|TURKMENISTAN COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Turkmenistan within the Continent of Asia
Map of Turkmenistan
Flag Description of Turkmenistan:green field with a vertical red stripe near the hoist side, containing five tribal guls (designs used in producing carpets) stacked above two crossed olive branches; five white stars and a white crescent moon appear in the upper corner of the field just to the fly side of the red stripe; the green color and crescent moon represent Islam; the five stars symbolize the regions or welayats of Turkmenistan; the guls reflect the national identity of Turkmenistan where carpet-making has long been a part of traditional nomadic life
note: the flag of Turkmenistan is the most intricate of all national flags
Official name Türkmenistan (Turkmenistan)
Form of government1 unitary single-party2 republic with one legislative house (Mejlis, or Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
Official language Turkmen
Official religion none
Monetary unit (new) manat (TMT)3
Population (2013 est.) 5,113,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 189,657
Total area (sq km) 491,210
- Urban: (2011) 48.7%
- Rural: (2011) 51.3%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 61 years
- Female: (2011) 69.2 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2007) 99.7%
- Female: (2007) 99.3%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 5,550
Background of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan, Turkmen Türkmenistan, country of Central Asia. It is the second largest state in Central Asia, after Kazakhstan, and the southernmost of the region’s five republics. The country is bordered by Kazakhstan on the northwest, Uzbekistan on the north and east, Afghanistan on the southeast, Iran on the south, and the Caspian Sea on the west. After Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan is the least densely populated of the Central Asian states. Much of its waterless expanse is inhospitable to plant and animal life. Except for oases in narrow strips dotted along the foothills of the Kopet-Dag Range and along the Amu Darya, Morghāb, and Tejen rivers, deserts characterize its sunbaked, sandy terrain. From 1925 to 1991 Turkmenistan was the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, a constituent (union) republic of the Soviet Union; it declared independence on Oct. 27, 1991. The capital is Ashgabat (Ashkhabad), which lies near the southern border with Iran.
Originally a part of the kingdom of ancient Persia, Turkmenistan was conquered in 330 B.C. by Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death the area became part of Parthia, which fell in 224 A.D. 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 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.
Geography of Turkmenistan
Deserts occupy nine-tenths of Turkmenistan’s territory. The Karakum is one of the world’s largest sand deserts, taking up the entire central part of Turkmenistan and extending northwest into Kazakhstan. Topographically, four-fifths of Turkmenistan consists of the southern part of the Turan Plain. Mountains and foothills rise mainly in the southern part of the republic, the Kugitangtau and Kopet-Dag ranges being spurs of the Pamir-Alay mountain ranges. The Kopet-Dag is geologically young, its instability indicated by intermittent earthquakes of great destructive force.
Turkmenistan’s main rivers are the Amu Darya (ancient Oxus River), which flows along its northeastern border toward the Aral Sea, and the Tejen, Morghāb (Murgab, or Murgap), and Atrek; there are also numerous small mountain rivers. However, the geographic position of the rivers and the direction of their flow do not coincide with the location of cultivable lands; the most fertile—and still insufficiently used—lands lie chiefly in the south, northeast, and west, whereas the principal rivers run mostly in the east. The Karakum Canal, completed in 1967, is one of the world’s largest irrigation and shipping canals. The water lost from these canals through irrigation and from evaporation in the arid climate contributes to the shortfall of the Amu Darya and other streams in their lower courses.
Turkmenistan’s position deep inside Asia and the character of its relief are responsible for a strongly continental climate, which exhibits great fluctuations in temperatures during the day and the year. The average annual temperature is 57°–61° F (14°–16° C), but this figure masks an extremely wide range. The temperature seldom falls below 95° F (35° C) during summer days, and the absolute maximum high temperature in the southeast Karakum reaches 122° F (50° C) in the shade. By contrast, in winter the temperature in Gushgy, in the extreme south on the border with Afghanistan, drops to −27° F (−33° C). Precipitation occurs mainly in the spring and ranges from about 3 inches (80 millimetres) per year in the northwest desert to as much as 12 inches in the mountains.
- Plant and animal life
Except in the oases and mountain valleys and plateaus, the vegetation is of a pronounced desert character. In the mountain valleys of the Kopet-Dag, wild grapes, almonds, figs, and walnuts are found, while juniper and pistachio trees grow on the open slopes. On the riverbanks and islands of the Amu Darya stand tugai (dense floodplain forests) of black poplar, willow, reed, and cane.
The desert is home to foxes, wildcats, gazelles, and tortoises, while the mountains support goats, cheetahs, lynx, snow leopards, and porcupines. Jackals, wild boars, various species of birds, and the rare pink deer inhabit the tugai; wild donkeys roam the Badkhyz and Garabil plateaus in the southwest. Vast flocks of ducks, geese, and swans make the east coast of the Caspian Sea their winter home. In the Caspian, fishermen find abundant herring, sprat, roach, and sturgeon; before it became heavily polluted, the Amu Darya supplied edible carp, barbel, and pike.
- Settlement patterns
There is much variety in the different regions of Turkmenistan, but two broad divisions may be seen: an oasis region—characterized by adequate water supply, cultivated lands, and developed industry—composed of the Kopet-Dag and other oases; and a desert region, subdivided into western Turkmenistan, with a well-developed industrial base, and the Karakum, with cattle raising and deposits of natural gas and oil.
The Kopet-Dag oasis stretches along the northern foothills of the Kopet-Dag Range, the slopes of which offer large areas for nonirrigated farming; both the mountains and foothills are also rich in mineral resources. The economic and cultural centre of the oasis is the capital city of Ashgabat. The development of the capital has stimulated industry, turning an agrarian oasis into the industrial-agrarian core of the republic.
The Morghāb oasis is famous for its fine-staple cotton, silk, handmade carpets and rugs, and Karakul sheep. The Morghāb River, the lower reaches of which are crossed by the Karakum Canal, can supply more water for irrigation. Mary (formerly Merv) is the centre of the oasis and the surrounding region.
Separated from the Morghāb by a stretch of the Karakum, the Tejen oasis formed along the Tejen River. Before the construction of the Karakum Canal, only small areas of wheat, barley, and melons could be cultivated because of the scarcity of water. After the oasis was crossed by the canal, however, and the Hauz-Khan Reservoir built, large areas were irrigated, thus making possible the cultivation of long-staple cotton and the construction of cotton-processing plants. The economic and cultural centre is the town of Tejen.
The middle Amu Darya oasis, in contrast to other oases, stretches almost without interruption for hundreds of miles and is almost entirely cultivated. The Amu Darya waters are very rich in silt, an excellent natural fertilizer. Raising of cotton and silkworms has long been widespread in that area, which is also an important producer of kenaf and other fibre crops. The adjoining deserts provide fodder for Karakul sheep. Industries processing agricultural products and mineral raw materials have been developed in the oasis as well. The economic and administrative centre of the oasis and the region is Chärjew (Chardzhou), the second largest city and industrial centre in Turkmenistan.
The lower Amu Darya oasis lies in the ancient delta of the Amu Darya and was long one of the most important agricultural regions of the republic. The oasis is cut by a dense network of old riverbeds as well as by irrigation channels and ditches beginning in neighbouring Uzbekistan. Reductions in the lower Amu Darya’s flow threaten to impair this oasis’s agricultural output, however.
The desert of western Turkmenistan is an enormous and almost waterless expanse, but its mountainous part, which is an eastern continuation of the Caucasus Mountains, has mineral and fuel resources. The latter’s deposits of oil, rock salt, and common lake salt are of great importance. Western Turkmenistan is one of the most industrially developed regions of the republic, emphasizing oil extraction and refining, chemical and mining industries, and fisheries and fish processing (along the Caspian Sea). The rural population is engaged mostly in raising sheep, goats, and camels.
The Karakum and the other featureless deserts enter, in part, all the above-mentioned areas. They are distinguished by the same desert landscape, lack of surface water, exceptionally meagre precipitation, and high summer temperatures. At the same time the desert is a zone of fuel and mineral resources, and its richest pastures can be used year-round for sheep, goats, and camels.
Demography of Turkmenistan
The Turkmens are a Muslim people who speak a language belonging to the southwestern, or Oğuz, branch of the Turkic linguistic group. Turkmens make up some three-fourths of the republic’s population, up from about two-thirds in 1970, owing largely to a relatively high birth rate. There are smaller numbers of Russians, Uzbeks, Kazaks, and Tatars.
The population is distributed unevenly, with few people in the Karakum Desert and mountain regions but large numbers in the oases. With the development of the Turkmenistan economy during the Soviet period, many non-Turkmen skilled workers and scientific and technical intelligentsia immigrated to the republic.
About two-thirds of the ethnic Turkmen population lives in rural settlements and villages. The urban population consists mainly of outsiders, those from Russia being concentrated in the principal urban centres.
For centuries the Turkmens were divided into numerous tribes and clans, the largest being the Tekke, Ersari, and Yomut. Prior to the Russian Revolution most of the Turkmens were pastoral nomads, though during the 18th and 19th centuries many had settled in the oases and become agriculturalists. Their tribal organizations and loyalties were strong. They had always been warlike and had commonly hired themselves out as mercenaries to various rulers in Central Asia and Iran. Turkmenistan’s incorporation into the Soviet Union had the effect of bringing greater unity to the Turkmen tribes and of giving them the beginning of a sense of nationhood.
The Economy of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan specializes in cotton growing and in the extraction of oil and natural gas. Turkmenistan’s underground resources in the western plain and those underwater along the Caspian Sea include extensive reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as deposits of mirabilite, iodine, bromine, sulfur, potassium, and salt. The mountains and foothills contain dolomites and marl, which are used for fertilizing calcium-deficient soil.
Agriculture The cultivation of fine-staple cotton and the raising of Karakul sheep, horses, and camels contribute most to the agricultural economy. The Karakul breed accounts for seventh-tenths of all sheep in the republic. There are several prized varieties of Karakul pelts: the glistening black arabi, the golden sur, and the silver-gray shirazi. The Akhal Teke and Yomut breeds of horses deserve their fame as handsome, fleet animals with great endurance. Arabian dromedary (one-humped) camels are indispensable in desert areas for transporting sheepherders, for drawing water from deep desert wells, and as a source of wool, milk, and meat.
Turkmenistan leads Central Asia as a producer of silkworm cocoons, primarily from the middle Amu Darya oasis. The lower Amu Darya oasis, lying in the Amu Darya delta, long supported one of the most important agricultural zones in Turkmenistan. The warm climate there grows medium-staple cotton, alfalfa (lucerne), sweet sorghum, beans, kenaf, sesame, grapes, vegetables, and melons, and nurtures cattle and silkworms. Serious problems, however, threaten the prosperity of this region. The disastrous decline in the Amu Darya’s outflow, the effects of extreme pollution from pesticide and chemical runoff, and soil and water salinization resulting from the desiccation and shrinkage of the Aral Sea threaten to ruin the Amu Darya delta as an agricultural producer for Turkmenistan.
In less-populated western Turkmenistan, people raise sheep, goats, and camels and cultivate some grain and melons. In the south, near Tejen, lies the Badkhyz Nature Reserve with its pistachio woodlands. Pistachios also grow in the Gushgy district, watered by a tributary of the Morghāb River, at Turkmenistan’s southernmost point.
Industry The radical reconstruction of the republic’s economy was completed by 1930. Old branches (cotton ginning, oil pressing, and carpet making) were retained, and new ones (heavy and light industry, such as food processing) emerged.
Petroleum deposits and the associated oil industry are centred in the Caspian plain in western Turkmenistan and in the offshore oil fields to the west of the Cheleken Peninsula in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan oil is of a very high grade, both as a fuel and as a raw material for chemical production. A network of pipelines links natural gas deposits in western Turkmenistan with Ashgabat, Türkmenbashy (Krasnovodsk), Cheleken, and the central regions of the republic. Additional pipelines link Turkmenistan with a number of natural gas-importing neighbours, including Russia, Iran, and China (by way of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).
Significant in the chemical industry are the Chärjew superphosphate plant, mirabilite from the vicinity of the Garabogazköl (Kara-Bogaz-Gol), sulfur from Gaurdak, iodine and bromine factories on the Cheleken Peninsula, and the production of detergents at the Turkmenbashi oil refinery. Thermal power stations using liquid fuel operate at Nebitdag, Ashgabat, Büzmeyin (Bezmein), and Türkmenbashy, while a station at Mary burns natural gas. Hydroelectric plants include the Hindu Kush plant, as well as plants at Kaushtubent and at the Dashköpri Reservoir on the Morghāb River.
The republic’s engineering and metal-processing enterprises include shops for repairing diesel locomotives, railcars, and agricultural machinery. Plants in Ashgabat and Mary produce oil-field and refinery equipment.
Silk-winding and silk-weaving mills, as well as cotton, cotton-wool, and worsted mills are important. Artificial furs, leather footwear, and sewn goods also are produced. Domestic industries, especially carpet and rug making, occupy an important place in the republic’s economy. Turkmen carpets and rugs, long renowned for their durability and unique designs, are exported to more than 50 countries. Among Turkmen carpets well-known in the West are those made by the Tekke, Yomut, Salor, and Ersari Turkmens and called by those names. The food industry’s most important branches include those producing vegetable oil, processing fish and meat, grinding flour, and making wine. Turkmenistan exports oil, butter, wine, fish, and salt to nearby countries.
Transportation The great dispersion of the towns in Turkmenistan requires extending rail lines to serve a scattered population efficiently, but the existing communications system falls far short of achieving that goal. A main trunk railway connects Türkmenbashy via Ashgabat and other towns with Tashkent in Uzbekistan, throwing off branch lines from Mary to Gushgy and from Nebitdag to Vyshka. Another line extends from Chärjew along the Amu Darya as far north as Qŭnghirot (Kungrad) in Qoraqalpoghiston (Karakalpakstan). However, trucks now carry most of the country’s internal freight, and such traffic is developing more rapidly than rail transportation.
Pipelines completed in the 21st century allowed Turkmenistan to increase exports of natural gas. In December 2009 a 1,100-mile (1,800-km) natural gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan with China was opened; it was largely funded by the China Development Bank. Passing through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it was Turkmenistan’s first high-volume export pipeline to completely circumvent Russia. Early the following year a new 19-mile (30-km) pipeline between Turkmenistan and Iran was opened, augmenting an older, smaller pipeline that continued deliveries to that country.
Water transport includes a merchant fleet and a ferry plying the Caspian Sea between Türkmenbashy and Baku in Azerbaijan. Air service from Ashgabat to Baku and Tashkent has been reduced since 1991.
Cultural life of Turkmenistan
History of Turkmenistan
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