Facts & Figures
President: Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (2007)
Total area: 188,455 sq mi (488,100 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 5,171,943 (growth rate: 1.14%); birth rate: 19.46/1000; infant mortality rate: 38.13/1000; life expectancy: 69.47; density per sq mi: 27.1
Capital and largest city (2012 est.): Ashgabat, 727,700
Other large cities: Turkmenabat, 234,817; Dasoguz 166,500
Monetary unit: Manat
- Turkmenistan Main Page
- Issues with Oil Exportation
- First Contested Elections Lead to a Questionable Outcome, New Constitution
Turkmenistan (formerly Turkmenia) is bounded by the Caspian Sea in the west, Kazakhstan in the north, Uzbekistan in the east, and Iran and Afghanistan in the south. About nine-tenths of Turkmenistan is desert, chiefly the Kara-Kum. One of the world's largest sand deserts, it is approximately 138,966 sq mi (360,000 sq km).
Turkmenistan was once part of the ancient Persian Empire. The Turkmen people were originally pastoral nomads and some of them continued this way of life up into the 20th century, living in transportable dome-shaped felt tents. The territory was ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century. The Mongols of Ghenghis Khan conquered the land in the 13th century; they dominated the area for the next two centuries until they were deposed in the late 15th century by invading Uzbeks. Prior to the 19th century, Turkmenia was divided into two lands, one belonging to the khanate of Khiva and the other belonging to the khanate of Bukhara. In 1868, the khanate of Khiva was made part of the Russian Empire and Turkmenia became known as the Transcaspia Region of Russian Turkistan. Turkmenistan was later formed out of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, founded in 1922, and was made an independent Soviet Socialist Republic on May 13, 1925. It was the poorest of the Soviet republics.
Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in Aug. 1990 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Dec. 21, 1991, together with ten other former Soviet republics. It established a government more authoritarian than those functioning in the other newly independent central Asian republics. President Saparmurat Niyazov, also called the Turkmenbashi (Leader of All Turkmens), has attempted to create a cult of personality through extravagant self-promotion. Cities, aftershave, and a meteor now bear his name. In 2002, he renamed all the months of the calendar—April is now named after his mother. Niyazov was voted president-for-life by his rubber-stamp parliament in 1999.
Issues with Oil Exportation
In the 1990s, Turkmenistan exported gas through a Russian pipeline, bringing in about $1 billion per year. But in 1993, Russia closed down Turkmenistan's only pipeline because it competed with Russia's own gas exportation. Turkmenistan was limited to exporting gas to its impoverished central Asian neighbors, who were unable to pay their bills. The nation then opened a pipeline route to Iran, generally agreed to be the most economical route for exporting Caspian oil, and thus ruffled the feathers of Iran's enemy, the U.S. So far, the new plan has not brought in money, and the country is living off loans from Western countries, such as Germany, who hope to partner with the oil-rich, money-poor country. In 2003, Russia agreed to buy 60 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan annually. At the time of the deal, Turkmenistan began to restrict the rights of its ethnic Russian citizens, infuriating Russia.
An alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov in Nov. 2002 (thought by outsiders to have been staged) resulted in the conviction of 46 opposition leaders and critics of the government.
First Contested Elections Lead to a Questionable Outcome, New Constitution
In recent years, the country's educational system has degenerated significantly—the number of years of school required has been reduced, the curriculum has grown increasingly vocational, and substantial classroom time is devoted to political propaganda, including the president's own book, Rukhnama (Book of the Soul). On Dec. 21, 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly after 21 years of draconian rule. In Feb. 2007, the country held its first contested elections, and former deputy prime minister and health minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov won in a landslide. The exceptionally high voter turnout and margin of victory left many observers to question the validity of the election.
In July 2007, Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan agreed to build new pipeline north of the Caspian Sea, ensuring Russian access to Turkmen gas.
In April 2008, Turkmenistan reverted to its old calendar with Turkic and Russian names when President Berdymukhamadov abolished the names of days and months introduced by the previous president.
On Sept. 26, 2008, after two decades of isolation under autocratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan adopted a new constitution that abolished the exsisting People's Council and called for a new parliament (the Mejlis, or Assembly) almost double in size, promoting multi-party politics and a market economy. Parliamentary elections were held in December 2008, resulting in the representation of the Mejlis being increased from 65 to 125.
President Berdymukhamedov was re-elected in February 2012, taking 97% of the vote. Seven other members of his party also ran in the election.