortress. The Russians then established the Transcaspian Region, which in 1899 became part of the governate general of Russian Turkistan.

Harsh Russian administration provoked revolts by the Turkmens. During the Russian civil war sporadic fighting flared between the Transcaspian provincial government and Bolshevik troops. The Red Army took Ashgabat in July, 1919, and Krasnovodsk in Feb., 1920. The Transcaspian Region was renamed Turkmen Region in 1921; the following year, it became part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which in 1924 incorporated the Turkmen districts of the former Bukhara and Khorezm republics. Turkmenistan formally became a constituent Soviet republic in 1925. Large numbers of Turkmens still live in Iran and Afghanistan.

A referendum for independence from the Soviet Union was passed in Oct., 1991, and Turkmenistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Dec., 1991. Saparmurat Niyazov (elected Oct., 1990) became president; he also gradually became the object of a pervasive personality cult. He was reelected unopposed in 1992 and in 1994 won a referendum extending his term until 2002. The former Communist party retained much of its hold on power, and opposition leaders were restricted and harassed. There was, however, some movement toward privatizing the economy and progress in attracting foreign investment. In 1994, Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian republic to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program; the following year, the country signed a package of 23 bilateral agreements with Russia.

In Dec., 1999, Niyazov was voted president for life by the legislature. Niyazov was uninjured in an attempted assassination in 2002. Subsequently his despotic government imposed increasing restrictions on personal as well political freedoms. Turkmenistan changed the status of its membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States to that of an associate member in 2005. The death of Ogulsapar Muradova, a journalist, while in government custody provoked new condemnation of the government in 2006; human rights groups believed that she had died during interrogation.

In Dec., 2006, Niyazov died suddenly. Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was named acting president; Parliament Speaker Ovezgeldy Atayev, who should have succeeded Niyazov under the constitution, was charged with abuse of power and other crimes and removed from office after the president died. Berdymukhamedov subsequently was nominated for president by the People's Council (a former supreme legislative body that was abolished in 2008), which also amended the constitution so that the acting president could run. Five other, relatively unknown candidates were nominated as well, but no exiled opposition leaders were permitted to run in the Feb., 2007, presidential election, which was won by Berdymukhamedov.

The new president subsequently consolidated his hold over the government and national politics, and in 2008 a new constitution was adopted; a personality cult also subsequently developed around Berdymukhamedov. In Sept., 2008, there were clashes in the capital between the security forces and what were reported to be armed rebels, although the government said it was a drug gang. Elections for the National Assembly in Dec., 2008, were criticized by many international observers for being overwhelming dominated by candidates from the ruling party and groups aligned with it.

An Apr. 2009, gas pipeline explosion explosion cut Turkmenistan's natural gas exports to Russia's energy company Gazprom. The government blamed Gazprom for the explosion, which Gazprom denied; Gazprom subsequently sought a price reduction from Turkmenistan and did not resume importing gas until Jan., 2010, when it began accepting significantly less gas at a reduced price. The events, which resulted in a large income loss for Turkmenistan, strained relations with Russia. Meanwhile, in 2009, Turkmenistan began exporting gas to China by pipeline, and by the end of 2010 its gas exports to China exceeded those to Russia. The president was reelected in Feb., 2012, in an election that largely mirrored that of 2007. The parliamentary elections in Dec., 2013, although nominally multiparty, were contested only by parties and groups supporting the president; the new Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs had been created on the president's order.


See G. Park, Bolshevism in Turkestan (1957); S. Akinev, Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union (1986).

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488,100sq km (188,450 sq mi)



capital (population):

Ashgabat (536,000)


Single party republic

ethnic groups:

Turkmen 72%, Russian 10%, Uzbek 9%, Kazak 3%, Tatar


Turkmen (official)





Republic in central Asia. The capital is Ashgabat. Almost 90% of Turkmenistan is covered by the Kara Kum desert, parts of which are irrigated by the Kara Kum canal. Originally part of the Iranian Empire, it was overrun by Arabs in the 8th century ad. Genghis Khan invaded in the 13th century, and it subsequently became part of Tamerlane's vast empire. With the break-up of the Timurid dynasty, Turkmenistan came under Uzbek control. In the 19th century, Russia increasingly dominated the region. In 1899, despite resistance, Turkmenistan became part of Russian Turkistan. In 1925, as part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, it joined the Soviet Union. Sapamurad Niyazov became president in 1990 elections. In 1991, Turkmenistan gained independence. In 1993, it joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Niyazov's autocratic regime prevented any political opposition to the ruling Democratic Party (formerly Communist Party). In 1999, Niyazov was appointed president-for-life. The chief crop is cotton and there are large reserves of natural gas and oil (2000 GDP per capita, US$4300).

Political map

Physical map


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The people of Turkmenistan are called Turkmens or Turkomans. Over 70 percent of the population are Turkmens. About 10 percent are Russians, 9 percent are Uzbeks, and over 3 percent are Kazaks. For more information on the Russians, see the chapter on Russia in Volume 8; on the Kazaks, see the chapter on Kazakstan in Volume 5; and on the Uzbeks, see the chapter on Uzbekistan in Volume 9.

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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Turkmenia (Russian), Turcoman (Persian)


Identification. "Türkmenistan," with the Persian suffix "-istan" to indicate "land of the Türkmen," has been home to the Turkic people today known as Türkmen since about the tenth century. Türkmen descend from the Oguz, a confederation of tribes which migrated out of the Gök Türk empire (c. fiftheighth centuries) near Mongolia. It is thought that the term "Türkmen" was used to classify the Oguz who had adopted Islam, although this is not conclusive; the designation had earlier held political significance. The name "Türkmen" eventually replaced "Oguz."

The majority of Türkmen live in the country Türkmenistan, formerly the Türkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the Soviet Union. Significant Türkmen communities live in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey. There are also groups in Azerbaijan called Trukhman.

Location and Geography. Türkmenistan lies east of the Caspian Sea, north of Iran and Afghanistan. It shares a short northwestern border with Kazakhstan and its eastern border with Uzbekistan.

Ninety percent of Türkmenistan consists of the Gara Gum and Gyzyl Gum deserts, which are largely uninhabited. The Garagum canal irrigates much of the country.

Summers are hot and dry; winters bring freezing temperatures, but snowfall is infrequent. Türkmen have adapted their lifestyle to the desert environment. They drink hot green tea to keep the body cool during summer and have used the desert to their advantage in times of strife. In the 1920s, when the Basmachis (members of the Turkistan National Liberation Movement) had to escape from Russian troops, they fled into the desert.

Demography. Almost 4.7 million people live in Türkmenistan: 77 percent of them are Türkmen, 7 percent Russian, 9 percent Uzbek, with small numbers of Kazakhs, Armenians, Azerbaijani Turks, and other ethnic groups. Türkmen are a fast-growing group, averaging five children per family. Total population growth is at 2.5 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. Türkmen is a member of the Oguz branch of Turkic. It is closest to the language spoken in Turkey and Azerbaijan, but mutual intelligibility with all Turkic dialects is high. There are many borrowed words from Arabic, Persian, and Russian, especially for technical and scientific terms.

Türkmen writers shared a common Turkic literary language (Chagatai) with other Turks until the eighteenth century when a discernible Türkmen literary language began to emerge. The modern standardized language was developed in the 1920s from the Teke and Yomut dialects as a result of Soviet interest in creating a national literary language. The tribal dialects, which were always mutually comprehensible, now share a standardized written language and grammar. The Türkmen and other Turks, who had used an Arabic-based script for centuries, replaced it with an "international" Latin-based script in 1929. In 1940, when Soviet policy shifted again, the Türkmen were assigned a Cyrillic alphabet. The Türkmen chose to adopt a Latin-based script similar to the one they had used earlier.

Symbolism. In addition to traditional costumes, carpets, and oral traditions, one of the most important Türkmen cultural symbols is the horse, especially the Akhal-Teke breed. Camels were important to a nomadic desert lifestyle, but the Türkmen derived a sense of personal and cultural pride from horses. A Soviet law outlawing private ownership of livestock in the 1920s, and attempts to erase the Akhal-Teke through breeding with Russian horses, put it at great risk. In 1935 a group of Türkmen rode three hundred miles to Moscow to demonstrate their desire to protect the breed. By 1973, as a result of the slaughter of horses for meat and attempts at crossbreeding, only eighteen pure bred Akhal-Teke were left in the Soviet Union. In 1988 the trek to Moscow was reenacted to demonstrate that Türkmen still considered the horse a defining symbol of their culture.

Examples of the animal's importance are found in the efforts to build an independent Türkmen national culture since 1991. Independence from the Soviet Union restored the right of Türkmen to own horses and encouraged promotion of the Akhal-Teke breed. President Niÿazov gives horses as gifts to heads of state and he institutionalized the animal's symbolic value by having a picture of an Ahal-Teke printed on the new money (the manat ). In 1995 he established 27 April as the Holiday of the Türkmen Horse, celebrated with horse races at the hippodrome in Aşgabat.

The state seal, which was created in 1992, also bears the image of the Akhal-Teke. A white horse stands against a background of sky blue (an important color in Turkic culture), encircled by five tribal carpet patterns (göl ). An outer ring displays cotton and wheat. At the top center of the outer ring is a crescent moon alongside five stars, representing the five tribes and the nation's Islamic heritage. This seal is stamped on official documents, and no paperwork is official without it.

The Türkmen flag also features the five tribal göls and the Islamic crescent moon. As an emblematic color of Islam, the green background emphasizes the nation's Muslim heritage.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Türkmen identity and culture have been tied closely to the political history and shifts in power in Central Asia. Although Türkmen had their own religious, cultural, and political traditions, the emergence of powerful neighboring states affected their governing systems, economy, and ecology and sometimes altered their way of life.

The Russian invasion subjugated the Türkmen, ended practices such as slavery, and brought the Transcaspian Railroad as well as Russian colonists. The conquest of the Türkmen occurred at the battle of Gök Tepe in 1881, but the Russian army continued fighting until it had secured Merv (Mary) in 1884. Thousands of women and children were slaughtered at Gök Tepe. That memory is marked by the 12 January day of commemoration and by the extravagant mosque that was erected near the site of the massacre. These experiences have fostered a sense of Türkmenness that in some respects is stronger than the sense of Turkicness.

National Identity. The establishment of the Soviet Union after 1917, and the creation of the Türkmen SSR ushered in a new era of Türkmen culture and identity. Forced collectivization stripped Türkmen of their lands, nomadism ceased, and cotton became the main agricultural product. Intellectual, military, and religious leaders were purged, and political and religious structures were attacked. The government tried to supplant tribal identity with a Soviet one. The Türkmen rebelled in guerilla-like resistance groups (Basmachi ) into the early 1930s. While the Türkmen were united for the first time and a stronger sense of Türkmenness was fostered, tribal affiliation was not eradicated.

Türkmenistan attained its independence on 27 October 1991 with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Saparmurat Niÿazov, who had been chairman of the Supreme Soviet since 1985, became president in 1990 and then "President for life" in December 1999. His popular name, Türkmenbaşy, means "head of the Türkmen." Today the Türkmen are evolving once again as they learn to run a modern, sovereign country for the first time and take back their identity by redefining their national culture. The country is working to forge a place for itself in the global community, establishing relations with neighbors like Iran and potential investors in the West, and joining the United Nations Organization in 1992.

Ethnic Relations. Türkmen are culturally and linguistically related to other Turkic peoples, such as Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, Tatars, Başkurts, Azerbaijanis, and those in Turkey. They are descended from larger Turkic groups living on the Chinese border that began to migrate westward in the ninth century. While their migrations often were due primarily to a lack of pasturage, military and political conquests shaped the way of life in the new lands.

For many centuries the Türkmen were a fragmented group of tribes that associated and warred according to their immediate needs. They formed the ethnic base of great empires, however, such as the Seljuks and Ottomans, and of modern states such as Azerbaijan and Turkey. Their reputation as magnificent horsemen and warriors earned them a place as frontier fighters when those empires attempted to expand their borders. They also raided settled neighbors, especially Persia, for slaves and wealth.

Modernization, Sovietization, and the introduction of western culture have altered some traditional ways, and others have lost prominence because of the proliferation of urban centers.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Furniture was borrowed from the West, and its use varies. Some homes have furniture, and some do not. The traditional bedding consists of padded mats that are laid on the floor at bedtime. In the morning they are folded and placed in a designated corner with the blankets and pillows. This allows sleeping space to be used for other purposes during the day.

Some families, primarily in the cities, have a work table in the kitchen area, but most Türkmen eat sitting on the floor. They spread a large cloth on the floor, with food and dishes placed on top of it. Guests occupy the place of honor, which is made soft with pillows or quilts.

Türkmen traditionally have a toilet outside of the main living space. Although some rural families use outhouses, a separate building containing a toilet and sink is typical. In the cities, where most people live in apartments or small houses, there is no space for this arrangement, but many households separate the toilet by locating it in one room and placing the sink and shower in a nearby room.

Cooking is done in a separate space; some homes have a small building for preparing food, dying yarn, and storing utensils. This is the domain of women, and it is not unusual for neighbors or relatives to arrive uninvited to lend a hand or to bring their own chores so that they can work and socialize at the same time. Cooking done outside (roasting meat and popping corn) is handled by men and often becomes a social activity, with neighbors and friends forming a small crowd.

The separation of space with regard to gender is an aspect of life that varies greatly. Men and women may sit and eat together, or may remain in separate rooms during a social event. Some women continue the tradition of wearing a yaşmak (head scarf) in the first year of marriage. The bride holds the corner of her scarf between her teeth to serve as a symbolic barrier between her and any male visitors who are not family or to show deference to her parents-inlaw; the scarf also prevents her from speaking. A woman may stop wearing a yaşmak after one year of marriage, after the birth of a child, or as a result of an agreement within the family.

Türkmen are conscientious about keeping living spaces clean. They never wear shoes in the house but wear and provide guests with slippers. Acts of personal hygiene such as cutting the hair or cutting or filing the nails are done in the bath area, never in the main living space.

Almost every available space in a home, except the washroom and kitchen, is covered with carpets. Floors are covered with multiple carpets, chairs are draped with a medium-sized rug or a square seat covering, and the walls display large and often valuable carpets.

The architecture of homes does not vary greatly throughout the nation. People live in one-story homes or stark Stalin-era apartment high-rises. Most common are modest houses with walled courtyards that allow families to spend time outdoors, where it is cooler, and private. There are variations in the amenities and the amount of space, both of which are more limited in urban areas.

The traditional structure is a felt tent called a "black house" (gara oÿ ). A thick felt covering is draped over a wooden frame, leaving an entrance and a round opening at the top to allow smoke to escape. The frame is collapsible so that the tent can be dismantled quickly for travel. Today most Türkmen live in modern housing, and gara oÿs are used only for summer recreation and holidays.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The diet shows a Russian influence and imported items are available at a high price, but Türkmen food generally remains traditional.

Hot green tea (gök çaÿ ) accompanies most meals. Türkmen drink hot tea year round from shallow bowl-like cups called käses. A good hostess will not fill the guest's cup to the brim to demonstrate that she is being attentive, and will pour many times if she wishes the guest to stay.

Türkmen eat a lot of meat, primarily from sheep and cows but also from camels, goats, chicken, and despite the Muslim tradition, pigs. They also use milk from these animals. Meat is boiled or fried inside a casing of dough. Manty is a popular version, eaten with yogurt on top. Soup usually is served with meat and/or noodles and may be eaten for breakfast.

Bread is eaten at every meal. Russian-style loaves can be bought cheaply, and traditional flatbread (çörek) is often made at home in a tamdyr. A tamdyr is a traditional Central Asian dome-shaped clay oven placed outside the home; in the cities, several apartment buildings may share a single tamdyr.

Türkmen also drink black tea, seltzer water, and imported sodas. Despite the ban on alcohol among some Muslim peoples, Türkmen drink wine, beer, and liquor; Türkmen wine has won international competitions.

Food is rarely bought prepared or processed, and there are few restaurants. Fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains are bought at the bazaar, while butter, bottled water, milk, and sausages are usually purchased from state stores.

Basic Economy. There were drastic economic fluctuations when price controls were lifted by the Soviet government in the late 1980s and when the new government attempted to stabilize the economy and introduce a new currency.

Salaries are very low, with workers in the state sector averaging approximately $40 per month; many people supplement their income by using private cars as taxis or selling goods at bazaars. Many households are multigenerational so several salaries, stipends, and pensions are combined to support the family, although some young professionals who work for Western companies live on their own.

The government provides electricity, gas, water, and bread at a nominal charge. This helps poor families, but has produced a population that is accustomed to wasting basic resources. In some neighborhoods, access to water is highly restricted and the electricity supply is unstable.

Land Tenure and Property. Historically, land and water were held in common by villages and nomadic groups. Under the Soviet system all land and property was under government control. The new government has been moving slowly toward privatization and redistribution of collective farmland. In 1995 the government restructured farms into peasant associations so that individuals, but preferably groups, could lease land. The administration also revived the traditional position of mirap (the post responsible for overseeing water distribution and teaching irrigation management). Legalities for foreign ownership of land and buildings are in the process of being settled.

Commercial Activities. Agriculture is the basis of the economy, especially cotton farming. Many Soviet-era state and collective farms still operate, producing grains, melons, grapes, and silk as well as cotton. Livestock raising is a time-honored occupation, and the milk, skins, and wool from cattle, sheep, camels, and goats generate other enterprises.

While many manufactured goods are imported or bought on trips abroad to places like the United Arab Emirates or Turkey, textiles are still produced for daily use. Türkmen carpets are known worldwide for their beauty and quality. Many individuals make carpets at home, but the Türkmenistan Carpet Productional Association oversees carpet factories, operates the only carpet store, and controls exports by requiring its seal of approval on carpets leaving the country. It is illegal to export national treasures such as antique carpets.

Major Industries. The oil and gas industries occupy an important space in Türkmenistan's current economic development as well as in its vision for the future. Attracting foreign investors and constructing pipelines have been at the top of the government's agenda since 1992 when they began holding international conferences to gather oil companies and promote international competition for investment. To encourage such capital investments, efforts have been made to improve the banking industry and tax codes. Türkmenistan's commitment to these industries also impacts its foreign policy as it nurtures relationships with many potential investors and customers as well as neighbors like Iran which may be in a position to host a gas or oil pipeline.

The Petro-chemical industry has been developing slowly but consistently. Two refineries, one in Türkmenbaşy and one in Çärjew (Türkmenabad), have an annual capacity to process 7.7 million tons of oil. A facility to produce poly-ethane was opened in 1997. Chemical facilities have been established to produce artificial fertilizers, sulphuric acid, and ammonia detergents. A super-phosphate factory, a sulphur factory, and iodine and bromine factories have been erected in different regions including Çärjew, Gurdak, and Çeleken.

Trade. Imports include processed food and nonfood products for the consumer market, industrial chemicals such as fertilizers, farm machinery, and metalwork for the agricultural industry. Exports include cotton, natural gas, and oil products. Türkmenistan has vast reserves of oil and natural gas, and arrangements to export gas and oil through pipelines are primary concerns of the government and foreign investors.

Division of Labor. The minimum age for employment is sixteen, but during the cotton harvest many schools close and children spend their day in the field.

Social Stratification

Symbols of Social Stratification. Traditionally, distinction among the Türkmen did not fall along class lines. Perhaps the greatest differentiation lay in the lifestyles of nomadic pastoralists (çarwa ) and settled agriculturalists (çomur ). While Türkmen generally preferred the freedom of roaming with their herds, neither category was necessarily permanent. Tribal affiliation was always the supreme marker among Türkmen.

During the Soviet period an elite developed among the party hierarchy and some intelligentsia (writers, artists, scholars), but one could fall from grace easily. As politics shifted over the decades an author's writings from one era could later be used against him or her and lead to persecution. For example, intellectuals who had fostered the Soviet policy of korenizatsiia (a program to promote national languages and fill official positions with natives) in the 1920s were labeled enemies of the state when policies changed in the 1930s. Those who stayed in favor of the Party were allowed privileges like summer homes (dachas ) in rural areas like Firuze.

There are emerging economic classes in Türkmenistan today, as new jobs are created and Türkmenistan's new global position redefines job skills. Dramatic changes in agriculture, the oil industry and the business world have created spaces for the post-Soviet Türkmen, especially younger people who know foreign languages, primarily English. Still tribal loyalties and personal contacts remain important for obtaining positions and favors.

Styles of dress do not signify social stratification. Women wear traditional clothing such as long, flowing solid-colored dresses in bright tones decorated with elaborate embroidery (keşde ) around the collar. They sometimes cover their heads with colorful scarves for protection against the elements or sand, but there are no social rules that require head coverings. Most women prefer the traditional styles of long upswept hair for adults and long braids for girls. Jewelry, especially made from silver, and pierced ears are very common. Men wear Western-style pants and jackets, but some wear traditional clothing. The high lamb's wool hat (telpek ) is worn even during the hot summer months. For ceremonies and special occasions white telpeks are worn with dark, baggy pants tucked into high black boots. Older men wear sheepskin coats with the fur on the inside or red and yellow striped robes that fall to the knees.

Political Life

Government. The legislative branch of government, established in the 1992 constitution, consists of two parliamentary bodies. The People's Council (Halk Maslahaty ) includes more than 100 seats, some of which are elected by popular vote and some of which are appointed, and the Assembly (Majlis ) has 50 seats whose holders are elected by popular vote to five-year terms. Executive power is exercised by a President who is also chairman of the cabinet of ministers. Ministers oversee sectors of the government and economy such as domestic affairs, foreign affairs, the oil industry, and agriculture.

Leadership and Political Officials. Despite the unopposed establishment of Saparmurat Niÿazov as president for life, small unofficial opposition movements exist underground and in foreign countries. The president's portrait appears on most public buildings and is printed on the currency.

Social Problems and Control. The government does not restrict freedom of travel, but the southern border zones and some areas of high security require a permit for visitation and are off limits to foreigners. Citizens carry internal passports primarily as a form of identification.

Military Activity. There is national conscription to staff a small military force that is plagued by corruption and disorganization. Neutrality is the policy of the postSoviet nation.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There is an unofficial group in Aşgabat that supports battered women, and efforts are made to care for orphans and the mentally and physically disabled.

People pay 1 percent of their wages to receive a pension after retirement. Small pensions are also paid to invalids and war veterans.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Several organizations have been founded by foreigners to help establish democracy. Several are concerned with human rights, and others are concerned with the environment.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The traditional nomadic lifestyle demanded a strict division of labor. Men hunted, tended the herds, and kept the horses, while women cooked, tended the home, and made the textiles. Today, women usually tend the house and men have more free time, but employment is not restricted by gender. Women work as teachers, academics, librarians, authors, administrators, scientists, linguists, and salespeople, and there are nine female members of the Majlis. Textiles are made primarily by women, while heavy industry is male-oriented, as are the livestock industries and transportation.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Historically women were considered equitable partners. The last independent Türkmen leader was a woman, Güljamal Hatun, who succeeded her husband Nurberdi Han.

Under the Soviet system women began to work outside the home and it became more common for women to attain higher education. Women have retained the right to education and work. In fact, many of the students who have taken part in programs in Turkey and the West have been female.

There are unacknowledged inequalities which are difficult to document. The traditional role of homemaker and caregiver prevents some women from seeking roles outside of the home. There are anecdotal reports of domestic violence, but it is not spoken of publicly.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Türkmen usually marry in their early twenties, although some delay marriage to begin a career. The traditional expectation is to have a baby within the first year of marriage, and the groom's parents can demand a divorce if they suspect that the bride is infertile.

ATürkmen wedding is a festive occasion characterized by historic Turkic rituals. There is an exchange of value called galyñ (bride price), which despite its name, does not mean that a bride is purchased; it is a historic, complex approach to redistribution of wealth in the traditional communities and is an honored tradition even today. The Soviet government established a civil system and discouraged Islamic rites, but they persisted.

There is a new and surprising trend among Türkmen women in urban centers who feel compelled to have children but do not have a husband; they cannot find a man that they think would make a good husband and prefer to be without one.

Polygamy was never common among the Türkmen.

Inheritance. The Soviet government, and the Türkmen government after that, established civil laws of inheritance; however, Türkmen prefer to follow Adat (custom) when possible, even over Sarigat (Islamic law). Traditionally the youngest son would remain with his parents inheriting the home upon their deaths; daughters would marry and move into their husband's home.

Kin Groups. In more than ten major tribes, there is complex kinship systems with distinct terms to refer to gender, seniority, and to indicate whether a person is related on the mother's or father's side. Families are close, and a holiday or a birthday celebration often fills a large home.

The Türkmen were organized by their kinship system into families, clans, and tribes. These relations governed loyalties, economics, marriages and even migration. Historically these groups interacted and sometimes merged into confederations to suit political needs. The Soviet system and the present government have downplayed tribalism to promote nationalism. Most people continue to marry within the tribe. Although it is officially discouraged, there is some hiring along tribal lines.


Infant Care. Mothers and other female family members play an important role in a child's life. Male babies are circumcised in a special ceremony led by a molla, usually attended only by close family members.

Certain superstitions surround infants: a newborn should not be seen by non-family members for the first forty days, and a Koran should be placed near the cradle to help protect the baby and so that it will never be "alone."

Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing is primarily the responsibility of women, but elders and older siblings have authority over children. Fathers tend to take more responsibility for raising boys and teaching them about labor, ethics, and etiquette. Mothers oversee girls' education in homemaking. A young girl spends a great deal of time preparing the items necessary for marriage and practices cooking, sewing, embroidery, and textile making.

The Soviet system of free education remains basically intact. There are kindergartens and elementary schools, and an eighth grade education is mandatory. Seventy-seven percent of schools teach in Türkmen, and 16 percent in Russian. Türkmen is gaining educational prominence, and the role of English has expanded. Adults study Türkmen in free workplace classes, and many take private lessons to learn English.

Higher Education. The Soviet system of state education remains fairly intact and has been free and open to all qualified individuals. However, a July 2000 declaration of reform reports that the numbers at universities will be reduced so that instructors have only five students in a class and admittance will be based on an individual's genealogy. There are several higher institutes in Aşgabat, and there is one teacher training college in Türkmenabad (formerly Çärjew). Most courses of study are five years, although graduate and doctoral work can take many more years.

There are kindergartens and elementary schools (mekdep ) and graduation of eighth grade is mandatory. Under the Soviet system, elementary schools were organized by language of instruction, either Türkmen or Russian. Russian schools were perceived as better overall, but especially because they taught the language of professionals. However, attachment to the mother tongue was always strong, today 77 percent of schools teach in Türkmen and 16 percent in Russian; there are also some Turkish language schools and a university which charge high tuition. With the country's reorientation, a shift in language prominence has become a national priority. Türkmen is gaining prominence and the role of English has expanded. Even adults try to study in private lessons or with Peace Corps volunteers.

All institutions suffer from lack of financial security, dilapidated buildings, lack of textbooks and undertrained teachers. Some foreign experts are lending aid and advice, although progress, especially in the rural areas, is slow. Turkey is printing new nationally-oriented textbooks in the new alphabet for free (although some schools still waiting use the thirty-year-old Soviet textbooks venerating Lenin).

Since independence, Türkmen students have had the opportunity to study abroad. Some go to England or the United States, but Turkey has provided the greatest opportunity, training dentists, doctors and other professionals.

Teachers have been hit especially hard by the dramatic economic shift since independence. Many are forced to supplement their incomes with private tutorials and still make very low salaries. Despite political and social change, and poor pay, teachers (mugallyma ) are still held in very high esteem.


Historic customs are still revered by the Türkmen. Adat is Türkmen customary law. Edep is the guideline of etiquette and behavior, and Şarigat is Islamic law. Sometimes in combination or with precedence in separate arenas, these advise Türkmen on how to interact socially and live with a sense of Türkmenness (Türkmençilik ). Instructions include how to handle responsibilities related to inheritance, property ownership, marriage, family life, deference to elders, hospitality toward guests, and tribal and clan identity. Children are surrounded by multigenerations and learn at an early age to respect elders, even among siblings the eldest is given status.


Religious Beliefs. The Türkmen state is secular. While independence inaugurated a mild surge of interest in religion, it seems mostly related to the fact that Türkmen feel their Islamic heritage to be a fundamental aspect of their identity, rather than to a widespread affinity for piety.

Other religious groups are represented in Türkmenistan, but Türkmen are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. When Arab and Persian invasions brought Islam to Central Asia (seventheighth centuries) the Turkic groups did not all convert at the same time, nor to the same degree. Conversion to Islam depended on time and place, for example, urban centers were more likely to participate in formal rituals whereas nomadic Turks (like Türkmen) mixed aspects of Islam with elements from other practices (like the celebration of Nowruz which came from Zoroastranism) and still retained much of their pre-Islamic heritage (retaining the name of the sky god Gök for the words blue and green). Türkmen began to convert around the tenth century. While their practices still reflect this early syncretism, even non-practicing Türkmen call themselves Muslim and see this as integral to their identity.

Religious Practitioners. Religious leaders are called mollas, or işan in the mystical Sufi orders, and käzys interpret Islamic law but do not act as clergy. The oldest man leads the group in prayer.

In 1992 the government sanctioned the establishment of the Kazyÿat as the highest religious authority. In divorcing itself from the Central Asian Müftiÿat, the Türkmen leadership declared its interest in promoting Islam as an aspect of national culture. The Committee (Geñes) for Religious Affairs' attachment to the Office of President affords the state oversight of religious affairs in the new state.

Rituals and Holy Places. Islamic holidays are celebrated according to the lunar calendar and fall on a different day each year of the Gregorian calendar. Ramadan is the month of fasting; Oraz Bayramy celebrates the conclusion of fasting; and Gurban Bayramy falls 40 days after Oraz Bayramy with the slaughter of a sheep.

Few mosques were open during the Soviet period, and most Türkmen prayed at home. Several mosques have been opened since independence, but visits to shrines are more popular. At the tomb of a saint, Türkmen pray for the birth of a child, cure from illness, or good fortune.

Death and the Afterlife. Türkmen perform burial ceremonies according to Islamic law and did so even under communism. Women do not attend funerals, but do participate in the commemoratory feasts held at seven days, forty days, and one year after a death. Türkmen prefer to use the term "to pass on" (aradan çykmak ), rather than "to die" (ölmek ).

Medicine and Health Care

The Soviet socialized health care system remains intact and is free to citizens but is insufficient to serve the country's needs. Doctors are undertrained; facilities are in poor condition and are often unsanitary; and medicine and equipment are scarce. Foreign aid has included Turkish ambulances and advice from Western medical personnel. Traditional healers provide treatment using herbs, prayer, and the manipulation of energies.

Secular Celebrations

Among the major holidays are Flag Day (19 February), Women's Day (8 March), the first day of spring (21 March), Victory Day (9 May), Constitution Day (18 May), Remembrance Day (6 October), Independence Day (27 October), and the Day of Neutrality (12 December). The battle at Gök Tepe is commemorated on 12 January; 6 April is celebrated as a Drop of Water Is a Grain Gold Day; and the Day of the First Election of the President is marked on 21 June. Other celebrations are held on 27 April (Day of the Türkmen Horse), 25 May (Carpet Day), 17 November (Student Youth Holiday), and 7 December (Good Neighborliness Day).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Some artists sell their work independently; one can purchase paintings and jewelry from galleries in the urban centers and at bazaars. However, the arts are supported and supervised by the state. Most efforts are aimed at promoting the newly independent Türkmen national identity imbued with a combination of Islamic heritage and traditional Türkmen culture. There has been some foreign support for building museums and some architecture.

Literature. Türkmen literary tradition is a rich mosaic of pre-Islamic Turkic elements fused with Islamic influences. Examples of folk traditions still highly valued today include the dastans Gorgut Ata and Göroglu which illustrate early Turkic culture overlaid with Islamic values. A dastan is a combination epic tale and lyric poem which formed the basis of oral tradition. The dastan was sung by a bagşy who memorized thousands of lines and sang them while playing various instruments. In addition to being a pastime which all members of the society could enjoy, the dastan was an oral record of Türkmen history, values, culture, and language. Dastans have played such an important role in Türkmen identity (as for all Turks) that enormous efforts are currently being made to revitalize them (after decades of Soviet suppression) in order to bolster the sense of Türkmen identity and unity.

Highly regarded literary figures include the poets Mammetveli Kemine (17701840) and Mollanepes (18101862), but it is eighteenth century poet Magtymguly who is considered the Türkmen national poet. His poems urged the politically fragmented Türkmen tribes to unite. Both the Soviets and the current government have promoted his wisdom in efforts to foster nationalism over tribalism.

Performance Arts. The Soviet system introduced theaters, television, radio, and cinemas to Türkmenistan, which imparted Soviet values. Today satellite dishes are becoming popular in the cities and broadcasts of Indian music videos. Mexican and American soap operas are popular, as well as American pop music.

Traditional dancing is strongly promoted by the state and the troupes of female dancers grace the covers of magazines and travel to many neighboring states where they act as cultural ambassadors. In urban centers, Türkmen singers give concerts which combine a fusion of pop and traditional Türkmen music called estrada.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Soviet system of scholarship neglected traditional Türkmen history and culture. Dastans, literature, dance, architecture, language, and the development of the alphabet reflect the nation's intent to authenticate an independent Türkmen identity.


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