The desert lands of Kara Kum occupy 90% 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 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. 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.
See G. Park, Bolshevism in Turkestan (1957); S. Akinev, Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union (1986).
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According to CIA World Factbook 2007 figures, Turkmenistan's GDP growth rate of 11.6% ranks 11th in the world. Although it is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas, most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sands) Desert. It has a single-party system, and was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov until 21 December 2006, when he died. Presidential elections were held on 11 February 2007. Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow was declared the winner with 89% of the vote. He was sworn in on 14 February 2007.
The territory of Turkmenistan has a long and checkered history, as armies from one empire after another decamped there on their way to more prosperous territories. The region's written history begins with its conquest by the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Persia, as the region was divided between the satrapies of Margiana, Khwarezm, and Parthia.
Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the fourth century BCE on his way to South Asia, around the time that the Silk Road was established as a major trading route between Asia and the Mediterranean Region. One hundred and fifty years later, Persia's Parthian Kingdom established its capital in Nisa, now in the suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat. In the seventh century CE, Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them Islam and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle Eastern culture. The Turkmenistan region soon came to be known as the capital of Greater Khorasan, when the caliph Al-Ma'mun moved his capital to Merv.
In the middle of the eleventh century, the Turkoman-ruled Seljuk Empire concentrated its strength in the territory of modern Turkmenistan in an attempt to expand into Khorasan (modern Afghanistan). The empire broke down in the second half of the twelfth century, and the Turkmen lost their independence when Genghis Khan took control of the eastern Caspian Sea region on his march west. For the next seven centuries, the Turkmen people lived under various empires and fought constant intertribal wars. Little is documented of Turkmen history prior to Russian engagement. However, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Turkmen formed a distinct ethnolinguistic group. As the Turkmen migrated from the area around the Mangyshlak Peninsula in contemporary Kazakhstan toward the Iranian border region and the Amu Darya basin, tribal Turkmen society further developed cultural traditions that would become the foundation of Turkmen national consciousness.
Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, control of Turkmenistan was fought over by Persian shahs, Khiva khans, the emirs of Bukhara and the rulers of Afghanistan. During this period, Turkmen spiritual leader Magtymguly Pyragy reached prominence with his efforts to secure independence and autonomy for his people. At this time, the vast territory of Central Asia including the region of Turkmenistan was largely unmapped and virtually unknown to Europe and the Western world. Rivalry for control of the area between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia was characterised as The Great Game. Throughout their conquest of Central Asia, the Russians were met with the stiffest resistance by the Turkmen. By 1894, however, Russia had gained control of Turkmenistan and incorporated it into its empire. The rivalry officially concluded with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Slowly, Russian and European cultures were introduced to the area. This was evident in the architecture of the newly-formed city of Ashgabat, which became the capital. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent political unrest led to the declaration of the area as the Turkmen SSR, one of the six republics of the Soviet Union in 1924, assuming the borders of modern Turkmenistan.
The new Turkmen SSR went through a process of further Europeanization. The tribal Turkmen people were encouraged to become secular and adopt European-style clothing. The Turkmen alphabet was changed from the traditional Arabic script to Latin and finally to Cyrillic. However, bringing the Turkmens to abandon their previous nomadic ways in favor of communism was not fully embraced until as late as 1948. Nationalist organizations in the region also existed during the 1920s and the 1930s.
When the Soviet Union began to collapse, Turkmenistan and the rest of the Central Asian states heavily favored maintaining a reformed version of the state, mainly because they needed the economic power and common markets of the Soviet Union to prosper. Turkmenistan declared independence on 27 October 1991, one of the last republics to secede.
In 1991, Turkmenistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an international organization of former Soviet republics. However, Turkmenistan reduced its status in the organization to "associate member" in August 2005. The reason stated by the Turkmen president was the country's policy of permanent neutrality. It is the only former Soviet state (aside from the Baltic states now in the European Union) without a full membership.
The former Soviet leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, remained in power as Turkmenistan's leader after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Under his post-Soviet rule, Russian-Turkmeni relations greatly suffered. He styled himself as a promoter of traditional Muslim and Turkmen culture (calling himself "Turkmenbashi", or "leader of the Turkmen people"), but he became notorious in the West for his dictatorial rule and extravagant cult of personality. The extent of his power greatly increased during the early 1990s, and in 1999 he became President for Life.
Niyazov died unexpectedly on 21 December 2006, leaving no heir apparent and an unclear line of succession. A former deputy prime minister rumored to be the illegitimate son of Niyazov, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, became acting president, although under the constitution the Chairman of the People's Council, Ovezgeldy Atayev, should have succeeded to the post. However, Atayev was accused of crimes and removed from office.
In an election on 11 February 2007, Berdimuhammedow was elected president with 89% of the vote and 95% turnout, although the election was condemned by outside observers as unfair.
The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government. Turkmenistan has a single-party system. However in September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new Constitution. The latter will result in the abolition of the Council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008. The new Constitution also enables the formation of multiple political parties.
After 69 years as part of the Soviet Union (including 67 years as a union republic), Turkmenistan declared its independence on 27 October 1991.
President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former bureaucrat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He retained absolute control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 28 December 1999, Niyazov was declared President for Life of Turkmenistan by the Mejlis (parliament), which itself had taken office a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov. No opposition candidates were allowed.
The current President of Turkmenistan is Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, who took control following Niyazov's 2006 death.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, has been the only one legally permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.
However, there are freedom of religion and freedom of sexuality issues. Any act of homosexuality in Turkmenistan is punishable by up to five years in prison. According to Forum 18, despite international pressure, the authorities keep a close watch on all religious groups. The legal framework is so constrictive that many prefer to exist underground rather than pass through the official processes, which act as barriers. Protestant Christian adherents are affected, in addition to groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahá'ís, and the followers of the Hare Krishna movement. Hare Krishna followers are not allowed to seek donations at the country's main airport, Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces or welayatlar (singular - welayat) and one independent city:
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Over 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. The center of the country is dominated by the Turan Depression and the Karakum Desert. The Kopet Dag Range, along the southwestern border, reaches 2,912 meters (9,553 ft). The Turkmen Balkan Mountains in the far west and the Kugitang Range in the far east are the only other significant elevations. Rivers include the Amu Darya, the Murghab, and the Tejen.
The climate mostly consists of an arid subtropical desert, with little rainfall. Winters are mild and dry, with most precipitation falling between January and May. The area of the country with the heaviest precipitation is the Kopet Dag range.
Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's tenth-largest producer of it. It possesses the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources. In 1994, the Russian government's refusal to export Turkmen gas to hard currency markets and mounting debts of its major customers in the former Soviet Union for gas deliveries contributed to a sharp fall in industrial production and caused the budget to shift from a surplus to a slight deficit.
Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to sustain its economy. In 2004, the unemployment rate was estimated to be 60%; the percentage of the population living below the poverty line was thought to be 58% a year earlier. Privatization goals remain limited. Between 1998 and 2002, Turkmenistan suffered from the continued lack of adequate export routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive short-term external debt. At the same time, however, the value of total exports has risen sharply because of increases in international oil and gas prices. Economic prospects in the near future are discouraging because of widespread internal poverty and the burden of foreign debt.
President Niyazov spent much of the country's revenue on extensively renovating cities, Ashgabat in particular. Corruption watchdogs voiced particular concern over the management of Turkmenistan's currency reserves, most of which are held in off-budget funds such as the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund in the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, according to a report released in April 2006 by London-based non-governmental organization Global Witness. According to the decree of the Peoples' Council of 14 August 2003, electricity, natural gas, water and salt will be subsidized for citizens up to 2030; however, shortages are frequent. On 5 September 2006, after Turkmenistan threatened to cut off supplies, Russia agreed to raise the price it pays for Turkmen natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. Two-thirds of Turkmen gas goes through the Russian state-owned Gazprom.