Turkmenistan is a former member of the Soviet Union located in Central Asia. Its capital is Ashgabad.
80% of Turkmenistan is covered in subtropical, sandy Karakum Desert, with dunes rising to the Kopet Dag Mountains in the south along the border with Iran. The country also borders the Caspian Sea to the west and the Amu Darya River and Uzbekistan to the east, Afghanistan to the southeast, and Kazakhstan to the north.
- Area: 488,100 sq. km. (303,292 sq. mi.).
- Cities: Capital--Ashgabat. Other cities--Turkmenabat (formerly Chardjou/Charjew), Dashoguz (formerly Dashowuz), Mary, Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk).
- Terrain: 80% covered in subtropical, sandy Karakum Desert, with dunes rising to the Kopet Dag Mountains in the south along the border with Iran; borders the Caspian Sea to the west and the Amu Darya River and Uzbekistan to the east; borders Afghanistan to the southeast, Kazakhstan to the north.
- Climate: Subtropical desert.
The majority of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmen; other ethnic groups include Russian, Uzbek, and Kazakh. Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, though Russian still is widely spoken as a "language of inter-ethnic communication" (per the 1992 constitution). Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level, the total duration of which is 10 years.
- Population (July 2007 est.): 5 million
- Population growth rate (2007 est.): 1.62%
- Ethnic groups (2003 est.): Turkmen 85%, Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6%.
- Religion: Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%.
- Language: Turkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, other 7%.
- Education (2002 est.): Literacy--98.8%.
- Health (2007 est.): Infant mortality rate--53.49/1,000. Life expectancy--68.3 years.
Government and political conditions
Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state that was dominated by its first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who retained his monopoly on political power until his death on December 21, 2006. The Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) decided on December 26 to select Niyazov's successor through public elections on February 11, 2007. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov became president through a public election in which the population eagerly participated, even though the election did not meet international standards.
Government efforts continue to focus on fostering centralized state control. Of the country's two parliamentary bodies, the 2,500-member People's Council is the supreme legislative body and surpasses the 50-member Mejlis (parliament) in authority. The president controls the parliament and the judiciary. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. Neither independent political activity nor opposition candidates are allowed in Turkmenistan. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) is the only legal political party. Political gatherings are illegal unless government-sanctioned, and the citizens of Turkmenistan do not have the means to change their government democratically.
On November 25, 2002, an armed attack against then-President Niyazov's motorcade occurred, and the Government of Turkmenistan moved quickly against perceived sources of opposition. There were widespread reports of human rights abuses committed by officials investigating the attack, including torture and punishment of families of the accused. The Government of Turkmenistan denied the charges, but refused to allow independent observers at trials, to accept a mandatory Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding mission, or to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisons. It also instituted new measures to stifle dissent and limit contact with the outside world.
While the constitution provides for freedom of the press, there is virtually no freedom of the press or of association. The government has full control of all media and restricts foreign publications. International satellite TV is available.
The population is 89% Sunni Muslim. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion; however, in practice, the government continues to monitor all forms of religious expression. Amendments to the law on religious organizations adopted in March 2004 reduced membership requirements from 500 to 5 for registration purposes. All groups must register in order to gain legal status with the government. Until 2004 the only religions that were registered successfully were Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity. By January 2006, nine minority religious groups had registered. The government limits the activities of unregistered religious congregations by prohibiting them from gathering publicly, proselytizing, and disseminating religious materials.
A Soviet-style command economy greatly limits equality of opportunity. Industry and services are almost entirely provided by government or government-owned entities, while agriculture is dominated by a state order system, mainly for wheat and cotton.
Women face discrimination, and their freedom is further restricted due to traditional socio-religious norms. All citizens are required to carry internal passports, noting place of residence. President Niyazov introduced a new migration law in late 2005 that suggested a reimposition of exit restrictions on Turkmen citizens. As of August 2006, the law was not fully implemented and its effect remained unclear. In July 2007, the government rescinded the requirement for citizens to acquire visas for travel to border areas.
Corruption is pervasive. Power is concentrated in the president. The judiciary is subservient to the president, with all judges appointed for 5-year terms by the president without legislative review.
The territory of Turkmenistan has been populated since ancient times, as armies from one empire to another decamped on their way to more prosperous territories. Tribes of horse-breeding Turkmen drifted into the territory of Turkmenistan, possibly from the Altay Mountains, and grazed along the outskirts of the Karakum Desert into Persia, Syria, and Anatolia.
Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century B.C. on his way to India. One hundred fifty years later the Parthian Kingdom took control of Turkmenistan, establishing its capital in Nisa, an area now located in the suburbs of the modern-day capital of Ashgabat. In the 7th century A.D. Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them the Islamic religion and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle Eastern culture. It was around this time that the famous "Silk Road" was established as a major trading route between Asia and Europe.
In the middle of the 11th century, the powerful Turks of the Seljuk Empire concentrated their strength in the territory of Turkmenistan in an attempt to expand into Afghanistan. The empire broke down in the second half of the 12th 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.
From the 16th century on, Turkmen raiders on horseback preyed on passing caravans, pillaging and taking prisoners for the slave trade. In order to consolidate the Tsarist Empire in Central Asia, and upon the pretext of freeing Russian citizens from slavery, Russia sent forces to Turkmenistan, and in 1881 fighting climaxed with the massacre of 7,000 Turkmen at the desert fortress of Gokdepe, near modern Ashgabat; another 8,000 were killed trying to flee across the desert. By 1894 imperial Russia had taken control of Turkmenistan. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent political unrest led to the declaration of the Turkmen Republic as one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union in 1924. At this time the modern borders of Turkmenistan were formed.
The Turkmen Republic was under full control of Moscow, which exploited its raw material resources for the purposes of the Soviet Union. Sovereignty was only a formality since Russia ultimately ruled all Soviet states. Following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan declared its independence on October 27, 1991. Saparmyrat Niyazov became the first president of the new republic and remained the supreme decision-maker, "president for life," until his death in 2006.
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