Facts About Turkmenistan
Population: 5.5 million
Area: 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles)
Major Languages: Turkmen, Russian
Major Religion: Islam
Life Expectancy: 64 years (men), 71 years (women)
Currency: Turkmen Manat
Known for its autocratic government, cult of personality and large gas reserves, Turkmenistan also has a reputation as an island of stability in restive Central Asia.
After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the country entered a period of isolation that has only recently begun to end.
Turkmenistan produces roughly 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year and about two-thirds of its exports go to Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly.
The government has sought out gas deals with several other countries, including China and neighbouring Iran, however, to reduce its dependency on Russia.
Turkmenistan, officially the Republic of Turkmenistan (Turkmen: Türkmenistan Respublikasy), is a country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west. Ashgabat is the capital and largest city.
The population of the country is 5.6 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics and one of the most sparsely populated in Asia.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century.
Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia.
In 1925, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's sixth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. From 1993 to 2017, citizens received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. The area was ruled in antiquity by various Persian empires. It was conquered by Alexander the Great, Muslim armies, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians.
In medieval times, Merv (located in present-day Mary province) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road.
Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
Tourism in Turkmenistan
The tourism industry has been growing rapidly in recent years, especially medical tourism. This is primarily due to the creation of the Avaza tourist zone on the Caspian Sea.
Every traveler must obtain a visa before entering Turkmenistan. To obtain a tourist visa, citizens of most countries need visa support from a local travel agency.
For tourists visiting Turkmenistan, there are organized tours with a visit to historical sites Daşoguz, Konye-Urgench, Nisa, Merv, Mary, beach tours to Avaza and medical tours and holidays in Mollakara, Yylly suw and Archman.
The most important area of social policy is also the development of tourism. The main task of the State Committee on Tourism of Turkmenistan is to promote international tourism as the most profitable areas of the tourism industry.
New tourist routes will be opened in order to attract more foreign tourists, as well as measures are taken to improve the quality of services.
It should be noted that in 2018 certificates of conformity of services in 294 tourist destinations were issued, trips to 105 historical monuments were organized. In addition, five certified tourist routes are complemented by excursions to 30 historical and cultural attractions and sacred sites, and new routes have been developed. Work on the inclusion of new facilities in existing routes is continuing.
This activity covers, in particular, the National Tourist Zone "Avaza", the attractions of Koytendag district, the Karakum desert, the canyon of Sumbar and others.
Along with updating the content of the tourist routes, work to improve the service culture in the industry continues. With the participation of specialists from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFATG), in 2018, guides training courses we held.
To date, three major sites of historical and architectural significance - Kunyaurgench, Merv and Nisa - included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Each of them is of huge cultural and scientific value and all of them have long been favorite places for foreign visitors.
In the future, necessary steps will be taken in order to include amazing sites of Koytendag and other natural sites to the list of the UNESCO’s world legacy.
In this regard, the relevant work is carried out on the improvement of natural scenic corners Koytendag in order to create favorable conditions for tourists - for the construction of hotels and other providing systems.
Turkmenistan has several times given entries in the Guinness Book of Records. In particular, the country first was noted in the Book of Records for the world's largest handmade carpet area of 301 sq.m.
Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat is recognized as the white marble city in the world. The list of world records are included other sights of the Turkmen capital.
The world's tallest flagpole in front of the National Museum of Turkmenistan, sculptural complex "Oguzhan" locateed at the entrance to the international airport of Ashgabat.
The international airport of Turkmenabat, the international airport of Ashgabat, and a huge star of Oguz Khan Broadcasting Center "Turkmenistan" and the wheel Ferris Ashgabat cultural and entertainment center. The image of the horse decorating the podium of the Olympic stadium in the capital as the largest architectural symbol of the horse on the planet.
Lastly, the Olympic Swimming Center as the world's largest indoor swimming pool, the widescale bicycle action on June 1, 2018 at the multipurpose stadium "Ashgabat", as “the largest cycling awareness lesson in the world”.
The year 2018, which was held under the motto “Turkmenistan - the heart of the Great Silk Road”, provided an opportunity to re-evaluate the historical and cultural heritage of the Turkmen people. Also, to intensify work on the development of domestic and foreign tourism based on the widespread popularization of the country's historical and natural attractions.
Many events were held in the field of tourism. So, on February 3, 2018, in Beijing there was held a branch forum, which was organized by the Embassy of our country to the PRC together with the State Committee of Turkmenistan for Tourism and Chinese companies “Shuangxiong” and “Beijing”. Contracts and agreements, which would support the expansion of tourism business between Turkmenistan and China, have been signed by the outcomes of the forum.
The opening of the “Silk Road” visa service center of Turkmenistan on July 19, 2018 in Beijing is indicative. The participation of the Turkmen delegation in the “China-Eurasia 2018” EXPO, held in Urumqi from August 30 to September 2, testifies to the interest of the two states in the development of tourist exchange.
The second Turkmen-Chinese tourism forum was held on the margins of the review with the participation of representatives of the administration of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the city of Urumqi, as well as leading travel companies in the PRC region.
Perspective of development of tourism industry have been presented at the International exhibition “Tourism and Travelling” that united exhibitors from 26 states in “Avaza” National tourist zone on October 9 – 10.
Negotiations were held on cooperation with the leaders of major travel companies in China, Japan, Germany, and Spain.
In particular, on November 15, representatives of the State Committee for Tourism discussed issues of enhancing contacts with members of the East and Central Asia Department of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
History of Turkmenistan
Historically inhabited by the Indo-Iranians, the written history of Turkmenistan begins with its annexation by the Achaemenid Empire of Ancient Iran.
In the 8th century AD, Turkic-speaking Oghuz tribes moved from Mongolia into present-day Central Asia. Part of a powerful confederation of tribes, these Oghuz formed the ethnic basis of the modern Turkmen population.
In the 10th century, the name "Turkmen" was first applied to Oghuz groups that accepted Islam and began to occupy present-day Turkmenistan. There they were under the dominion of the Seljuk Empire, which was composed of Oghuz groups living in present-day Iran and Turkmenistan.
Turkmen soldiers in the service of the empire played an important role in the spreading of Turkic culture when they migrated westward into present-day Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey.
In the 12th century, Turkmen and other tribes overthrew the Seljuk Empire. In the next century, the Mongols took over the more northern lands where the Turkmens had settled, scattering the Turkmens southward and contributing to the formation of new tribal groups.
The sixteenth and eighteenth centuries saw a series of splits and confederations among the nomadic Turkmen tribes, who remained staunchly independent and inspired fear in their neighbors.
By the 16th century, most of those tribes were under the nominal control of two sedentary Uzbek khanates, Khiva and Bukhoro.
Turkmen soldiers were an important element of the Uzbek militaries of this period. In the 19th century, raids and rebellions by the Yomud Turkmen group resulted in that group's dispersal by the Uzbek rulers.
According to Paul R. Spickard, "Prior to the Russian conquest, the Turkmen were known and feared for their involvement in the Central Asian slave trade."
Russian forces began occupying Turkmen territory late in the 19th century. From their Caspian Sea base at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi), the Russians eventually overcame the Uzbek khanates.
In 1881, the last significant resistance in Turkmen territory was crushed at the Battle of Geok Tepe, and shortly thereafter Turkmenistan was annexed, together with adjoining Uzbek territory, into the Russian Empire.
In 1916 the Russian Empire's participation in World War I resonated in Turkmenistan, as an anticonscription revolt swept most of Russian Central Asia.
Although the Russian Revolution of 1917 had little direct impact, in the 1920s Turkmen forces joined Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks in the so-called Basmachi Rebellion against the rule of the newly formed Soviet Union.
In 1924 the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was formed from the tsarist province of Transcaspia.
By the late 1930s, Soviet reorganization of agriculture had destroyed what remained of the nomadic lifestyle in Turkmenistan, and Moscow controlled political life. The Ashgabat earthquake of 1948 killed over 110,000 people, amounting to two-thirds of the city's population.
A Turkmen man of Central Asia in traditional clothes. Photo by Prokudin-Gorsky between 1905 and 1915. During the next half-century, Turkmenistan played its designated economic role within the Soviet Union and remained outside the course of major world events.
Even the major liberalization movement that shook Russia in the late 1980s had little impact. However, in 1990 the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan declared sovereignty as a nationalist response to perceived exploitation by Moscow.
Although Turkmenistan was ill-prepared for independence and then-communist leader Saparmurat Niyazov preferred to preserve the Soviet Union, in October 1991.
The fragmentation of that entity forced him to call a national referendum that approved independence.
On 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Niyazov continued as Turkmenistan's chief of state, replacing communism with a unique brand of independent nationalism reinforced by a pervasive cult of personality.
A 1994 referendum and legislation in 1999 abolished further requirements for the president to stand for re-election (although in 1992 he completely dominated the only presidential election in which he ran, as he was the only candidate and no one else was allowed to run for the office), making him effectively president for life.
He offered limited support to the military campaign against the Talibanfollowing the 11 September 2001 attacks. In 2002 an alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov led to a new wave of security restrictions.
Dismissals of government officials and restrictions placed on the media. Niyazov accused exiled former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov of having planned the attack.
Between 2002 and 2004, serious tension arose between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan because of bilateral disputes and Niyazov's implication that Uzbekistan had a role in the 2002 assassination attempt. In 2004 a series of bilateral treaties restored friendly relations.
In the parliamentary elections of December 2004 and January 2005, only Niyazov's party was represented, and no international monitors participated.
In 2005 Niyazov exercised his dictatorial power by closing all hospitals outside Ashgabat and all rural libraries.
The year 2006 saw intensification of the trends of arbitrary policy changes, shuffling of top officials, diminishing economic output outside the oil and gas sector, and isolation from regional and world organizations. China was among a very few nations to whom Turkmenistan made significant overtures.
The sudden death of Niyazov at the end of 2006 left a complete power vacuum, as his cult of personality, comparable to the one of eternal president Kim Il-sung of North Korea, had precluded the naming of a successor.
Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who was named interim head of government, won the special presidential election held in early February 2007. He was re-elected in 2012 with 97% of the vote.
Politics of Turkmenistan
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.
Since the December 2006 death of Niyazov, Turkmenistan's leadership has made tentative moves to open up the country. His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen".
In education, Berdimuhamedow's government increased basic education to ten years from nine years, and higher education was extended from four years to five. It also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches.
The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government.
Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan had a one-party system; however, in September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new Constitution.
The latter resulted in the abolition of the Council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008 and also permits the formation of multiple political parties.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, is the dominant party. The second party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs was established in August 2012.
Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned. In 2013 the first multi-party Parliamentary Elections were held in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan was a one-party state from 1991 to 2012; however, the 2013 elections were widely seen as mere window dressing.
In practice, all parties in parliament operate jointly under the direction of the DPT. There are no true opposition parties in the Turkmen parliament.
Foreign Relations of Turkmenistan
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkmenistan's declaration of "permanent neutrality" was formally recognized by the United Nations in 1995.
Former President Saparmurat Niyazovstated that the neutrality would prevent Turkmenistan from participating in multi-national defense organizations, but allows military assistance. Its neutralforeign policy has an important place in the country's constitution. Turkmenistan has diplomatic relations with 132 countries.
As the foreign policy of Turkmenist is based on the Constitution, the Constitutional Act on the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan, Foreign policy concept of Turkmenistan as a neutral state, other legislative acts.
Turkmenistan's foreign policy is a logical extension of domestic policy and is determined by the international legal status of permanent neutrality, recognized by the United Nations.
The main objectives of Turkmenistan's foreign policy are:
1) The preservation and strengthening of the state sovereignty of Turkmenistan, increase its role and importance in the international system.
2) The creation of favorable foreign political conditions for the internal development of the state.
3) Upholding and implementation of the national interests of Turkmenistan by all forms existing in the international practice of diplomatic contacts.
4) Ensuring security of Turkmenistan by political, diplomatic means.
5) Development of constructive mutually beneficial cooperation with all international partners on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
6) Ensuring full compliance of Turkmenistan's foreign policy actions with international law and the UN Charter.
Economy of Turkmenistan
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.
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.
Under current regulations, every citizen is entitled to 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month. The state also provides 250 liters (66 gallons) of water per day.
In addition car drivers were entitled to 120 litres of free petrol a month until 1 July 2014. Drivers of buses, lorries and tractors could get 200 litres of fuel and motorcyclists and scooter riders 40 litres free.
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.
Religion in Turkmenistan
According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims constitute 89% of the population while 9% of the population are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 2% religion is reported as non-religious. However, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, 93.1% of Turkmenistan's population is Muslim.
The first migrants were sent as missionaries and often were adopted as patriarchs of particular clans or tribal groups, thereby becoming their "founders." Reformulation of communal identity around such figures accounts for one of the highly localized developments of Islamic practice in Turkmenistan.
In the Soviet era, all religious beliefs were attacked by the communist authorities as superstition and "vestiges of the past." Most religious schooling and religious observance were banned, and the vast majority of mosques were closed.
However, since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule.
Former president Saparmurat Niyazov ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. Religious classes are held in both schools and mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur'an and the hadith, and history of Islam.
President Niyazov wrote his own religious text, published in separate volumes in 2001 and 2004, entitled the Ruhnama. The Turkmenbashi regime required that the book, which formed the basis of the educational system in Turkmenistan, be given equal status with the Quran (mosques were required to display the two books side by side).
The book was heavily promoted as part of the former president's personality cult, and knowledge of the Ruhnama is required even for obtaining a driver's license.
Most Christians in Turkmenistan belong to Eastern Orthodoxy (about 5% of the population). The Russian Orthodox Church is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Archbishop in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There are three Russian Orthodox Churches in Ashgabat, two in Turkmenabat, in Mary, Turkmenbashi, Balkanabat, Bayram-Ali and Dushauguze one each.
The highest Russian Orthodox priest in Turkmenistan is based in Ashgabat. There is one Russian orthodox monastery, in Ashgabat. Turkmenistan has no Russian Orthodox seminary, however.
There are also small communities of the following denominations: the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal Christians, the Protestant Word of Life Church, the Greater Grace World Outreach Church, the New Apostolic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and several unaffiliated, nondenominational evangelical Christian groups. In addition, there are small communities of Baha'is, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Hare Krishnas.
The history of Bahá'í Faith in Turkmenistan is as old as the religion itself, and Bahá'í communities still exist today. The first Bahá'í House of Worship was built in Ashgabat at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was seized by the Soviets in the 1920s and converted to an art gallery. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1948 and later demolished. The site was converted to a public park.
Leader of Turkmenistan
President: Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2007 when he succeeded life-long president Saparmyrat Niyazov.
Following in his predecessor's footsteps, Mr Berdymukhamedov is an autocratic ruler who has built a personality cult. Officially titled the "Arkadag" (The Patron), he is also prime minister and commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces.
Constitutional changes passed in 2016 extended presidential term limits from five to seven years and scrapped the 70-year age limit which was the only legal barrier to Mr Berdymukhamedov remaining in power indefinitely.
In February 2017, Mr Berdymukhamedov was sworn in as president for a third consecutive term.
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov:
"The analysis of tendencies of the current world development, place and role of our country in it, confirms the validity of the course selected by us to develop wide and full-scale international cooperation of Turkmenistan, its active involvement into mainstream processes of the present - in political, economic, trade, information, cultural, scientific-educational, social and other spheres.
Media in Turkmenistan
The government has an absolute monopoly of the media and state TV and radio pump out a steady stream of propaganda.
Reporters Without Borders has called Turkmenistan "an ever-expanding news black hole".
Foreign news and opposition websites are blocked and international social networks are often inaccessible.
Timeline of Turkmenistan
Some key events in Turkmenistan's history:
6th century BC - Area of what is now Turkmenistan forms part of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great.
1881 - Area of present-day Turkmenistan incorporated into Russian Turkestan after Battle of Gok Tepe.
1925 - Turkmenistan becomes a fully-fledged constituent republic of the USSR. It does not gain independence until 1991.
2009 December - Pipeline opened for gas exports to China, breaking Russia's stranglehold on Turkmenistan's energy reserves.
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