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, and described as an "eccentric autocrat", 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 Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's leadership 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 His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen".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 had increased basic education to ten years from nine years, and higher education had been extended from four years to five. He has also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches - but fears were mounting that the government would revert to Niyazov's draconian style of rule.
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 single-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. The new Constitution also permits the formation of multiple political parties.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, has been the only one effectively permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.
Turkmenistan is among the twenty countries in the world with the highest perceived level of corruption: the 2008 Corruption Perception Index for Turkmenistan is 1.8 on a scale of 0 (most corrupt) to 10 (least corrupt).
Although human rights and civil liberties are guaranteed in the Constitution of Turkmenistan (such as social equality, sex equality, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and freedom of movement), human rights remains a contentious issue in the country. Other social and economic rights include the right to work, the right to rest, and the right to education. However, there are freedom of religion issues.
According to the 2007 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the third-worst restrictions on the freedom of the press in the world. Former president Saparmurat Niyazov enforced a ban on satellite dishes and also banned beards, long hair, ballet, opera and recorded music in Turkmenistan. These restrictions are now being gradually relaxed by the new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. Although there were modest improvements, the government continued to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remained poor.
Turkmenistan had done a progress in area of human rights. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov had announced laws of enabling more than one party. That will change totally authoritarian regime in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces or welayatlar (singular welayat) and one capital city district. The provinces are subdivided into districts (etraplar, sing. etrap), which may be either counties or cities. According to the Constitution of Turkmenistan (Article 16 in the 2008 Constitution, Article 47 in the 1992 Constitution), some cities may have the status of welaýat (province) or etrap (district).
|Division||ISO 3166-2||Capital city||Area||Pop (2005)||Key|
|Ashgabat City||Ashgabat||470 km2 (180 sq mi)||871,500|
|Ahal Province||TM-A||Anau||97,160 km2 (37,510 sq mi)||939,700||1|
|Balkan Province||TM-B||Balkanabat||139,270 km2 (53,770 sq mi)||553,500||2|
|Da?oguz Province||TM-D||Da?oguz||73,430 km2 (28,350 sq mi)||1,370,400||3|
|Lebap Province||TM-L||Türkmenabat||93,730 km2 (36,190 sq mi)||1,334,500||4|
|Mary Province||TM-M||Mary||87,150 km2 (33,650 sq mi)||1,480,400||5|
It is one of the driest deserts in the world, some places have an average annual percipitation amount of only 12 mm. The highest temperature recorded in Ashkhabad is 48.9 °C (120 F°) and Kerki, an extreme inland city located on the banks of the Amu Darya river, recorded 51.7 °C (125 °F) in July 1983.
At 488,100 km2 (188,500 sq mi), Turkmenistan is the world's 52nd-largest country. It is slightly smaller than Spain and somewhat larger than the US state of California.
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) at Kuh-e Rizeh (Mount Rizeh).
The Great Balkhan Range in the west of the country (Balkan Province) and the Köýtendag Range on the southeastern border with Uzbekistan (Lebap Province) are the only other significant elevations. The Great Balkhan Range rises to 1,880 metres (6,170 ft) at Mount Arlan and the highest summit in Turkmenistan is Ayrybaba in the Kugitangtau Range – 3,137 metres (10,292 ft). Rivers include the Amu Darya, the Murghab, and the Tejen.
The climate is mostly 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.
The Turkmen shore along the Caspian Sea is 1,768 kilometres (1,099 mi) long. The Caspian Sea is entirely landlocked, with no access to the ocean.
The major cities include A?gabat, Türkmenba?y (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Da?oguz.
The country possesses the world's fourth-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. Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's tenth-largest producer of it.
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.
Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world to Russia, Iran and the United States in natural gas reserves. The Turkmenistan Natural Gas Company (Türkmengaz), under the auspices of the Ministry of Oil and Gas, controls gas extraction in the country. Gas production is the most dynamic and promising sector of the national economy. Turkmenistan's gas reserves are estimated at 8.1-8.7 trillion cubic meters and its prospecting potential at up to 21 trillion cubic meters. The country cooperates with China in the construction of pipelines for the export of natural gas.
Most of Turkmenistan's oil is extracted by the Turkmenistan State Company (Concern) Türkmennebit from fields at Koturdepe, Balkanabad, and Chekelen near the Caspian Sea, which have a combined estimated reserve of 700 million tons. The oil extraction industry started with the exploitation of the fields in Chekelen in 1909 (by Nobel brothers) and Balkanabad in the 1930s, then production leaped ahead with the discovery of the Kumdag field in 1948 and the Koturdepe field in 1959. Big part of the oil produced in Turkmenistan is refined in Turkmenbashy and Seidi refineries. Also, oil is exported by tankers through Caspian Sea to Europe via canals.
Turkmenistan is a net exporter of electrical power to Central Asian republics and southern neighbors. The most important generating installations are the Hindukush Hydroelectric Station, which has a rated capacity of 350 megawatts, and the Mary Thermoelectric Power Station, which has a rated capacity of 1,370 megawatts. In 1992 electrical power production totaled 14.9 billion kilowatt-hours.
Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's tenth-largest producer of it.
Most of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Armenians, Azeris, and Balochis.
The CIA World Factbook gives the ethnic composition of Turkmenistan as 85% Turkmen, 5% Uzbek, 4% Russian and 6% other (2003 estimates). According to data announced in Ashgabat in February 2001, 91% of the population are Turkmen, 3% are Uzbeks and 2% are Russians. Between 1989 and 2001 the number of Turkmen in Turkmenistan doubled (from 2.5 to 4.9 million), while the number of Russians dropped by two-thirds (from 334,000 to slightly over 100,000).
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan (per the 1992 Constitution), although Russian still is widely spoken in cities as a "language of inter-ethnic communication". Turkmen is spoken by 72% of the population, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, and other languages 7%.
The Ärtogrul Gazy Mosque in Ashgabat named after the father of Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
Islam is the dominant religion in Turkmenistan (89% of the population); the 9% of the population that adheres to the Eastern Orthodox Church are ethnic Russians; the remaining 2% religion is reported as unknown. Islam came to the Turkmen primarily through the missionary activities of sheikhs. These sheikhs were holy men and they 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 displayed 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.
Green field with a vertical red stripe near the hoist side, containing five tribal guls (designs used in producing carpets) stacked above two crossed olive branches similar to the olive branches on the UN flag; a white crescent moon representing Islam with five white stars representing the regions or velayats of Turkmenistan appear in the upper corner of the field just to the fly side of the red stripe.
Coat of arm
The horse in the center represents the Akhaltene horses, a famous breed of horses which come from a stable outside Ashkabat. Around the horse there are five "gils". Gils a pattern that you will find in the center section of every Turkmen carpet. Each of the main tribes of Turkmenistan has a defined pattern which would be used in all carpets made by that particular tribe. So the patterns also represent the five main tribes of Turkmenistan. On the outside there is cotton, since cotton is the main agricultural product of the country and, together with natural gas, the source of its wealth. On top their is the crescend as signal of Islam an five stars, representing the five velayats (i.e. provinces) of the country.