Konye Urgench: picture from National Geographic

Turkmenistan is the smallest Central Asian Country with rich oil resources; according to BBC it has the 5th largest reserves of natural gas. It has an autocratic government with a history of strict isolationism and is made up primarily of desert.

Turkmenistan is a former state of the Soviet Union and received its independence in 1991. After independence, the country has been a one-party state lead by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan and the dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, until his death in 2006. He dubbed himself,  “Turkmenbashi” or Father of the Turkmen and declared himself President for Life. His influence resonated in every aspect of life, Turkmens had to take spiritual guidance from his book, entitled Ruhnama. Following his death, Kurbanguly Berdymuhamedov has taken his place and is working to break down Niyazov’s cult.

Kipchak Mosque in Ashgabat

Despite its rich oil reserves, the population in Turkmenistan is largely impoverished. Turkemistan produces 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 2/3 of its exports go to Russia’s Gazprom. Turkmenistan has also become involved in pipelines to China and Iran and is considering taking part in the Nabucco Pipeline, an EU backed project, in order to breakdown the Russian gas monopoly and break out of its hold on Turkmenistan’s exports.

Ethnically, Turkmenistan consists of largely Turkmens, with some Uzbeks, Kazakhs,  Tatars and Russians.

Information from BBC Turkmenistan Country Profile. For full page see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1298497.stm.

Other facts: from BBC Country Pages

  • Population: 5.1 million (UN, 2009) 
  • Capital: Ashgabat
  • Area: 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles)
  • Major language: Turkmen, Russian
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 69 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Turkmen manat = 100 tenge
  • Main exports: Oil, gas, textiles, raw cotton
  • GNI per capita: US $2,840 (World Bank, 2008)

History and Politics:


History:  from the Embassy of Turkmenistan

In Pictures: Niyazov’s Cult (December 2006) from BBC

CIA World Factbook

NewEurasia Blog on Turkmenistan: blog that discusses history, politics, everyday life, and society in Turkmenistan


Turkmenistan-Turkmenistan Culture, Customs and Traditions

This website provides information about Turkmenistan Culture, from weddings and food to history and geography.

Every Culture: Turkmenistan

Site with comprehensive with information on Turkmen culture.

pilaf, a popular Turkmen rice dish


National Dish: Plov: a rice dish served with mutton, carrots, onions, peas, raisins and spices

National Bread: Chorek: the Tandyr, a clay, is considered the most sacred place in the house. Chorek is also honored as a protecting charm.


Carpet Weaving


Konye Urgench: (Ancient Urgench)is a unique place located on the crossroads of Ancient Silk Road. Konye Urgench was the capital of Khorezmshakh state which occupied the area from northern Turkmenistan to western Uzbekistan before the Mongol conquests in 13th century. It used to be the intellectual center for the entire Islamic world. Today, it is a historical place for visiting tourists and a pilgrimage destination for local population from all over Turkmenistan and neighboring countries mostly visited on Muslim holidays. There are several outstanding monuments preserved mainly from 11th to 16th century. The monument on the picture is called Il-Arslan Mausoleum. Its structure and conical dome make this mausoleum different from other standing monuments and it is supposed to be the oldest standing monument in Konye-Urgench. Gutlug Timur Minaret on the background was built in 11th-12th centuries, and considered to be the highest minaret in Central Asia (62 meters). Its bricks surface is decorated with geometric patterns and inscriptions from Quran. There is a spiral staircase of 145 steps to get you to the top of minaret. Konye Urgench became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 (see above picture).

from David Trilling's photo essay: Turkmenistan: Three Days of Bayram

Turkmenistan: Three Days of Bayram: Photo Essay by David Trilling (from EurasiaNet)

Gurban Bayram, or Eid al-Adha, is the Muslim feast of the sacrifice. David Trilling, in this photo essay, documents the three day holiday in Ashgabat.

International Organizations in Turkmenistan:

Human Rights Watch

OSCE Centre in Ashgabat

Since January 1999, the OSCE has had a presence in Ashgabat, with a mandate focused on promoting OSCE principles in Turkmenistan and a focus on regional context including economic, environmental, human and political aspects of security and stability as well as maintaing contact with various local authorities, universities and NGOs.

United Nations Development Programme Turkmenistan: UNDP in Turkmenistan promotes national development through “high quality policy advice, developing national capacity and piloting innovative solutions.” UNDP in Turkmenistan focuses on strengthening democratic governance, development of environment sustainability and poverty reduction.

World Bank Page on Turkmenistan

World Health Organization in Turkmenistan

UNICEF in Turkmenistan

USAID in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan state and NGO reports to different UN bodies:

UN Office of the High Representative for Human Rights: Turkmenistan

Most Recent Concluding Observations from Treaty Bodies:

Committee on the Rights of the Child
Concluding observations (2006)

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Concluding Observations (2006)

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Concluding observations (2005)

Most Recent Special Procedures Report:

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief – Mission to Turkmenistan (A/HRC/10/8/Add.4)

Most Recent Reports from UN Secretary General:

Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation of human rights in Turkmenistan (A/61/489)


News and Articles:

News Sites:

New York Times Turkmenistan Page

Radio Free Liberty on Turkmenistan

EurasiaNet News


This is Getting Ridiculous: Ashgabat Builds Olympic Village Without Olympics (October 2010)

There is a plan to build an Olympic Village in Ashgabat centered around a huge stadium and hockey complex. It is expected to be the biggest sports complex in Central Asia.

Turkmenistan Limits Flight of Faithful to Mecca (Novmeber, 2010) by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Turkmenistan, a predominately muslim country, limits the amount of people who can participate the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. This year, only 188, the number of seats on the only plane going, will be allowed to attend. This reflects the tight control the state holds over religion.

Turkmen Dipping Their Toes Into Online Forums (September, 2010) by Farangis Najibullah

Under the leadership of Berdymukhamedov, controls on the internet have begun to be somewhat lifted, allowing Turkmen’s to voice their opinions on online forums and “providing outsiders a rare look into their everyday problems” (Turkmen Dipping Their Toes Into Online Forums).

Turkmenistan Ex-Leader Niyazov’s Golden Statue Toppled (August, 2010)

Statue of Niyazov

The giant statue of ex-leader Niyazov was removed in January 2010 following the orders of President Berdymukhamedov. The statue represented the excesses and personality cult of Niyazov, which rotated to always face the sun.

Fresh Optimism in Turkmenistan (December, 2007)

BBC’s Natalia Antelava visits Turkmenistan a year after the death of Niyazov and finds that “the curtain is beginning to rise” (Fresh Optimism in Turkmenistan, 2006) as changes began to be seen in Niyazov’s oppressive policies.

Turkmenistan Opens New Iran Gas Pipeline (January, 2010)

Turkmenistan opens a second gas pipeline to Iran that will double its gas exports to Iran and reduce the proportion of its exports to Russia. Russia has historically dominated the energy sector.

China President Opens Turkmenistan Gas Pipeline (December, 2009)

China opens it gas pipeline that will advance its influence in the region and reduce Russia’s hold on Turkmenistan gas supplies, which could allow Turkmenistan to become less dependent on Russia.

Russia Gas Deal Dashes EU Hopes (December, 2007)

Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan sign deal to build pipeline, disappointing EU and US hopes to build a rival pipeline.

Other Links:

IWPR: Institute for War and Peace Reporting

IWPR works with reporters, freelancers, human rights groups and editors to “strengthen reporting and advocacy” and “investigate and debate conflict issues through publications, radio broadcasts, and public roundtables and conferences”.  Their work in Central Asia is especially focused on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, who are the most repressive towards media freedoms.

Central Asia Law Initiative: Turkmenistan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s