Turkmenistan -- Geography --
Official Name: Turkmenistan
Capital City: Ashgabat
Languages: Turkmen (official), Russian, Uzbek, Dari
Official Currency: Turkmen Manat (TMM)
Religions: Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims
Land Area: 488,100 sq km
Landforms: 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.
Land Divisions: 5 provinces (welayatlar) and 1 independent city
Turkmenistan -- History --
The region's written history begins with its conquest by the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Persia.
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.
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.
By 1894 Russia had gained control of Turkmenistan and incorporated it into its empire. Slowly, Russian and European cultures were introduced to the area. 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.
Turkmenistan declared independence on 27 October 1991, one of the last republics to secede from the USSR.
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.
Turkmenistan -- Economy --
Turkmenistan is a largely desert country with intensive agriculture in irrigated oases and large gas and oil
resources. One-half of its irrigated land is planted in cotton; formerly it was the world's 10th-largest producer.
Poor harvests in recent years have led to an almost 50% decline in cotton exports.
With an authoritarian ex-Communist regime in power and a tribally based social structure,
Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to
sustain its inefficient economy. Privatization goals remain limited. From 1998-2005,
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,
total exports rose by an average of roughly 15% per year from 2003-07, largely because of higher
international oil and gas prices. Overall prospects in the near future are discouraging because of
widespread internal poverty, a poor educational system, government misuse of oil and gas revenues,
and Ashgabat's reluctance to adopt market-oriented reforms. In the past, Turkmenistan's economic statistics
were state secrets. The new government has established a State Agency for Statistics, but GDP numbers
and other figures are subject to wide margins of error. In particular, the rate of GDP growth is uncertain.
Since his election, President Berdimuhamedow has sought to improve the health and education systems,
ordered unification of the country's dual currency exchange rate, begun decreasing state subsidies for
gasoline, signed an agreement to build a gas line to China, and created a special tourism zone on the Caspian Sea.
All of these moves hint that the new post-Nyazow government will work to create a friendlier foreign investment
Turkmenistan -- Culture --
The Turkmen people have traditionally been nomads and horsemen, and even today after the fall of the USSR attempts to urbanize but the Turkmens have not been very successful. They never really formed a coherent nation or ethnic group until they were forged into one by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Rather they are divided into clans, and each clan has its own dialect and style of dress.
The Turkmens are Sunni Muslims but they, like most of the region's nomads, adhere to Islam rather loosely and combine Islam with pre-Islamic animist spirituality. The Turkmens do indeed tend to be spiritual but are by no means militantly religious.
In language, Turkmens speak Turkmen, related most closely to Turkish and Azerbaijani. Virtually everyone, however, even in the remote desert regions, speaks Russian.
Two significant figures in Turkmen literature are the poets Feragi Makhtumkuli and Mametveli Kemine.
Turkmenistan -- Political system, law and government --
A) Executive Body
Chief of state: President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (since 14 February 2007); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
Head of government: President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (since 14 February 2007)
Cabinet: Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the president
Elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held on 11 February 2007 (next to be held in 2012)
Election results: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow elected president; percent of vote - Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow 89.2%, Amanyaz Ayajykow 3.2%, other candidates 7.6%
The legislative branch is represented by two parliamentary bodies, a People's Council or Halk Maslahaty (supreme legislative body of about 2,500 delegates, some elected by popular vote and some appointed; meets at least yearly) and a National Assembly or Mejlis (50 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
The judicial system is lead by the Supreme Court (judges are appointed by the president)
D) Political parties
The only official political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan or DPT, lead by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
Formal opposition parties are outlawed; unofficial, small opposition movements exist underground or in foreign countries; the two most prominent opposition groups-in-exile have been National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan (NDMT) and the United Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (UDPT).