Turkmenistan - History
Like the other Central Asian republics, Turkmenistan underwent the
intrusion and rule of several foreign powers before falling under first
Russian and then Soviet control in the modern era. Most notable were the
Mongols and the Uzbek khanates, the latter of which dominated the
indigenous Oghuz tribes until Russian incursions began in the late
Origins and Early History
Sedentary Oghuz tribes from Mongolia moved into present-day Central
Asia around the eighth century. Within a few centuries, some of these
tribes had become the ethnic basis of the Turkmen population.
The Oghuz and the Turkmen
The origins of the Turkmen may be traced back to the Oghuz
confederation of nomadic pastoral tribes of the early Middle Ages, which
lived in present-day Mongolia and around Lake Baikal in present-day
southern Siberia. Known as the Nine Oghuz, this confederation was
composed of Turkic-speaking peoples who formed the basis of powerful
steppe empires in Inner Asia. In the second half of the eighth century,
components of the Nine Oghuz migrated through Jungaria into Central
Asia, and Arabic sources located them under the term Guzz in
the area of the middle and lower Syrdariya in the eighth century. By the
tenth century, the Oghuz had expanded west and north of the Aral Sea and
into the steppe of present-day Kazakstan, absorbing not only Iranians
but also Turks from the Kipchak and Karluk ethnolinguistic groups. In
the eleventh century, the renowned Muslim Turk scholar Mahmud
al-Kashgari described the language of the Oghuz and Turkmen as distinct
from that of other Turks and identified twenty-two Oghuz clans or
sub-tribes, some of which appear in later Turkmen genealogies and
legends as the core of the early Turkmen.
Oghuz expansion by means of military campaigns went at least as far
as the Volga River and Ural Mountains, but the geographic limits of
their dominance fluctuated in the steppe areas extending north and west
from the Aral Sea. Accounts of Arab geographers and travelers portray
the Oghuz ethnic group as lacking centralized authority and being
governed by a number of "kings" and "chieftains."
Because of their disparate nature as a polity and the vastness of their
domains, Oghuz tribes rarely acted in concert. Hence, by the late tenth
century, the bonds of their confederation began to loosen. At that time,
a clan leader named Seljuk founded a dynasty and the empire that bore
his name on the basis of those Oghuz elements that had migrated
southward into present-day Turkmenistan and Iran. The Seljuk Empire was
centered in Persia, from which Oghuz groups spread into Azerbaijan and
The name Turkmen first appears in written sources of the
tenth century to distinguish those Oghuz groups who migrated south into
the Seljuk domains and accepted Islam from those that had remained in
the steppe. Gradually, the term took on the properties of an ethnonym
and was used exclusively to designate Muslim Oghuz, especially those who
migrated away from the Syrdariya Basin. By the thirteenth century, the
term Turkmen supplanted the designation Oghuz
altogether. The origin of the word Turkmen remains unclear.
According to popular etymologies as old as the eleventh century, the
word derives from Turk plus the Iranian element manand
, and means "resembling a Turk." Modern scholars, on the other
hand, have proposed that the element man /men acts as
an intensifier and have translated the word as "pure Turk" or
"most Turk-like of the Turks."
The Seljuk Period
In the eleventh century, Seljuk domains stretched from the delta of
the Amu Darya delta into Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus region, Syria, and
Asia Minor. In 1055 Seljuk forces entered Baghdad, becoming masters of
the Islamic heartlands and important patrons of Islamic institutions.
The last powerful Seljuk ruler, Sultan Sanjar (d. 1157), witnessed the
fragmentation and destruction of the empire because of attacks by
Turkmen and other tribes.
Until these revolts, Turkmen tribesmen were an integral part of the
Seljuk military forces. Turkmen migrated with their families and
possessions on Seljuk campaigns into Azerbaijan and Anatolia, a process
that began the Turkification of these areas. During this time, Turkmen
also began to settle the area of present-day Turkmenistan. Prior to the
Turkmen habitation, most of this desert had been uninhabited, while the
more habitable areas along the Caspian Sea, Kopetdag Mountains, Amu
Darya, and Murgap River (Murgap Deryasy) were populated predominantly by
Iranians. The city-state of Merv was an especially large sedentary and
agricultural area, important as both a regional economic-cultural center
and a transit hub on the famous Silk Road.
Turkmenistan - Formation of the Turkmen Nation
During the Mongol conquest of Central Asia in the thirteenth century,
the Turkmen-Oghuz of the steppe were pushed from the Syrdariya farther
into the Garagum (Russian spelling Kara Kum) Desert and along the
Caspian Sea. Various components were nominally subject to the Mongol
domains in eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Iran. Until the early
sixteenth century, they were concentrated in four main regions: along
the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea, on the Mangyshlak Peninsula
(on the northeastern Caspian coast), around the Balkan Mountains, and
along the Uzboy River running across north-central Turkmenistan. Many
scholars regard the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries as the
period of the reformulation of the Turkmen into the tribal groups that
exist today. Beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing into the
nineteenth century, large tribal conglomerates and individual groups
migrated east and southeast.
Historical sources indicate the existence of a large tribal union
often referred to as the Salor confederation in the Mangyshlak Peninsula
and areas around the Balkan Mountains. The Salor were one of the few
original Oghuz tribes to survive to modern times. In the late
seventeenth century, the union dissolved and the three senior tribes
moved eastward and later southward. The Yomud split into eastern and
western groups, while the Teke moved into the Akhal region along the
Kopetdag Mountains and gradually into the Murgap River basin. The Salor
tribes migrated into the region near the Amu Darya delta in the oasis of
Khorazm south of the Aral Sea, the middle course of the Amu Darya
southeast of the Aral Sea, the Akhal oasis north of present-day Ashgabat
and areas along the Kopetdag bordering Iran, and the Murgap River in
present-day southeast Turkmenistan. Salor groups also live in Turkey,
Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and China.
Much of what we know about the Turkmen from the sixteenth to
nineteenth centuries comes from Uzbek and Persian chronicles that record
Turkmen raids and involvement in the political affairs of their
sedentary neighbors. Beginning in the sixteenth century, most of the
Turkmen tribes were divided among two Uzbek principalities: the Khanate
(or amirate) of Khiva (centered along the lower Amu Darya in Khorazm)
and the Khanate of Bukhoro (Bukhara). Uzbek khans and princes of both
khanates customarily enlisted Turkmen military support in their intra-
and inter-khanate struggles and in campaigns against the Persians.
Consequently, many Turkmen tribes migrated closer to the urban centers
of the khanates, which came to depend heavily upon the Turkmen for their
military forces. The height of Turkmen influence in the affairs of their
sedentary neighbors came in the eighteenth century, when on several
occasions (1743, 1767-70), the Yomud invaded and controlled Khorazm.
From 1855 to 1867, a series of Yomud rebellions again shook the area.
These hostilities and the punitive raids by Uzbek rulers resulted in the
wide dispersal of the eastern Yomud group.
Turkmenistan - Incorporation into Russia
Russian attempts to encroach upon Turkmen territory began in earnest
in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Of all the Central Asian
peoples, the Turkmen put up the stiffest resistance against Russian
expansion. In 1869 the Russian Empire established a foothold in
present-day Turkmenistan with the foundation of the Caspian Sea port of
Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashy). From there and other points, they
marched on and subdued the Khiva Khanate in 1873. Because Turkmen
tribes, most notably the Yomud, were in the military service of the
Khivan khan, Russian forces undertook punitive raids against the Turkmen
of Khorazm, in the process slaughtering hundreds and destroying their
settlements. In 1881 the Russians under General Mikhail Skobelev
besieged and captured Gokdepe, one of the last Turkmen strongholds,
northwest of Ashgabat. With the Turkmen defeat (which is now marked by
the Turkmen as a national day of mourning and a symbol of national
pride), the annexation of what is present-day Turkmenistan met with only
weak resistance. Later the same year, the Russians signed an agreement
with the Persians and established what essentially remains the current
border between Turkmenistan and Iran. In 1897 a similar agreement was
signed between the Russians and Afghans.
Following annexation to Russia, the area was administered as the
Trans-Caspian District by corrupt and malfeasant military officers and
officials appointed by the Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan.
In the 1880s, a railroad line was built from Krasnovodsk to Ashgabat and
later extended to Tashkent. Urban areas began to develop along the
railway. Although the Trans-Caspian region essentially was a colony of
Russia, it remained a backwater, except for Russian concerns with
British colonialist intentions in the region and with possible uprisings
by the Turkmen.
Turkmenistan - Soviet Turkmenistan
Because the Turkmen generally were indifferent to the advent of
Soviet rule in 1917, little revolutionary activity occurred in the
region in the years that followed. However, the years immediately
preceding the revolution had been marked by sporadic Turkmen uprisings
against Russian rule, most prominently the anti-tsarist revolt of 1916
that swept through the whole of Turkestan. Their armed resistance to
Soviet rule was part of the larger Basmachi Rebellion throughout Central
Asia from the 1920s into the early 1930s. Although Soviet sources
describe this struggle as a minor chapter in the republic's history, it
is clear that opposition was fierce and resulted in the death of large
numbers of Turkmen.
In October 1924, when Central Asia was divided into distinct
political entities, the Trans-Caspian District and Turkmen Oblast of the
Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic became the Turkmen Soviet
Socialist Republic. During the forced collectivization and other extreme
socioeconomic changes of the first decades of Soviet rule, pastoral
nomadism ceased to be an economic alternative in Turkmenistan, and by
the late 1930s the majority of Turkmen had become sedentary. Efforts by
the Soviet state to undermine the traditional Turkmen way of life
resulted in significant changes in familial and political relationships,
religious and cultural observances, and intellectual developments.
Significant numbers of Russians and other Slavs, as well as groups from
various nationalities mainly from the Caucasus, migrated to urban areas.
Modest industrial capabilities were developed, and limited exploitation
of Turkmenistan's natural resources was initiated.
Turkmenistan - Sovereignty and Independence
Beginning in the 1930s, Moscow kept the republic under firm control.
The nationalities policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
(CPSU) fostered the development of a Turkmen political elite and
promoted Russification. Slavs, both in Moscow and Turkmenistan, closely
supervised the national cadre of government officials and bureaucrats;
generally, the Turkmen leadership staunchly supported Soviet policies.
Moscow initiated nearly all political activity in the republic, and,
except for a corruption scandal in the mid-1980s, Turkmenistan remained
a quiet Soviet republic. Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policies of glasnost
and perestroika (see Glossary) did not have a significant
impact on Turkmenistan. The republic found itself rather unprepared for
the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the independence that followed
When other constituent republics of the Soviet Union advanced claims
to sovereignty in 1988 and 1989, Turkmenistan's leadership also began to
criticize Moscow's economic and political policies as exploitative and
detrimental to the well-being and pride of the Turkmen. By a unanimous
vote of its Supreme Soviet, Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in
August 1990. After the August 1991 coup attempt against the Gorbachev
regime in Moscow, Turkmenistan's communist leader Saparmyrat Niyazov
called for a popular referendum on independence. The official result of
the referendum was 94 percent in favor of independence. The republic's
Supreme Soviet had little choice other than to declare Turkmenistan's
independence from the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Republic
of Turkmenistan on October 27, 1991.
Turkmenistan - Geography
Turkmenistan is the southernmost republic of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS), the loose federation created at the end of
1991 by most of the post-Soviet states. Its longest border is with the
Caspian Sea (1,786 kilometers). The other borders are with Iran (to the
south, 992 kilometers), Afghanistan (to the south, 744 kilometers),
Uzbekistan (to the north and east, 1,621 kilometers) and Kazakstan (to
the north, 379 kilometers). Turkmenistan is slightly larger than
California in territory, occupying 488,100 square kilometers. That
statistic ranks Turkmenistan fourth among the former Soviet republics.
The country's greatest extent from west to east is 1,100 kilometers, and
its greatest north-to-south distance is 650 kilometers.
Turkmenistan's average elevation is 100 to 220 meters above sea
level, with its highest point being Mount Ayrybaba (3,137 meters) in the
Kugitang Range of the Pamir-Alay chain in the far east, and its lowest
point in the Transcaspian Depression (100 kilometers below sea level).
Nearly 80 percent of the republic lies within the Turon Depression,
which slopes from south to north and from east to west.
Turkmenistan's mountains include 600 kilometers of the northern
reaches of the Kopetdag Range, which it shares with Iran. The Kopetdag
Range is a region characterized by foothills, dry and sandy slopes,
mountain plateaus, and steep ravines; Mount Shahshah (2,912 meters),
southwest of Ashgabat, is the highest elevation of the range in
Turkmenistan. The Kopetdag is undergoing tectonic transformation,
meaning that the region is threatened by earthquakes such as the one
that destroyed Ashgabat in 1948 and registered nine on the Richter
Scale. The Krasnovodsk and Üstirt plateaus are the prominent
topographical features of northwestern Turkmenistan.
A dominant feature of the republic's landscape is the Garagum Desert,
which occupies about 350,000 square kilometers (see Environmental
Issues, this ch.). Shifting winds create desert mountains that range
from two to twenty meters in height and may be several kilometers in
length. Chains of such structures are common, as are steep elevations
and smooth, concrete-like clay deposits formed by the rapid evaporation
of flood waters in the same area for a number of years. Large marshy
salt flats, formed by capillary action in the soil, exist in many
depressions, including the Kara Shor, which occupies 1,500 square
kilometers in the northwest. The Sundukly Desert west of the Amu Darya
is the southernmost extremity of the Qizilqum (Russian spelling Kyzyl
Kum) Desert, most of which lies in Uzbekistan to the northeast.
Turkmenistan - Climate
Turkmenistan has a subtropical desert climate that is severely
continental. Summers are long (from May through September), hot, and
dry, while winters generally are mild and dry, although occasionally
cold and damp in the north. Most precipitation falls between January and
May; precipitation is slight throughout the country, with annual
averages ranging from 300 millimeters in the Kopetdag to eighty
millimeters in the northwest. The capital, Ashgabat, close to the
Iranian border in south-central Turkmenistan, averages 225 millimeters
of rainfall annually. Average annual temperatures range from highs of
16.8°C in Ashgabat to lows of -5.5°C in Dashhowuz, on the Uzbek border
in north-central Turkmenistan. The almost constant winds are northerly,
northeasterly, or westerly.
Turkmenistan - Rivers
Almost 80 percent of the territory of Turkmenistan lacks a constant
source of surface water flow. Its main rivers are located only in the
southern and eastern peripheries; a few smaller rivers on the northern
slopes of the Kopetdag are diverted entirely to irrigation. The most
important river is the Amu Darya, which has a total length of 2,540
kilometers from its farthest tributary, making it the longest river in
Central Asia. The Amu Darya flows across northeastern Turkmenistan,
thence eastward to form the southern borders of Uzbekistan and
Tajikistan. Damming and irrigation uses of the Amu Darya have had severe
environmental effects on the Aral Sea, into which the river flows (see
Environmental Issues, this ch.). The river's average annual flow is
1,940 cubic meters per second. Other major rivers are the Tejen (1,124
kilometers); the Murgap (852 kilometers); and the Atrek (660
Turkmenistan - Environment
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental regulation is
largely unchanged in Turkmenistan. The new government created the
Ministry of Natural Resources Use and Environmental Protection in July
1992, with departments responsible for environmental protection,
protection of flora and fauna, forestry, hydrometeorology, and
administrative planning. Like other CIS republics, Turkmenistan has
established an Environmental Fund based on revenues collected from
environmental fines, but the fines generally are too low to accumulate
significant revenue. Thanks to the former Soviet system of game
preserves and the efforts of the Society for Nature Conservation and the
Academy of Sciences, flora and fauna receive some protection in the
republic; however, "hard-currency hunts" by wealthy Western
and Arab businesspeople already are depleting animals on preserves.
According to estimates, as a result of desertification processes and
pollution, biological productivity of the ecological systems in
Turkmenistan has declined by 30 to 50 percent in recent decades. The
Garagum and Qizilqum deserts are expanding at a rate surpassed on a
planetary scale only by the desertification process in the Sahara and
Sahel regions of Africa. Between 800,000 and 1,000,000 hectares of new
desert now appears per year in Central Asia.
The most irreparable type of desertification is the salinization
process that forms marshy salt flats. A major factor that contributes to
these conditions is inefficient use of water because of weak regulation
and failure to charge for water that is used. Efficiency in application
of water to the fields is low, but the main problem is leakage in main
and secondary canals, especially Turkmenistan's main canal, the Garagum
Canal. Nearly half of the canal's water seeps out into lakes and salt
swamps along its path. Excessive irrigation brings salts to the surface,
forming salt marshes that dry into unusable clay flats. In 1989
Turkmenistan's Institute for Desert Studies claimed that the area of
such flats had reached one million hectares.
The type of desertification caused by year-round pasturing of cattle
has been termed the most devastating in Central Asia, with the gravest
situations in Turkmenistan and the Kazak steppe along the eastern and
northern coasts of the Caspian Sea. Wind erosion and desertification
also are severe in settled areas along the Garagum Canal; planted
windbreaks have died because of soil waterlogging and/or salinization.
Other factors promoting desertification are the inadequacy of the
collector-drainage system built in the 1950s and inappropriate
application of chemicals.
The Aral Sea
Turkmenistan both contributes to and suffers from the consequences of
the desiccation of the Aral Sea. Because of excessive irrigation,
Turkmen agriculture contributes to the steady drawdown of sea levels. In
turn, the Aral Sea's desiccation, which had shrunk that body of water by
an estimated 59,000 square kilometers by 1994, profoundly affects
economic productivity and the health of the population of the republic.
Besides the cost of ameliorating damaged areas and the loss of at least
part of the initial investment in them, salinization and chemicalization
of land have reduced agricultural productivity in Central Asia by an
estimated 20 to 25 percent. Poor drinking water is the main health risk
posed by such environmental degradation. In Dashhowuz Province, which
has suffered the greatest ecological damage from the Aral Sea's
desiccation, bacteria levels in drinking water exceeded ten times the
sanitary level; 70 percent of the population has experienced illnesses,
many with hepatitis, and infant mortality is high (see table 5,
Appendix; Health Conditions, this ch.). Experts have warned that
inhabitants will have to evacuate the province by the end of the century
unless a comprehensive cleanup program is undertaken. Turkmenistan has
announced plans to clean up some of the Aral Sea fallout with financial
support from the World Bank (see Glossary).
The most productive cotton lands in Turkmenistan (the middle and
lower Amu Darya and the Murgap oasis) receive as much as 250 kilograms
of fertilizer per hectare, compared with the average application of
thirty kilograms per hectare. Furthermore, most fertilizers are so
poorly applied that experts have estimated that only 15 to 40 percent of
the chemicals can be absorbed by cotton plants, while the remainder
washes into the soil and subsequently into the groundwater. Cotton also
uses far more pesticides and defoliants than other crops, and
application of these chemicals often is mishandled by farmers. For
example, local herdsmen, unaware of the danger of DDT, have reportedly
mixed the pesticide with water and applied it to their faces to keep
away mosquitoes. In the late 1980s, a drive began in Central Asia to
reduce agrochemical usage. In Turkmenistan the campaign reduced
fertilizer use 30 percent between 1988 and 1989. In the early 1990s, use
of some pesticides and defoliants declined drastically because of the
country's shortage of hard currency.
Turkmenistan - Society
Fundamental social institutions generally remained unchanged by the
presence of Marxist dogma for over seventy years, although the presence
of large numbers of Russians changed the distribution of the classes and
the cultural loyalties of the intelligentsia. With some weakening in
urban areas in the twentieth century, kinship and tribal affiliation
retain a strong influence over the structure of Turkmen society.
Today's Turkmen have fully embraced the concepts of national unity
and a strong national consciousness, which had been elusive through most
of their history. The Turkmen have begun to reassess their history and
culture, as well as the effects of Soviet rule. Some of the more notable
changes since independence have been a shift from open hostility to
cautious official sanctioning of Islam, the declaration of Turkmen as
the state language, and the state's promotion of national and religious
customs and holidays. For example, the vernal equinox, known as Novruz
("New Year's Day"), is now celebrated officially country-wide.
Interest and pride in national traditions were demonstrated openly
prior to independence, particularly following the introduction of glasnost'
by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1985. Since
independence, the government has played a less restrictive and at times
actively supportive role in the promotion of national traditions. For
example, in a move to replace the Soviet version of Turkmen history with
one more in harmony with both traditional and current values, President
Niyazov formed a state commission to write the "true history of
The Soviet period dampened but did not suppress the expression of
prominent Turkmen cultural traditions. Turkmen carpets continue to
receive praise and special attention from Western enthusiasts. The high
sheepskin hats worn by men, as well as distinctive fabrics and jewelry,
also are age-old trademarks of Turkmen material culture. The Ahal-Teke
breed of horse, world-renowned for its beauty and swiftness, is
particular to the Turkmen. Aside from a rich musical heritage, the
Turkmen continue to value oral literature, including such epic tales as Korkut
Ata and Gurogly .
Increased national awareness is reflected in modifications of the
school curriculum as well. Among new courses of instruction is a class
on edep , or proper social behavior and moral conduct according
to traditional Turkmen and Islamic values. Officially sanctioned efforts
also have been made to contact members of the Turkmen population living
outside of Turkmenistan, and several international Turkmen organizations
have been established.
<"12.htm">The Spoken Language
<"13.htm">The Written Language
Turkmenistan - Social Structure
Although it is not a basis for political groupings, the rather vague
phenomenon of tribal identity is a complex social phenomenon that
retains important influence at the end of the twentieth century. The
Soviet era added an element of cohesion to a previously loose and
unassertive set of social loyalties among Turkmen.
Turkmen society recognizes a class structure, ideologically based on
Marxist doctrine, composed of intelligentsia, workers, and peasants. In
practical terms, the intelligentsia and peasantry consist of Turkmen,
while the worker class is the domain of Russians. Power and some wealth
are associated with the Western-oriented intelligentsia, who hold the
key positions in government, industry, and education. Most
intelligentsia are educated in Russian language schools, often complete
higher educational institutions in Russia, speak Russian as their
language of choice, and are concentrated in urban centers, especially in
Although many members of the intelligentsia favor cultural revival,
more support restricting nationalist manifestations and the role of
Islam in society. Many who are atheists and have identified with Soviet
ideals harbor anxieties that distance from traditional values and
especially from the Turkmen language will limit their career potential
in the post-Soviet era.
Before the Soviet period, the Turkmen were organized into a
segmentary system of territorial groups that Western scholars loosely
designate as tribes. These groupings featured little sharp social
stratification within or strong unity among them. Tribal structure
always has been complex, and the Turkmen-language terminology used to
designate lineage affiliation sometimes is confusing. Generally, the
largest groupings, which may be equivalent to what Western scholarship
labels "tribes," are called khalk , il , or taipa
in Turkmen. Smaller lineage groups are equivalent to Western terms like
"clans," "subtribes," or "branches." The
smallest affiliations are equivalent to subclans or lineages in Western
In the past, Turkmen tribes remained relatively isolated and
politically independent from one another. All tribes possessed specific
distinguishing features. Their dialects differed greatly, and in terms
of material culture each large tribe had a unique carpet pattern,
clothing, headgear, and brand of identification.
Although Soviet nationality policy was somewhat successful in
diluting tribal consciousness, tribal identity remains a factor in
present-day social relations. Except in such urban areas as Chärjew and
Ashgabat, virtually all Turkmen have a knowledge of their parents' and
consequently their own tribal affiliation. A Turkmen's tribal
affiliation still is a reliable indicator of his or her birthplace, for
example. Lineage still may play a role in the arranging of marriages in
rural areas. In Soviet Turkmenistan, the membership of collective and
state farms often was formed according to clan and tribal affiliation.
Although kinship undoubtedly retains significance in contemporary
Turkmen society, attempts to use tribal affiliation as the determining
factor in such realms as current politics usually are not instructive.
Until the Soviet period, the Turkmen lacked paramount leaders and
political unity. The Turkmen rarely allied to campaign against sedentary
neighbors, nor did they form a unified front against the Russian
conquest. Unlike other Central Asian peoples, the Turkmen recognized no
charismatic bloodline. Leaders were elected according to consensus, and
their authority was based on conduct. Raids and other military pursuits
could be organized by almost any male, but the power he exercised lasted
only as long as the undertaking. Turkmen tribal structure did include a
leader or chief (beg ), but these positions, too, were mostly
honorary and advisory, based on kinship ties and perceived wisdom. Real
power was located among the community's older members, whose advice and
consent usually were required prior to any significant endeavor.
Although women rarely assumed prominent political rank and power, there
were instances of influential female leaders in the nineteenth century.
Prior to Soviet rule, the extended family was the basic and most
important social and economic unit among the Turkmen. Grouped according
to clan, small bands of Turkmen families lived as nomads in their
traditional regions and consolidated only in time of war or celebration.
In most cases, the families were entirely self-sufficient, subsisting on
their livestock and at times on modest agricultural production. For some
groups, raiding sedentary populations, especially the Iranians to the
south, was an important economic activity.
Although Soviet power brought about fundamental changes in the
Turkmen family structure, many traditional aspects remain. Families
continue to be close-knit and often raise more than five children.
Although no longer nomadic, families in rural areas still are grouped
according to clan or tribe, and it is the rule rather than the exception
for the inhabitants of a village to be of one lineage. Here, also, it is
common for sons to remain with their parents after marriage and to live
in an extended one-story clay structure with a courtyard and an
agricultural plot. In both rural and urban areas, respect for elders is
great. Whereas homes for the elderly do exist in Turkmenistan, Turkmen
are conspicuously absent from them; it is almost unheard of for a
Turkmen to commit his or her parent to such an institution because
grandparents are considered integral family members and sources of
wisdom and spirituality.
The marriage celebration, together with other life-cycle events,
possesses great importance in Turkmen society. In rural areas
especially, marriages are often arranged by special matchmakers (sawcholar
). Aside from finding the right match in terms of social status,
education, and other qualities, the matchmakers invariably must find
couples of the same clan and locale. Most couples have known each other
beforehand and freely consent to the marriage arrangement. Divorce among
Turkmen is relatively rare. One important custom still practiced in
Turkmenistan is the brideprice (kalong ). Depending on region
and a family's wealth, the bride's family may demand huge sums of money
from the groom in return for the bride's hand in marriage.
The role of women in Turkmen society has never conformed to Western
stereotypes about "Muslim women." Although a division of labor
has existed and women usually were not visible actors in political
affairs outside the home, Turkmen women never wore the veil or practiced
strict seclusion. They generally possessed a host of highly specialized
skills and crafts, especially those connected with the household and its
maintenance. During the Soviet period, women assumed responsibility for
the observance of some Muslim rites to protect their husbands' careers.
Many women entered the work force out of economic necessity, a factor
that disrupted some traditional family practices and increased the
incidence of divorce. At the same time, educated urban women entered
professional services and careers.
Turkmenistan - The Spoken Language
Turkmen belongs to the family of Turkic languages spoken in Eastern
Europe (Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash), the Caucasus (Azeri, Kumik), Siberia
(Yakut, Tuva, Khakas), China (Uygur, Kazak), Central Asia (Kazak,
Kyrgyz, Uzbek), and the Near East (Turkish, Azeri). Its closest
relatives are the languages of the Turks in northeastern Iran and the
Khorazm Province of south central Uzbekistan (Khorasani), Azerbaijan
(Azeri), and Turkey (Turkish), all of which belong to the Oghuz group of
this language family.
In 1989 some 2,537,000 speakers of Turkmen lived in Turkmenistan,
with 121,578 in Uzbekistan (the vast majority in the Khorazm region on
Turkmenistan's north central border), 39,739 in the Russian Federation
(including 12,000 in the Stavropol' region along Russia's southwestern
border), 20,487 in Tajikistan, and 3,846 in Kazakstan. A high degree of
language loyalty was reflected in the fact that some 99.4 percent of
Turkmen in the republic claimed Turkmen as their native language in the
1989 census. At the same time, 28 percent claimed Russian as their
second language--a figure that remained constant between the 1979 and
1989 censuses. More than half of the second category were part of the
urban population. Only 3 percent of Russians in the republic spoke
The total number of Turkmen speakers in Europe and Asia has been
estimated at between 4 and 4.8 million. These figures include the
2,517,000 Turkmen in the republic, 185,000 Turkmen in other Central
Asian states and Russia, an estimated 700,000 Turkmen in Afghanistan,
and 850,000 Turkmen in Iran who speak a closely related but distinct
language called Khorasanli.
Turkmenistan - The Written Language
Beginning in the eighteenth century, Turkmen poets and chroniclers
used the classical Chaghatai language, which was written in Arabic
script and reflected only occasional Turkmen linguistic features. Famous
poets who wrote in this language include Mammetveli Kemine (1770-1840),
Mollanepes (1810-62), and the most honored literary figure, Magtymguly
(1733?-90?), whose legacy helped mold Turkmen national consciousness. In
the years 1913-17, periodicals were published in Chaghatai. Two reforms
of this script undertaken in 1922 and 1925 were designed to reflect
features of the spoken Turkmen language. From 1928 to 1940, early Soviet
Turkmen literature was written in a Latin alphabet that accurately
reflected most of its features. Since 1940, standard Turkmen has been
written in the Cyrillic script.
In the mid-1990s, language policy in independent Turkmenistan has
been marked by a determination to establish Turkmen as the official
language and to remove the heritage of the Russian-dominated past. The
1992 constitution proclaims Turkmen the "official language of
inter-ethnic communication." In 1993 English was moved ahead of
Russian as the "second state language," although in practical
terms Russian remains a key language in government and other spheres.
That same year, President Niyazov issued a decree on the replacement of
the Cyrillic-based alphabet with a Latin-based script that would become
the "state script" by 1996. Some publications and signs
already appear in this Latin script, but its full implementation will
not occur until after the year 2000. The new alphabet has several unique
letters that distinguish it from those of Turkey's Latin alphabet and
the newly adopted Latin scripts of other republics whose dominant
language is Turkic.
Other steps were taken to erase the Russian linguistic overlay in the
republic. A resolution was adopted in May 1992 to change geographic
names and administrative terms from Russian to Turkmen. As a result, the
names of many streets, institutions, collective farms, and buildings
have been renamed for Turkmen heroes and cultural phenomena, and the
terminology for all governmental positions and jurisdictions has been
changed from Russian to Turkmen.
Turkmenistan - Population
Turkmenistan's population is rather stable, with distribution between
urban and rural areas and migration trends showing minor changes between
censuses (see table 3, Appendix). The annual population growth rate,
however, is rather high, and population density has increased
significantly in the last forty years.
Size and Distribution
In 1993 Turkmenistan had a population of 4,254,000 people, making it
the fifth most sparsely populated former Soviet republic. Of that
number, Turkmen comprised about 73 percent, Russians nearly 10 percent,
Uzbeks 9 percent, Kazaks 2 percent, and other ethnic groups the
remaining 5 percent (see table 4, Appendix). According to the last
Soviet census (1989), the total Turkmen population in the Soviet Union
was 2,728,965. Of this number, 2,536,606 lived in Turkmenistan and the
remainder in the other republics. Outside of the CIS, approximately 1.6
million Turkmen live in Iran, Afghanistan, and China (see The Spoken
Language, this ch.).
Population density increased in the republic from one person per
square kilometer in 1957 to 9.2 persons per square kilometer in 1995.
Density varies drastically between desert areas and oases, where it
often exceeds 100 persons per square kilometer. Within Turkmenistan, the
population is 50.6 percent female and 49.4 percent male. In 1995 the
estimated annual growth rate was 2.0 percent, and the fertility rate was
3.7 births per woman (a decline of 1.5 births per woman since 1979) (see
table 2, Appendix). The population was demographically quite young, with
40 percent aged fourteen or younger and only four percent aged over
In 1989 about 45 percent of the population was classified as urban, a
drop of 3 percent since 1979. Prior to the arrival of Russians in the
late nineteenth century, Turkmenistan had very few urban areas, and many
of the large towns and cities that exist today were developed after the
1930s. Ashgabat, the capital and largest city in Turkmenistan, has a
population of about 420,000. The second-largest city, Chärjew on the
Amu Darya, has about 165,000 people. Other major cities are Turkmenbashy
on the Caspian seacoast, Mary in the southeast, and Dashhowuz in the
northeast. Because much of the Russian population only came to
Turkmenistan in the Soviet period, separate Russian quarters or
neighborhoods did not develop in Turkmenistan's cities as they did
elsewhere in Central Asia. This fact, combined with a relatively small
Slavic population, has led to integration of Turkmen and Slavs in
neighborhoods and housing projects.
Apart from the outflow of small numbers of Russians immediately
following Turkmenistan's independence, neither out-migration nor
in-migration is a significant factor for Turkmenistan's population. In
1992 there were 19,035 emigrants from Turkmenistan to the Russian
Federation and 7,069 immigrants to Turkmenistan.
Updated population figures for Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan - Religion
Traditionally, the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, like their kin in
Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, are Sunni Muslims (see Glossary).
Shia Muslims (see Glossary), the other main branch of Islam, are not
numerous in Turkmenistan, and the Shia religious practices of the
Azerbaijani and Kurdish (see Glossary) minorities are not politicized.
Although the great majority of Turkmen readily identify themselves as
Muslims and acknowledge Islam as an integral part of their cultural
heritage, many are non-believers and support a revival of the religion's
status only as an element of national revival. They do not attend mosque
services or demonstrate their adherence publicly, except through
participation in officially sanctioned national traditions associated
with Islam on a popular level, including life-cycle events such as
weddings, burials, and pilgrimages.
History and Structure
Islam came to the Turkmen primarily through the activities of Sufi
(see Glossary) shaykhs rather than through the mosque and the
"high" written tradition of sedentary culture. These shaykhs
were holy men critical in the process of reconciling Islamic beliefs
with pre-Islamic belief systems; they often were adopted as "patron
saints" 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.
Integrated within the Turkmen tribal structure is the
"holy" tribe called övlat . Ethnographers consider
the övlat, of which six are active, as a revitalized form of
the ancestor cult injected with Sufism. According to their genealogies,
each tribe descends from the Prophet Muhammad through one of the Four
Caliphs. Because of their belief in the sacred origin and spiritual
powers of the övlat representatives, Turkmen accord these
tribes a special, holy status. In the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, the övlat tribes became dispersed in small, compact
groups in Turkmenistan. They attended and conferred blessings on all
important communal and life-cycle events, and also acted as mediators
between clans and tribes. The institution of the övlat retains
some authority today. Many of the Turkmen who are revered for their
spiritual powers trace their lineage to an övlat, and it is
not uncommon, especially in rural areas, for such individuals to be
present at life-cycle and other communal celebrations.
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. An official Muslim
Board of Central Asia with a headquarters in Tashkent was established
during World War II to supervise Islam in Central Asia. For the most
part, the Muslim Board functioned as an instrument of propaganda whose
activities did little to enhance the Muslim cause. Atheist
indoctrination stifled religious development and contributed to the
isolation of the Turkmen from the international Muslim community. Some
religious customs, such as Muslim burial and male circumcision,
continued to be practiced throughout the Soviet period, but most
religious belief, knowledge, and customs were preserved only in rural
areas in "folk form" as a kind of unofficial Islam not
sanctioned by the state-run Spiritual Directorate.
Religion after Independence
The current government oversees official Islam through a structure
inherited from the Soviet period. Turkmenistan's Muslim Religious Board,
together with that of Uzbekistan, constitutes the Muslim Religious Board
of Mavarannahr. The Mavarannahr board is based in Tashkent and exerts
considerable influence in appointments of religious leaders in
Turkmenistan. The governing body of Islamic judges (Kaziat) is
registered with the Turkmenistan Ministry of Justice, and a council of
religious affairs under the Cabinet of Ministers monitors the activities
of clergy. Individuals who wish to become members of the official clergy
must attend official religious institutions; a few, however, may prove
their qualifications simply by taking an examination.
Since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural
heritage lost under Soviet rule. President Niyazov has 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 the schools and the mosques, with instruction
in Arabic language, the Koran (Quran) and the hadith, and the history of
Turkmenistan's government stresses its secular nature and its support
of freedom of religious belief, as embodied in the 1991 Law on Freedom
of Conscience and on Religious Organizations in the Turkmen Soviet
Socialist Republic and institutionalized in the 1992 constitution. That
document guarantees the separation of church and state; it also removes
any legal basis for Islam to play a role in political life by
prohibiting proselytizing, the dissemination of "unofficial"
religious literature, discrimination based on religion, and the
formation of religious political parties. In addition, the government
reserves the right to appoint and dismiss anyone who teaches religious
matters or who is a member of the clergy. Since independence, the
Islamic leadership in Turkmenistan has been more assertive, but in large
part it still responds to government control. The official governing
body of religious judges gave its official support to President Niyazov
in the June 1992 elections.
On the other hand, some Muslim leaders are opposed to the secular
concept of government and especially to a government controlled by
former communists (see Centers of Political Power, this ch.). Some
official leaders and teachers working outside the official structure
have vowed to increase the population's knowledge of Islam, increase
Islam's role in society, and broaden adherence to its tenets. Alarmed
that such activism may aggravate tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and
especially alienate Orthodox Slavs, the government has drawn up plans to
elevate the council of religious affairs to ministry status in an effort
to regulate religious activities more tightly.
Turkmenistan - Education
According to Soviet government statistics, literacy in Turkmenistan
was nearly universal in 1991. Experts considered the overall level of
education to be comparable to the average for the Soviet republics.
According to the 1989 census, 65.1 percent of the population aged
fifteen and older had completed secondary school, compared with 45.6
percent in 1979. In the same period, the percentage of citizens who had
completed a higher education rose from 6.4 percent to 8.3 percent.
Education is free of charge, although introduction of fees is being
considered by selected institutions. Formal schooling begins with
kindergarten (bagcha ) and primary school (mekdep ).
School attendance is compulsory through the eighth grade. At this point,
students are tested and directed into technical, continuing, and
discontinuing tracks. Some students graduate to the workforce after
completing the tenth grade, while others leave in the ninth grade to
enter a trade or technical school.
Although the education system in Turkmenistan retains the centralized
structural framework of the Soviet system, significant modifications are
underway, partly as a response to national redefinition, but mainly as a
result of the government's attempts to produce a highly skilled work
force to promote Turkmenistan's participation in international
commercial activities. Reforms also include cultural goals such as the
writing of a new history of Turkmenistan, the training of multilingual
cadres able to function in Turkmen, English, and Russian, and the
implementation of alphabet reform in schools.
Turkmenistan's educational establishment is funded and administered
by the state. The Ministry of Education is responsible for secondary
education and oversees about 1,800 schools offering some or all of the
secondary grades. Of that number, 43.5 percent are operated on one shift
and 56.5 percent on two shifts (primarily in cities). Secondary schools
have 66,192 teachers who serve 831,000 students. Thirty-six secondary
schools specialize in topics relevant to their ministerial affiliation.
The primary and secondary systems are being restructured according to
Western models, including shorter curricula, more vocational training,
and human resource development.
The curriculum followed by schools is standardized, allowing little
variation among the country's school districts. The prescribed
humanities curriculum for the ninth and tenth grades places the heaviest
emphasis on native language and literature, history, physics,
mathematics, Turkmen or Russian language, chemistry, foreign language,
world cultures, and physical education. A few elective subjects are
Although teaching continues to enjoy respect as a vocation,
Turkmenistan's school system suffers from a shortage of qualified
teachers. Many obstacles confront a teacher: heavy teaching loads and
long hours, including Saturdays and double shifts; wholly inadequate
textbooks and instructional materials; serious shortages of paper,
supplies, and equipment; low salaries; and, at times, even failure to be
paid. An estimated 13 percent of schools have such serious structural
defects in their physical plants that they are too dangerous to use for
Instruction in 77 percent of primary and general schools is in
Turkmen, although the 16 percent of schools that use Russian as their
primary language generally are regarded as providing a better education.
Some schools also instruct in the languages of the nation's Uzbek and
Kazak minorities. Especially since the adoption of Turkmen as the
"state language" and English as the "second state
language," the study of these two languages has gained importance
in the curriculum, and adults feel pressure to learn Turkmen in special
courses offered at schools or at their workplaces.
After completing secondary school, students may continue their
education at one of the dozens of specialized institutes or at
Turkmenistan State University in Ashgabat. Admittance into higher
education institutions often is extremely competitive, and personal
connections and bribes may play a role in gaining entry and later
advancement. Prospective students must pass a lengthy, pressure-packed
entrance examination. Like all the other tests and evaluations in the
educational system, this examination consists of both written and oral
Completion of a course of study in higher institutions may take up to
five years. Attempts are being made to decrease the number of years one
must study so that young women may finish their higher education by
their twentieth or twenty-first birthday, by which time they are
expected to be married. Graduate study is an option for outstanding
students at the university or in one of the Academy of Science's many
The recently formed Council of Higher Education supervises
Turkmenistan State University, the republic's eight institutes, and its
two pedagogical institutes; these institutes are located in Ashgabat,
with the exception of a pedagogical institute in Chärjew. These higher
education institutions served 41,700 students in 1991, of which 8,000
were enrolled in the state university. Some institutes that train
professionals for specific sectors of the national economy fall under
the aegis of the relevant ministries. An education committee also
functions under the president of the republic.
Turkmenistan - Health
As under the Soviet system, health care continues to be universally
available to all citizens without charge. The health care system that
Turkmenistan inherited from the Soviet regime is fraught with
deficiencies, however. On the whole, physicians are poorly trained,
modern medical technologies are almost unheard of, and many basic
medicines are in short supply. Although health care is available to most
urban residents, the system is financially bankrupt, and treatment is
often primitive. Only recently have some medical professionals been
allowed to offer private medical care, and the state maintains a near
monopoly of health care.
Structure of Health Care
Health and welfare institutions are administered by the ministries of
health, culture, education, and social welfare. Various coordination
committees also operate under the aegis of presidential advisers.
Between 1989 and 1992, health care as a share of the state budget
declined from 11.2 to 6.9 percent, leaving inadequate local budgets to
bear the brunt of expenditures. The comparison of health care statistics
before and after 1991 is somewhat misleading, however, because the
statistics do not account for changes in health budgeting at the end of
the communist era.
In 1989 the republic had about 13,000 doctors and 298 hospitals,
totaling more than 40,000 beds (111 per 10,000 persons). Some industrial
enterprises had separate clinics for their workers. The number of
doctors reached 13,800 or (36.2 per 10,000 persons) in 1991; at that
time, medical personnel numbered 40,600, or 106.9 per 10,000. Until the
early 1990s, all health personnel were government employees.
Health Care Conditions
Despite the nominally universal availability of free health care, in
the rural areas medical care often is deplorable by Western standards.
In both rural and urban areas, undertrained physicians and staff,
underequipped facilities, shortages of medicines and supplies, and
chronic sanitation problems contribute to the system's inadequacy. For
example, one study found that because 70 percent of the obstetricians
and gynecologists in Dashhowuz Province lacked adequate surgical
training, half of their patients died. A factor in the high mortality
rate is the provision of piped-in water to only 15 percent of maternity
clinics in the republic. Because of the disruption of trade at the end
of the Soviet period, pharmaceuticals must be obtained with hard
currency, making them even more scarce than before. Of particular
concern are shortages of oral rehydration salts for children, syringes
and needles, and vaccines, which previously had been imported from
Russia and Finland. According to experts, current conditions of
conventional medical care may prompt many Turkmen to turn once again to
"traditional" medicine. Healers employing herbs and prayer are
common, and in some rural areas this type of treatment may be the only
medical attention that is available.
According to health statistics, life expectancy in Turkmenistan (62.9
for males, 69.7 for females) is the lowest in the CIS. The relatively
high rate of natural population growth (2.0 percent per year), is based
on a birth rate of 29.9 per 1,000 persons and a death rate of 7.3 per
1,000 persons. In 1992 cardiovascular disease was the most common cause
of death, followed by cancer, respiratory disease, and accidents (see
table 5, Appendix). Poor diet, polluted drinking water, and industrial
wastes and pesticides cause or exacerbate many medical problems, which
are especially acute in the northeastern areas of the country near the
Amu Darya and Aral Sea. Women in their child-bearing years and children
appear to be in the poorest health and the most susceptible to disease
and sickness. Of CIS countries, in 1991 Turkmenistan ranked first in
infant mortality rate, with forty-seven deaths per 1,000 live births,
and very high on maternal death rate, with fifty-five deaths per 100,000
births. Some specialists attribute high infant mortality to factors of
diet and health care while others relate it to poor hygienic practices
and lack of family planning.
Turkmenistan - Welfare
Under the conditions of independence in the early 1990s, the standard
of living in Turkmenistan did not drop as dramatically as it did in
other former Soviet republics. Thus, the relatively small population of
the nation of Turkmenistan did not require extensive state investment
for the basic requirements of survival as the nation attempted the
transition to a market economy.
Although living standards have not declined as sharply in
Turkmenistan as in many other former Soviet republics, they have dropped
in absolute terms for most citizens since 1991. Availability of food and
consumer goods also has declined at the same time that prices have
generally risen. The difference between living conditions and standards
in the city and the village is immense. Aside from material differences
such as the prevalence of paved streets, electricity, plumbing, and
natural gas in the cities, there are also many disparities in terms of
culture and way of life. Thanks to the rebirth of national culture,
however, the village has assumed a more prominent role in society as a
valuable repository of Turkmen language and traditional culture.
Most families in Turkmenistan derive the bulk of their income from
state employment of some sort. As they were under the Soviet system,
wage differences among various types of employment are relatively small.
Industry, construction, transportation, and science have offered the
highest wages; health, education, and services, the lowest. Since 1990
direct employment in government administration has offered relatively
high wages. Agricultural workers, especially those on collective farms,
earn very low salaries, and the standard of living in rural areas is far
below that in Turkmen cities, contributing to a widening cultural
difference between the two segments of the population.
In 1990 nearly half the population earned wages below the official
poverty line, which was 100 rubles per month at that time (for value of
the ruble--see Glossary). Only 3.4 percent of the population received
more than 300 rubles per month in 1990. In the three years after the
onset of inflation in 1991, real wages dropped by 47.6 percent, meaning
a decline in the standard of living for most citizens (see Labor, this
Prices of all commodities rose sharply in 1991 when the Soviet Union
removed the pervasive state controls that had limited inflation in the
1980s. Retail prices rose by an average of 90 percent in 1991, and then
they rose by more than 800 percent when the new national government
freed most prices completely in 1992. The average rate for the first
nine months of 1994 was 605 percent. As world market prices rise and
currency fluctuations affect prices and purchasing power, consumer price
increases continue to outstrip rises in per capita incomes. In 1989 the
average worker spent about two-thirds of his or her salary on food,
fuel, clothing, and durable goods, but that ratio increased sharply in
the years that followed. As prices rose, the supply of almost all food
and many consumer goods was curtailed. The introduction of the manat
(see Glossary) as the national currency in November 1993 likely worsened
the already deteriorating consumer purchasing power. The prices of forty
basic commodities immediately rose 900 percent, and wages were raised
only 200 percent to compensate.
In 1989 the state owned more than 70 percent of urban housing and
about 10 percent of rural housing. The remainder of urban housing was
owned privately or by housing cooperatives. The average citizen had 11.2
square meters of housing space in urban areas, 10.5 square meters in
rural areas. In 1989 some 31 percent of housing (urban and rural areas
combined) had running water, 27 percent had central heating, and 20
percent had a sewer line.
In 1991 nearly all families had television sets, refrigerators, and
sewing machines, and 84 percent had washing machines. Only 26 percent
owned cars, however, and the quality of durable goods was quite low by
Government Welfare Programs
In 1992, President Niyazov announced "Ten Years of
Prosperity," a government program that provides virtually free
natural gas, electricity, and drinking water to all households in the
republic; increases minimum wages and other social payments, confirms
food subsidies and price liberalizations, and aims at giving families
their own house, car, and telephone. In 1993 two-thirds of the state
budgetary expenditures went toward such "social needs," and
half of that amount for the subsidization of food prices. Social
programs also accounted for 60 percent of the 1995 budget.
The pension system has two main types of expenditures: retirement and
disability payments and children's payments. Employees pay 1 percent of
their wages to their pension fund, and the employer's share totals 80.5
percent of the total payroll contribution. In industries, the payroll
contribution is 37 percent of the total pension fund; in agricultural
enterprises, it is 26 percent. Because pension fund expenditures always
exceed their receipts at this ratio of contribution, additional funds
are allotted from the state budget. The normal retirement age is sixty
for men and fifty-five for women, but the age is five or ten years less
for occupations classified as hazardous. In the early 1990s, the number
of pensioners grew at a rate of 17,000 per year; in 1993 some 404,000
individuals were in this category.
In December 1994, President Niyazov issued an edict setting the
minimum wage at 1,000 manat per month and the minimum old-age pension at
up to 1,000 manat per month. Pensions set at 60 percent of wages will be
given to men retiring at the age of sixty and women at the age of
fifty-five if they have worked for twenty-five and twenty years,
respectively. In 1995 pensions for invalids and war veterans were set at
3,000 manat per month. Pensions are indexed to increases in minimum
wages and are funded by payroll taxes. Allowances are granted to
households with children under age sixteen. Payments depend on the age
of the children and the economic and marital status of their parents. In
1993 such payments ranged from 110 rubles to 270 rubles per month. That
year payments were made for about 1.75 million children. Funding is from
the general budget for children age six and older and from the pension
fund for those younger than six.
Turkmenistan - The Economy
Turkmenistan's economy is predominantly agricultural. Agriculture
accounts for almost half of the gross domestic product (GDP) and more
than two-fifths of total employment, whereas industry accounts for about
one-fifth of GDP and slightly more than one-tenth of total employment.
In 1988 the per capita net material product (NMP) output was 61 percent
of the Soviet average, fourth lowest of the Soviet republics. In 1991,
17.2 percent of the work force was engaged in private-sector occupations
such as farming, individual endeavors, and employment on agreement; 0.7
percent worked in rented enterprises, and the rest worked for state
enterprises, social organizations, and collective farms.
Macroeconomic indicators of the performance of Turkmenistan's
national economy have differed widely in the late Soviet and early
independence years, making precise assessment difficult. According to
one source, the per capita GDP was US$2,509 in 1992, placing it higher
than Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but lower than Kazakstan and much lower
than some of the other former Soviet republics. Another source lists a
17 percent increase in industrial output between 1991 and 1992. On the
other hand, several sources agree that the NMP aggregate figure for 1992
was a 15 percent decline from the previous year. One source claims that
GDP in Turkmenistan increased by 8.5 percent in 1993, while another
regards as suspect the statistical methods applied to the data on which
this figure is based.
Turkmenistan - Natural Resources
Turkmenistan has substantial reserves of oil and gas, and geologists
have estimated that 99.5 percent of its territory is conducive to
prospecting. The republic also has deposits of sulfur, hydrocarbons,
iodine, celestine, potassium salt, magnesium salt, sodium chloride,
bentonite clays, limestone, gypsum, brown coal, cement, basalt, and
dolomite. Its soils, which have been formed under conditions of
continental climate, are mostly desert sands, with a variety of other
types such as desert loess, meadow clays, and "irrigated"
soils, in some regions. Under those conditions, large-scale agriculture
must be supported by irrigation in nearly all areas.
Turkmenistan - Agriculture
Turkmenistan inherited the system of state and collective farms from
the Soviet Union, with its command structure of production quotas, fixed
procurement prices, and soft budget constraints. The state still
controls marketing and distribution of agricultural produce through the
Ministry of Trade in urban areas and the Cooperative Alliance in rural
locales; the Ministry of Agriculture's Commercial Center has a monopoly
on cotton exports. Turkmenistan is highly dependent upon external
sources for its agricultural inputs, the price of which has escalated
more that those for agricultural products since independence.
Structure of the Agriculture Sector
Instead of restructuring the agricultural economy, the government's
"New Countryside" policy envisions only limited privatization
of agricultural enterprises and expansion of grain production to reduce
dependence on imports. The development of transportation is critical to
agricultural reform in Turkmenistan.
In 1991 field and orchard crops accounted for 70.4 percent of the
value of agricultural sales prices (computed in 1983 prices), while
livestock raising accounted for the remaining 29.6 percent (see table
18, Appendix). Almost half the cultivated land was under cotton, and 45
percent of the land under grains and fodder crops. Livestock raising
centered on sheep, especially for the production of Karakul wool.
Whereas production of meat and milk rose substantially in the 1986-91
period (increases of 14,000 and 110,000 tons, respectively), actual
production in 1991 of 100,000 tons of meat and 458,000 tons of milk
represented a decrease from 1990. Production of meat in 1992 declined 21
percent from that of 1991. Fishing, bee-keeping, and silk-rendering
occupy small areas of the agricultural sector.
Under the prevailing climatic conditions, irrigation is a necessary
input for agriculture and has been developed extensively throughout
Turkmenistan. Irrigation management is divided between the Ministry of
Irrigation, which is responsible for operation and maintenance along the
Garagum Canal and for interrepublic water management, and the Irrigation
Institute, which designs, evaluates, and builds new projects. State
farms and collective farms are responsible for operation and maintenance
on their own farms, but they have no other autonomy. Because only 55
percent of the water delivered to the fields actually reaches the crops,
an average of twelve cubic meters of water is expended annually per
hectare of cotton.
As a result of the construction of irrigation structures, and
especially of the Garagum Canal, the hydrological balance of the
republic has changed, with more water in the canals and adjacent areas
and less in the rivers and the Aral Sea. The largest of the republic's
eleven reservoirs are the Sary Yazy on the Murgap River, which occupies
forty-six square kilometers of surface and has a capacity of 239 million
cubic meters, and the Hawuz Khan on the Garagum Canal, which occupies
ninety square kilometers of surface and has a capacity of 460 million
In 1983 Turkmenistan had an irrigated area of 1,054,000 hectares. Its
most developed systems are along the middle and lower course of the Amu
Darya and in the Murgap Basin. The Garagum Canal, which flows 1,100
kilometers with a capacity of 500 cubic meters per second, accounts for
almost all irrigation in Ahal and Balkan provinces along the northern
reaches of the Kopetdag Range. The canal also supplies additional water
to the Murgap oasis in southeastern Turkmenistan. The main canal was
built in sections between 1959 and 1976, initially providing irrigation
for about 500,000 hectares. Plans call for construction to continue
until the canal reaches a length of 1,435 kilometers and a carrying
capacity of 1,000 cubic meters per second, enabling it to irrigate
At a rate of 300 kilograms per citizen, Turkmenistan produces more
cotton per capita than any other country in the world. Among the Soviet
republics, Turkmenistan was second only to Uzbekistan in cotton
production. In 1983 Turkmenistan contributed 12.7 percent of the cotton
produced in the Soviet Union. Four of the republic's five provinces are
considered to be "cotton provinces": Ahal, Mary, Chärjew, and
Dashhowuz. Convinced that cotton is its most marketable product, the
post-Soviet government is committed to maintaining previous levels of
cotton production and area under cultivation.
In accordance with the Soviet policy of delegating the Central Asian
republics as the nation's cotton belt, the area under cotton climbed
rapidly from 150,400 hectares in 1940 to 222,000 hectares in 1960,
508,000 hectares in 1980, and 602,000 hectares in 1991. Because
independence brought fuel and spare-parts shortages, the cotton harvest
declined in the first half of the 1990s, however.
Industrial inputs for cotton production such as harvesters, sowing
machines, mechanized irrigation equipment, fertilizer, pesticides, and
defoliants have become less available to cotton farms in Turkmenistan
because the other former Soviet republics, which were the chief
suppliers of such items, raised their prices sharply in the first years
For most Turkmen farmers, cotton is the most important source of
income, although cotton's potential contribution to the republic's
economy was not approached in the Soviet period. Experts predict that by
the year 2000, Turkmenistan will process one-third of its raw cotton
output in textile mills located within the republic, substantially
raising the rate achieved in the Soviet and early post-Soviet periods.
In 1993, the state's procurement prices were raised significantly for
high-grade raw seeded cotton. State planners envision selling 70 percent
of the crop to customers outside the CIS.
Since independence, Turkmenistan's agricultural policy has emphasized
grain production in order to increase self-sufficiency in the face of a
sharp decline in trade among the former Soviet republics. A 50 percent
increase in the grain harvest in 1992 was followed by a rise of 70
percent in 1993, despite unfavorable climatic conditions. Production of
vegetables declined in 1992 to 13 percent below the 1991 level, whereas
that of potatoes rose by 24 percent. High-quality melons are grown in
the lower and middle reaches of the Amu Darya and in the Tejen and
Murgap oases. In addition to these crops, subtropical fruits and nuts,
especially pomegranates, almonds, figs, and olives, are grown in the
Ertek and Sumbar valleys.
Turkmenistan - Industry
Turkmenistan possesses a formidable resource base for industry,
although that base was not utilized to build diversified industry in the
Soviet period. In the post-Soviet period, extraction and processing of
natural gas and oil remain the country's most important industrial
Structure of Industry
Turkmenistan did not inherit a substantial industrial base from the
Soviet Union. Beginning in the 1970s, Moscow made major investments only
in the oil and gas production and cotton-processing sectors. As a
result, industry is highly specialized and potentially vulnerable to
external shocks. Well-developed cotton ginning, natural gas, and
cottonseed oil dominate at the expense of other sectors, such as the
petrochemical and chemical industries, cotton textile production, food
processing, and labor-intensive assemblage, in which Turkmenistan has a
comparative advantage (see table 19, Appendix).
The shocks of independence slowed industrial production in the early
1990s. In the first half of 1994, macroeconomic fluctuations caused by
the introduction of the manat as the national currency and limitations
placed on gas exports caused aggregate industrial production to fall to
68.3 percent compared with the same period in 1993 (see Fiscal and
Monetary Conditions, this ch.). The price index for industrial producers
was 858 percent, indicating runaway inflation in this sector.
Gas and Oil
Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world to Russia, the United States,
and Canada in natural gas and oil extraction. The Turkmenistan Natural
Gas Company (Turkmengaz), under the auspices of the Ministry of Oil and
Gas, controls gas extraction in the republic. Gas production is the
youngest and 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 10.5. trillion cubic meters. The
Ministry of Oil and Gas oversees exploration of new deposits. Sites
under exploration are located in Mary Province, in western and northern
Turkmenistan, on the right bank of the Amu Darya, and offshore in the
In 1958 Turkmenistan produced only 800,000 cubic meters of natural
gas. With the discovery of large deposits of natural gas at Achak,
Qizilqum, Mary, and Shatlik, production grew to 1.265 billion cubic
meters by 1966, and since then the yield has grown dramatically. In 1992
gas production accounted for about 60 percent of GDP. As a result of a
dispute with Ukraine over payments for gas deliveries, in 1992 gas
production fell by 20 billion cubic meters to around 60 billion cubic
meters. In the first eight months of 1994, transportation restrictions
forced Turkmenistan to cut gas production to 26.6 billion cubic meters,
only 57 percent of the production for the same period in 1993. An
additional factor in this reduction was the failure of CIS partners, to
whom Russia distributes Turkmenistan's gas, to pay their bills.
Most of Turkmenistan's oil is extracted from fields at Koturdepe,
Nebitdag, 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 and
Nebitdag in the 1930s, then production leaped ahead with the discovery
of the Kumdag field in 1948 and the Koturdepe field in 1959. All the oil
produced in Turkmenistan is refined in Turkmenbashy.
Oil production reached peaks of 14,430,000 tons in 1970 and
15,725,000 tons in 1974, compared with 5,400,000 tons in 1991. Since the
years of peak production, general neglect of the oil industry in favor
of the gas industry has led to equipment depreciation, lack of well
repairs, and exhaustion of deposits for which platforms have been
Besides petrochemical processing at the Turkmenbashy and Chärjew
refineries, the chemicals industry is underdeveloped in comparison with
the potential provided by the republic's mineral and fuel resources. The
industry has specialized in fertilizer for cotton at the Chärjew
superphosphate plant and such chemicals as sulfur, iodine, ammonia,
mirabilite, salt, and various sulfates at the Turkmenbashy facility.
Because of the ready availability of natural gas, 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
Turkmenistan's machine building capability has not developed
significantly since the conversion of agricultural repair installations
for that purpose in Ashgabat and Mary in the late 1960s. Goods produced
at these plants include dough kneading and confectionery mixing
machines, ventilators, centrifugal oil pumps, gas stove pieces, cables,
and lighting equipment.
Construction has grown as a result of a shift in state investment
toward housing, education, and joint enterprises. Since 1989,
construction has accounted for around 10 percent of the GDP. Building
materials produced in the republic include lime, cement, brick and wall
stone, ferro-concrete structures, asbestos-concrete pipes, silicate
concrete, lime, brick, slate, and glass.
Most food processing consists of rendering cottonseed oil and such
related products as soap and grease from cotton plants. Because of the
distance between plants and farms and an inadequate transportation
infrastructure, only 8 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown in the
republic are processed. Other processing capabilities include
winemaking, brewing, baking, meat packing and processing, and production
of table salt.
Turkmenistan's carpets are famous for their density, which reaches
240,000 knots per square meter in some traditional weaves. The
Turkmenistan Carpet Production Association supervises ten carpet
factories, but home looms account for a substantial share of production.
Other traditional crafts include the fashioning of national clothing
such as wool caps and robes, galvanized dishes, and jewelry in forms
that state enterprises do not produce or supply. In the mid-1990s, other
light industries provided secondary processing of cotton, wool, and silk
for yarn, some finished textiles, and wadding.
Turkmenistan - Labor
The labor force comprised 1,923,000 people in 1991-92, of whom
1,571,000 (almost 46 percent of the population) were employed in the
national economy. Over half of this number worked in state
enterprises--a number that is expected to decline in general and to vary
radically from sector to sector during the transitional phases of
In 1990, 37 percent of the workforce was in agricultural and 15
percent in industrial employment; however, one-fourth of industrial
employment was in industries related to agriculture. Between 1970 and
1990, the percentage of the workforce employed in industry decreased
slightly from 23.4 to 20.0 percent. The share of the agricultural sector
within the workforce rose slightly in this period from 38.4 to 41.1
percent. In transportation and communications, the percentages were 7.0
and 6.3, respectively, while in the sectors of health, education, social
services, arts and sciences, they rose from 16.5 to 18.6 percent. The
state apparatus maintained a share ranging from 2.9 percent of the labor
force in 1970 to 2.5 in 1989.
In 1989, some 62.5 percent of all workers were employed at state
enterprises, 22.3 percent on collective farms, 1.1 percent in
cooperatives (up from 0 in 1986), 0.1 percent in individual labor (a
constant percentage since 1970), and 14.1 percent in private plots (up
from 8.5 percent in 1970, largely at the expense of the collective farm
Figures from 1989 for the distribution of the populace according to
source of sustenance show that of the entire population of Turkmenistan,
40.6 percent worked in the national economy, 1.9 percent held stipends,
10.9 percent were pensioners and others receiving state welfare, 46.5
percent were dependents and those employed only on individual
supplemental endeavors, and 0.1 percent had other unspecified means of
The percentage of women within the total work force of Turkmenistan
was 41.7 in 1989, reflecting a near constant since 1970 (39.5). The
percentage of women within the total number of specialists in the work
force who have completed middle and upper special education rose from
44.0 in 1970 to 49.4 in 1989. Workers under thirty years of age who have
completed a secondary general education accounted for 66.4 percent of
Turkmenistan's work force in 1989; those with middle specialized
education, 16.0 percent; those with an incomplete higher education, 1.6
percent; and those with a complete higher education, 8.7 percent.
The national minimum wage is a critical component of the macro-level
"price-wage feedback" in inflationary processes; this wage is
established by presidential decree. The basic wage structure is set by a
cross-classification of occupations and physical exertion levels, which
determines relative minimum wages for various sectors. After a
negotiating process, minimum wages can be set above the national minimum
in profitable sectors. Wages in agriculture and industry were similar
until 1991, when agricultural wages declined relative to average wage.
Plans call for the Ministry of Labor to be replaced by a State
Corporation for Specialist Training, with the bulk of the ministry's
nontraining functions to shift to the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and
Banking. Those functions include oversight of unemployment, salary
administration and minimum wage determination, and labor protection.
There is no independent labor union movement in Turkmenistan. Trade
union leaders are appointed by the president, meaning that no true
collective bargaining can occur.
Labor productivity is one of the major concerns of economic planners
in Turkmenistan. According to Soviet statistics, for industrial
enterprises this indicator grew at a rate of 6.3 percent per year in the
period 1971-5; then it declined drastically to 0.1 percent per year in
1976-80 before reaching 3.2 percent in 1989. Similar changes occurred in
agricultural labor productivity in the 1970s and the 1980s, moving from
2.6 percent growth in 1971-75 to negative 1.4 percent in 1976-80 and
then to 4.0 percent in 1989.
Turkmenistan - Economic Structure
Although Turkmenistan's economic situation has deteriorated somewhat
since 1990, the overall standard of living has not dropped as
dramatically as it has in other former Soviet republics. Economic
reforms have been modest, and the majority of businesses remain
state-owned. Thanks to government subsidies, basic food products
continue to be relatively affordable despite inflation. One of the most
important modifications in economic policy took effect in early 1993
when President Niyazov decreed that natural gas, water, and electricity
would be supplied virtually free of charge to all homes in Turkmenistan
for an indefinite period. Gasoline and other fuels also remain cheap,
relative to neighboring republics. Such economic stability has been
possible because Turkmenistan has a comparatively small population and
it is rich in important resources such as natural gas and oil.
The main blueprint for Turkmenistan's development is the Ten Years of
Prosperity program, which was announced in December 1992. It calls for a
ten-year transition to a market economy, with a first phase that
maintains the Soviet system of planned management accompanied by
extensive social protection programs. The program envisages development
of Turkmenistan's natural resources and restructuring of industry to
provide import substitution.
Turkmenistan - Privatization
One of the most important reforms of Turkmenistan's economic plan is
privatization. Article 9 of the 1992 constitution guarantees citizens
the right to own capital, land, and other material or intellectual
property, but no law has stipulated the source from which land could be
acquired. No fund of land available for private purchase has been
established. A law on land ownership allows every citizen the right to
own and bequeath to heirs plots smaller than fifty hectares, so long as
they are continuously cultivated, and to obtain a long-term lease on up
to 500 hectares. Such land may not be bought or sold, however. In 1993
only about 100 peasant farms were privately run, and they were leased
rather than owned. Nevertheless, after the government announced the 1993
law allowing fifty-hectare plots, it soon received more than 5,000
In February 1993, a State Committee on Land Reform was established,
with a goal of privatizing 10 to 15 percent of all agricultural land.
Beginning in May 1993, the state began leasing land on the condition
that 35 percent of the state procurement for cotton be surrendered, with
no monetary compensation, as payment of rent. Estimates of the irrigated
land since leased or under private ownership range from 3 to 12 percent.
The state also intends to privatize all unprofitable agricultural
The privatization process is managed by the Department of State
Property and Privatization, which is part of the Ministry of Economy,
Finance, and Banking. Short-term plans call for continued state control
of the gas, oil, railway, communications, and energy industries and
agriculture--sectors that combine to account for 80 percent of the
economy. Laws on leasing, joint-stock companies, and entrepreneurship
were adopted in the early 1990s. A general privatization law passed in
1992 describes the gradual denationalization of state property through a
variety of methods.
In 1992 only 2,600 small enterprises--mostly individual ventures such
as trading outlets and home-worker operations--were privately owned.
Through the end of 1993, only a few small trade and service enterprises
had moved to private ownership, mostly sold to foreign buyers. Plans
called for conversion of large manufacturing firms into joint-stock
enterprises by the end of 1994, and private ownership of all trade and
service-sector enterprises with fewer than 500 employees by the end of
1995. However, the state would maintain a "controlling
interest" in businesses that become joint stock companies and would
retain control over profitable larger concerns.
A second important component of Turkmenistan's economic development
plan is marketization. To promote this process, a decree was issued in
March 1993 for the formation of a joint-stock bank, the granting of
additional credits to the Agroindustrial Bank for the development of
entrepreneurship, and the establishment of seven free economic zones.
Agricultural entrepreneurs are to be granted special profits tax and
land payment exemptions. Within free economic zones, companies with more
than 30 percent foreign ownership are to receive special exemptions from
profit tax and rental payments.
Turkmenistan - Foreign Trade
In the early 1990s, Turkmenistan's foreign trade remained completely
under the control of the central government. During that period, the
most important trading partners remained the former republics of the
Soviet Union, with which the great majority of trade had been conducted
during the Soviet era. Natural gas is the most profitable item available
for foreign sale.
In controlling Turkmenistan's trade sector, the main goal of
government policy is to maintain and expand foreign markets for gas,
fuel products, electricity, and cotton. Just prior to independence,
trade with other Soviet republics accounted for 93 percent of
Turkmenistan's exports and 81 percent of its imports. In the mid-1990s,
the country's main trading partners (as they were in 1990) were Russia,
Kazakstan, and Uzbekistan in the CIS and Germany and countries in
Eastern Europe outside the CIS (see table 20, Appendix). In 1990 nearly
27 percent of exports were mineral products, 6 percent were chemical
industry products, 46 percent were some form of cotton fiber, and 17
percent were processed food products.
In 1991 the largest components of Turkmenistan's imports were food
(17 percent of the total), chemical products (6 percent), light industry
products including textiles (22 percent), and machinery (30 percent).
Among Western countries, Turkmenistan imported the most goods from
Finland, France, and Italy in 1992.
In 1990, the overall trade deficit was US$500 million, which declined
to $US300 million in 1991. In 1991 the trade deficit constituted some
13.9 percent of the net material product (NMP--see Glossary). In 1992
the deficit with Russia, Turkmenistan's main trading partner, was about
US$38 million. That year the value of exports to Russia was 52.7 percent
of the value of imports from Russia, the highest percentage among
Russia's CIS trading partners. However, because it exports fuel, in the
mid-1990s Turkmenistan maintained a positive trade balance at world
prices with the CIS as a whole, making it the only republic besides
Russia to do so.
In 1993 Turkmenistan's main CIS import partners were (in order of
import volume) Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Tajikistan.
The main CIS customers were (in order of export volume) Ukraine, Russia,
Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Georgia. In 1992 Turkmenistan had bilateral
trade surpluses with Ukraine, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia.
Russia continues to trade with Turkmenistan in much the same way as
in the Soviet era, although by 1992 trade with the other republics was
curtailed by difficulties in collecting payments and other factors.
Central Asian republics traditionally traded more with Russia than with
each other; the conditions of the 1990s promote even less regional trade
because several of the republics specialize in similar products. For
example, cotton and gas are the chief export products of both
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Because of its specialization in cotton and natural gas, Turkmenistan
imports a large percentage of the food it consumes. In 1991 the republic
imported 65 percent of its grain consumption, 45 percent of its milk and
dairy products, 70 percent of its potatoes, and 100 percent of its
sugar--a profile typical of the Central Asian republics. In 1991 the
trade deficit was 684 million rubles in food goods, compared with a
deficit of 1.25 billion rubles in non-food goods.
Turkmenistan's cotton exports follow the pattern of other Central
Asian republics. Governments of these countries have raised the price of
cotton for trade with their Central Asian neighbors nearly to world
market levels while discounting their cotton on the world market because
of its relatively poor quality and less reliable delivery. Since 1991,
Central Asian countries have more than doubled their exports of cotton
to countries outside the CIS, accounting for 70 percent of West European
cotton imports. Exports to the Far East and Mexico also have increased.
In 1992 Turkmenistan cut its cotton export prices by 30 percent to
stimulate sales. In response, the National Cotton Council of America
refused to make subsidized shipments of cotton to Russia, where around
350 textile mills were threatened with closure because of insufficient
imports, unless Central Asian republics reversed their aggressive stance
in the world cotton market.
Natural gas, Turkmenistan's main export for foreign currency,
accounted for an estimated 70 percent of its exports in 1993. Planners
expected per capita earnings from sales of gas in 1993 to approach
US$1,300, but Azerbaijan and Georgia failed to make payments.
Turkmenistan, like Russia, has introduced a policy of cutting off gas
supplies in response to such situations. In the case of Azerbaijan and
Georgia, supply was curtailed until the bills were paid. In the
mid-1990s, the practice of shutting off delivery was a thorny issue
between Turkmenistan and Ukraine, which owns the main pipeline to Europe
but has failed to pay for gas deliveries on many occasions (see
Transportation and Telecommunications, this ch.).
CIS agreements on tariffs and customs have been worked out, but in
reality a "legal vacuum" exists with regard to interrepublic
economic ties. Technically, CIS members are not allowed to discriminate
against one another in trade, but trade wars began to break out
immediately upon independence. As a result, most republics have made a
series of bilateral accords. A month before the major CIS agreement was
worked out in 1992, Turkmenistan signed a customs union agreement with
Russia and the other Central Asian republics. Later, it renegotiated its
terms with Russia.
In a move toward trade liberalization in early 1993, Turkmenistan
abolished import duties on around 600 goods, including all CIS goods.
Imports from former Soviet republics outside the ruble zone (see
Glossary) were prohibited. Tariffs for goods exported for hard currency
have remained in place to increase government revenue and prevent
capital flight; thus, for natural gas the tariff is 80 percent; for oil,
20 percent; and for chemicals, 15 percent. The state can fix the volume,
price, and tariff of any export leaving Turkmenistan.
Beginning in November 1993, Turkmenistan stopped the Soviet-era
practice of accepting goods in exchange for natural gas, restricting
payments to hard currency, precious metals, and precious stones.
However, this policy may not be successful because Russia buys gas from
Turkmenistan and then redistributes it to CIS customers rather than to
Europe. Under these conditions, some customers may turn to Uzbekistan,
which sells its gas directly and at a much lower price. Turkmenistan
found it necessary to negotiate barter agreements with certain nonpaying
customers such as Azerbaijan and Georgia. Until the end of 1994,
Kazakstan was the only CIS customer to pay in cash.
In 1993 gas constituted 66.2 percent of Turkmenistan's exports to
non-CIS countries, cotton 26.1 percent, and other goods 7.7 percent.
Turkmenistan barters large quantities of cotton for textile-processing
equipment from Italy, Argentina, and Turkey. Almost half of cotton
exports (more than 20 percent of total exports) have been diverted to
non-CIS customers since 1992. An increase in barter trade with China and
Iran partially offsets the collapse of interrepublic supply. In 1994
Iran bought 20,000 tons of cotton fiber, a volume expected to increase
by five times in 1995. Turkmenistan also will sell surplus electrical
power via Iran.
Despite payment problems, Turkmenistan's export position has improved
substantially since independence. Its consolidated current account
surplus rose from US$447 million to US$927 million between 1991 and
1992, so that the increase in gas and cotton exports has offset the
increase in imports. By mid-1994, the United States Export-Import Bank
extended US$75.7 million to insure Turkmenistan's trade deals, and the
United States Department of Agriculture offered US$5 million in grain
credits. Turkey's export-import bank extended a credit line worth $US90
million to Turkmenistan to help cover the growing volume of trade
between these two countries. Japan's Eximbank allocated $5 million in
trade credits for machinery.
Investments from Abroad
In November 1991, Turkmenistan officially opened its system to
foreign economic activity by ratifying the laws "On Enterprises in
Turkmenistan" and "On Entrepreneur Activity in
Turkmenistan." Subsequent laws on foreign investment have covered
protection against nationalization, tax breaks on reinvestment of hard
currency obtained for profits, property ownership, and intellectual
property rights protection to attract foreign investment, and the
important 1993 decree allowing domestic enterprises to form joint
ventures with foreign oil companies. The Ten Years of Prosperity plan
envisages "free economic zones, joint enterprises, and a broadening
Foreign investors have been attracted by the republic's calm and
receptive atmosphere. In 1993 parts of the country took on the
appearance of a huge construction site, with twenty-six foreign joint
ventures operating there. Turkish joint ventures alone were building
sixty factories for the processing of agricultural produce. Despite
official discouragement of economic activity on the grounds of human
rights violations in Turkmenistan, United States business people have
been attracted by the republic's stable conditions, and they have
invested in a number of significant projects. In the early 1990s, United
States companies paid particular attention to the oil and gas industry,
establishing investment agreements with the consultative aid of former
United States secretaries of state Alexander Haig and James Baker.
Economic Agreements Abroad
In the formative phase following independence, Turkmenistan concluded
several key agreements with trade partners. In December 1991, President
Niyazov became the first Central Asian leader to secure cooperation
agreements with Turkey on trade, rail and air links, communications,
education, and culture. Turkmenistan also secured Turkey's agreement on
a gas pipeline routed through its territory and assistance in the
trading of petroleum, electricity, and cotton. Also in 1991,
Turkmenistan established terms with Russia on cotton-for-oil trades, as
well as for other industrial goods such as automobiles. In 1992
agreements with Iran established Iranian aid to Turkmenistan's gas and
oil industry and its livestock raising, grain, sugar beet, and fruit
sectors, in return for aid to Iran's cotton sector. At the same time,
Iran pledged support for Turkmenistan's pipeline project through Iran to
Since its initial agreement, Turkmenistan has pursued its trade
relationship with Iran with great vigor. Agreements focus on the
pipeline project that will bring gas from Turkmenistan to Europe via
Iran and Turkey, transportation projects such as the
Tejen-Saragt-Mashhad railroad link, whose construction was undertaken in
1993, and development of the oil and gas industries, including the
establishment of a joint venture in Turkmenistan for the transport of
petroleum products and construction of a plant to produce motor oil.
Cooperation in mining and other fields also has been discussed.
At the beginning of 1992, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia and
Kazakstan formed the Caspian States Cooperation Organization to reach
regional agreements on fishing, shipping, environmental protection, and
cooperation among the member nations' oil and gas operations. Iran also
has sought to gain support for a project, discontinued in 1979, that
would replenish the sturgeon population of the Caspian Sea.
The participation of foreign companies in the development of
Turkmenistan's oil industry is expected to triple extraction by the year
2000. In February 1993, the United States firm Vivtex designed a
competition among oil companies to win contracts in Turkmenistan. The
"winners" for three of the seven blocks put up for bid were
Larmag Energy of the Netherlands, Noble Drilling of the United States,
Eastpac of the United Arab Emirates, and the Bridas firm of Argentina.
Just for holding the competition, Turkmenistan received an initial
non-returnable "bonus" payment of US$65 million. The total
investment of competition winners was to amount to US$160 million over
the course of three years. Turkmenistan would receive between 71 and 75
percent of the profits from these joint enterprises.
In the mid-1990s, Turkmenistan has sought to establish a natural gas
pipeline that would pass through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China to
reach Japan, as well as an interim rail line for liquefied gas through
China until the pipeline is finished. President Niyazov visited Beijing
in November 1992 for talks on the pipeline, at the same time securing
credits of 45 million Chinese yuan to be repaid after two years. Niyazov
then held talks with representatives of the Japanese firm Mitsubishi and
the Chinese Ministry of Oil in December 1992. A delegation of Japanese
experts visited Ashgabat in February 1993 to discuss prospects for aid.
Declaring Turkmenistan the "most solvent" of the Central Asian
republics, the delegation signed agreements for the development of oil
deposits in the Caspian shelf, communications, and water desalinization.
In the mid-1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) denied
assistance to Turkmenistan on the grounds that Turkmenistan has not
taken the required human rights steps for economic cooperation. However,
in March 1993, the United States conferred most-favored-nation trading
status on Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan - Government
The post-Soviet government of the Republic of Turkmenistan retains
many of the characteristics and the personnel of the communist regime of
Soviet Turkmenistan. The government has received substantial
international criticism as an authoritarian regime centering on the
dominant power position of President Saparmyrat Niyazov. Nevertheless,
the 1992 constitution does characterize Turkmenistan as a democracy with
separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial
Centers of Political Power
In 1994 members of the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan
continued to fill the majority of government and civic leadership posts,
and much of the ideologically justified Soviet-era political structure
remained intact. Besides serving as head of the Democratic Party (as the
reconstituted Communist Party of Turkmenistan is called) and chairman of
the advisory People's Council and the Cabinet of Ministers, Niyazov also
appoints the procurator general and other officers of the courts. In
criticizing Turkmenistan's political leadership, experts have cited the
single-party system, strict censorship, repression of political dissent,
and the "cult of personality" that has formed around President
Niyazov. Niyazov's name has been given to streets, schools, communal
farms, and numerous other places; his portrait and sayings receive
prominent public display; the country's mass media give him extensive
exposure that always characterizes him in a positive light; and a law
"Against Insulting the Dignity and Honor of the President" is
At the same time, Western and Russian criticism generally has
revealed misunderstandings and stereotypes of the political and social
dynamics of the region that dilute the authority of such evaluations.
Beneath the surface of the presidential image, political life in
Turkmenistan is influenced by a combination of regional, professional,
and tribal factors. Regional ties appear to be the strongest of these
factors; they are evident in the opposing power bases of Ashgabat,
center of the government, and Mary, which is the center of a mafia
organization that controls the narcotics market and illegal trade in a
number of commodities. Although both areas are settled primarily by
Turkmen of the Teke tribe, factions in Ashgabat still express resentment
and distrust of those in Mary for failing to aid the fortress of Gokdepe
against the 1881 assault that led to Russian control of the Turkmen
khanates (see Incorporation into Russia, this ch.).
Political behavior also is shaped by the technocratic elites, who
were trained in Moscow and who can rely on support from most of the
educated professionals in Ashgabat and other urban areas. Most of the
elites within the national government originate from and are supported
by the intelligentsia, which also is the source of the few opposition
groups in the republic.
Tribal and other kinship ties rooted in genealogies play a much
smaller role than presumed by analysts who view Turkmen society as
"tribal" and therefore not at a sophisticated political level.
Nonetheless, clan ties often are reflected in patterns of appointments
and networks of power. Regional and clan ties have been identified as
the bases for political infighting in the republic. For example, in the
early 1990s power bases pitted the Mary district chieftain Gurban Orazov
against the Ashgabat millionaire and minister of agriculture Payzgeldi
Meredov, and the Teke clan's hold on power through Niyazov conflicted
with the Yomud clan's hold on the oil and gas industry through minister
Nazar Soyunov. In July 1994, Niyazov removed both Meredov and Soyunov
from office on the basis of evidence that the two ministers had
misappropriated funds obtained from the sale of state-owned resources.
To correct such problems, a Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations was
formed to handle exports and imports, and a Control and Revision
Commission was established to review contracts with foreign firms.
According to a law passed in December 1992, all permanent residents
of Turkmenistan are accorded citizenship unless they renounce that right
in writing. Non-residents may become citizens if they can demonstrate
that they have resided in Turkmenistan for the past seven years and that
they have some knowledge of the Turkmen language. Dual citizenship with
certain other former Soviet republics is permitted. The CIS summit held
in Ashgabat in December 1993 resulted in an accord on dual citizenship
between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, allowing Turkmenistan's
400,000 ethnic Russians to achieve that status.
In May 1992, Turkmenistan became the first newly independent republic
in Central Asia to ratify a constitution. According to the constitution
and to literature printed by the government, Turkmenistan is a
democratic, secular, constitutional republic based on law and headed by
a president. It is also termed a "presidential republic," one
that is "based on the principles of the separation of
powers--legislative, executive, and judicial--which operate
independently, checking and balancing one another."
Turkmenistan - Government Structure
The government of Turkmenistan is divided into three branches--the
executive branch headed by the president, the legislative branch
consisting of the National Assembly (Milli Majlis), and the judicial
branch embodied in the Supreme Court. A People's Council nominally has
the ultimate power to oversee the three branches. A Council of Elders
exists as an advisory body to the government, everyday affairs of which
are conducted by a Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the president.
The office of president (türkmenbashi , "Leader of the
Turkmen") was established in conjunction with the ratification of
the 1992 constitution. The president functions as head of state and
government and as commander in chief of the armed forces, serving for an
elected term of five years. Presidential powers include the right to
issue edicts having the force of law, to appoint and remove state
prosecutors and judges, and to discontinue the National Assembly if it
has passed two no-confidence votes on the sitting government (Cabinet)
within an eighteen-month period. The government is administered by the
Cabinet of Ministers, who are appointed by the president with National
Niyazov, who was president of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic
at the time of independence, is a Turkmen of the Teke tribe who was born
in 1940. Trained as an engineer, Niyazov rose through the ranks of the
Communist Party of Turkmenistan, reaching the top of the party hierarchy
as first secretary in 1985. During his tenure, Niyazov remained aloof
from glasnost and perestroika , the reforms of CPSU
First Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev, even terming Gorbachev's program
"pseudo-reform." When Moscow hard-liners attempted to unseat
Gorbachev in the coup of August 1991, Niyazov refrained from condemning
the conspiracy until after its failure was certain. After his
appointment as president of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in
October 1990, Niyazov ran as an uncontested candidate in the republic's
first presidential election in June 1991, winning over 99 percent of the
vote. From that position, he presided over the declaration of
independence in October 1991. The 1992 constitution of the independent
Republic of Turkmenistan called for a new presidential election, which
Niyazov won in June 1992. In January 1994, a referendum extended his
presidency from a five-year term to a ten-year term that would end in
the year 2002; of the 99 percent of the electorate that voted,
officially only 212 voted against the extension.
The 1992 constitution provides for a legislative body called the
National Assembly, a body that retains the structure and procedures of
the Soviet-era Supreme Soviet. The body's fifty members are elected
directly to five-year terms, and they are prohibited from holding other
offices during their tenure. The National Assembly is charged with the
enactment of criminal legislation and approving amendments to the
constitution. It also ratifies legislative bills introduced by the
president, the Cabinet of Ministers, and individual members of the
Established by the 1992 constitution, the Supreme Court comprises
twenty-two judges appointed by the president to five-year terms. Of the
three branches of government, the judiciary has the fewest powers; its
prescribed functions are limited to review of laws for constitutionality
and decisions concerning the judicial codex or Supreme Law.
The 1992 constitution also established the National Council (Halk
Maslahati) to serve as "the highest representative organ of popular
power." Intended to unite the three branches of government, it
comprises the president of Turkmenistan; the deputies of the National
Assembly; members of the Supreme Court, the Cabinet of Ministers, and
the Supreme Economic Court; sixty people's representatives elected from
the districts specifically to the National Council; and officials from
scientific and cultural organizations. Members of the National Council
serve for five years without compensation. This body meets at the
request of the president or the National Assembly, or when mandated by a
one-third vote of its members. Functions of the National Council include
advising the president, recommending domestic and foreign policy,
amending the constitution and other laws, ratifying treaties, and
declaring war and peace. In theory, its powers supersede those of the
president, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court. However, the
council has been described as a kind of "super-congress of
prominent people" that rubber-stamps decisions made by the other
national bodies, in most cases the executive.
Council of Elders
In addition, the constitution created the Council of Elders, which is
designed to embody the Turkmen tradition of reliance on the advice of
senior members of society in matters of importance. According to the
constitution, the president is bound to consult with this body prior to
making decisions on both domestic and foreign affairs. The Council of
Elders also is assigned the task of selecting presidential candidates.
Its chairman is the president of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan - Political Parties
Although the constitution guarantees the right to form political
parties, in fact the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan has retained
the political control exercised by its predecessor. Opposition parties
and other politically active groups have remained small and without
Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
At the twenty-fifth congress of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan
held in December 1991, the party was renamed the Democratic Party of
Turkmenistan, and Niyazov was confirmed as its chairman. According to
its new program, the Democratic Party serves as a "mother
party" that dominates political activity and yet promotes the
activity of a loyal political opposition. Following a proposal of
Niyazov, a party called the Peasant Justice Party, composed of regional
secretaries of the Democratic Party, was registered in 1992 as an
The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan essentially retains the
apparatus of the former communist party. Party propaganda aims at
explaining the need for preserving stability, civil peace, and
interethnic accord. Party publications boast that its primary
organizations operate in every enterprise, organization, and
institution, and that its membership includes over 165,000, whereas
critics claim that most citizens hardly are aware of the party's
The 1992 constitution establishes rights concerning freedom of
religion, the separation of church and state, freedom of movement,
privacy, and ownership of private property. Both the constitution and
the 1991 Law on Public Organizations guarantee the right to create
political parties and other public associations that operate within the
framework of the constitution and its laws. Such activity is restricted
by prohibitions of parties that "encroach on the health and morals
of the people" and on the formation of ethnic or religious parties.
This provision has been used by the government to ban several groups.
In the mid-1990s, Niyazov described opposition groups as lacking both
popular support and political programs offering constructive
alternatives to existing policy. He has cited these qualities in
disqualifying groups from eligibility to register as opposition parties.
Insofar as such groups have the potential to promote ethnic or other
tensions in society, they may be viewed as illegal, hence subject to
being banned under the constitution.
Given such an environment, opposition activity in Turkmenistan has
been quite restrained. A small opposition group called Unity
(Agzybirlik), originally registered in 1989, consists of intellectuals
who describe the party program as oriented toward forming a multiparty
democratic system on the Turkish model. Unity has devoted itself to
issues connected with national sovereignty and the replacement of the
communist political legacy. After being banned in January 1990, members
of Unity founded a second group called the Party for Democratic
Development, which focused on reforms and political issues. That party's
increasing criticism of authoritarianism in the postindependence
government led to its being banned in 1991. The original Unity group and
its offspring party jointly publish a newspaper in Moscow called Daynach
(Support), distribution of which is prohibited in Turkmenistan. In
1991 these two opposition groups joined with others in a coalition
called Conference (Gengesh), aimed at effecting democratic reforms in
Turkmenistan - Human Rights
President Niyazov has stated his support for the democratic ideal of
a multiparty system and of protection of human rights, with the caveat
that such rights protect stability, order, and social harmony. While
acknowledging that his cult of personality resembles that of Soviet
dictator Joseph V. Stalin, Niyazov claims that a strong leader is needed
to guide the republic through its transition from communism to a
democratic form of government.
Although the Niyazov government has received consistent criticism
from foreign governments and international organizations such as
Helsinki Watch for its restrictive policies toward opposition groups, in
general the government has not taken extreme steps against its political
opposition. In 1993 no political prisoners, political executions, or
instances of torture or other inhumane treatment were reported. The
government has made conscious efforts to protect equal rights and
opportunities for groups of citizens it considers benign. Such measures
have been applied especially in safeguarding the security of Russian
residents, who receive special attention because they offer a
considerable body of technical and professional expertise.
Nevertheless, government control of the media has been quite
effective in suppressing domestic criticism of the Niyazov regime. In
addition, members of opposition groups suffer harassment in the form of
dismissal from jobs, evictions, unwarranted detentions, and denial of
travel papers. Their rights to privacy are violated through telephone
tapping, electronic eavesdropping, reading of mail, and surveillance.
United States officials have protested human rights violations by
refusing to sign aid agreements with Turkmenistan and by advising
against economic aid and cooperation.
Turkmenistan - Foreign Policy
Turkmenistan has declared "positive neutrality" and
"open doors" to be the two major components of its foreign
policy. Positive neutrality is defined as gaining international
recognition of the republic's independence, agreeing upon mutual
non-interference in internal affairs, and maintaining neutrality in
external conflicts. The open- doors policy has been adopted to encourage
foreign investment and export trade, especially through the development
of a transport infrastructure. Turkmenistan gained membership in the
United Nations (UN) in early 1992.
Pervasive historical and geopolitical factors shape Turkmenistan's
foreign policy. With the removal of the protective Soviet
"umbrella," the foreign policy tasks facing independent
Turkmenistan are the establishment of independent national security and
economic systems, while coping with the long legacy of existence in the
empires of tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. As of 1996, all of
Turkmenistan's gas pipelines went north into the Russian Federation or
other CIS states, thus subordinating sectors of its economic development
to that of relatively poor countries. Because Turkmenistan lacks a
strong military, independence depends on establishing military pacts
with Russia and on developing balanced diplomatic and economic ties with
Russia and neighboring countries (see Role of Russia and CIS, this ch.).
Turkmenistan's geographical location close to conflict-riven
Afghanistan and Tajikistan also requires a guarded posture toward the
irredentist and Islamic forces at play in those countries. Concern over
border security was heightened by an incident in October 1993 when two
Afghan jets bombed Turkmen territory, despite recent talks with Afghan
officials aimed at ensuring equality and non-interference.
Turkmenistan's status as an Islamic state also affects Turkmenistan's
relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Although in need of the foreign
aid and developmental opportunities offered by these countries,
Turkmenistan's government also endeavors to blunt any perceived threats
to its secular status that arise from Muslim activists. The Turkic
identity of the bulk of its population thus far has not proven to be a
significant factor in foreign affairs because Turkmenistan must compete
with other Central Asian Turkic republics for markets and for closer
socioeconomic ties with Turkey.
An important historical factor in current policy is that prior to
independence the Soviet government conducted Turkmenistan's foreign
affairs. The only involvement of republic officials in international
relations was in the form of ceremonial contacts aimed at showcasing
Soviet nationality policy by presenting Turkmenistan as a developmental
model for Third World countries.
<"32.htm">Foreign Relations Issues
<"33.htm">The United States
<"37.htm">Caspian Sea Issues
Turkmenistan - Foreign Relations Issues
Since independence, Turkmenistan has taken major initiatives by
making national security and economic development agreements. Security
agreements have focused on military cooperation with Russia and on
border security with Iran and Afghanistan. In the economic area,
President Niyazov has concentrated on developing gas and oil exports and
the pipeline transport infrastructure, especially in cooperation with
Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan.
A recent transportation dispute underscored the urgency of
Turkmenistan's finding a new pipeline route by which to send its natural
gas to Europe through Iran and Turkey. From February through September
1992, Turkmenistan was engaged in a gas-transport price war with Ukraine
that provoked the latter to withhold food shipments. In addition,
Ukraine refused to transship 500 tons of Turkmenistan's cotton to
Turkey, prompting an ambitious program to build Turkmenistan's railroad
links with its southern neighbors.
Turkmenistan - The United States
Initial concern over human rights policy delayed United States
recognition of Turkmenistan's independence until after February 1992,
when alarms over Iran's ventures in Central Asia brought a reevaluation
of United States policy. Relations declined in September 1993 when the
United States cut trade credits to Turkmenistan to protest the arrest of
four human rights activists. Generally, such human rights violations
have not impeded relations between the two countries, however. Alexander
Haig, former United States secretary of state, acting as consultant to
President Niyazov, played a leading role in negotiating
most-favored-nation trading status for Turkmenistan in 1993.
Turkmenistan - Western Europe
President Niyazov has visited European countries and received
European delegations to promote foreign investments, diplomatic ties,
and applications for membership in international aid organizations.
During talks with officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO--see Glossary) in 1993, Niyazov stated that Turkmenistan would
welcome NATO assistance in the creation of its national armed forces. In
April 1994, French President François Mitterrand visited Ashgabat,
where he signed agreements on investments, cultural exchange, and
tariffs. At that time, France also allocated US$35 million in trade
credits for the construction of a presidential palace. In November 1994,
Niyazov toured Austria, Romania, and Slovakia to attract oil and gas
Turkmenistan - Asian Neighbors
After the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan has established its
closest relations with Iran, especially on issues of joint concern
within the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO--see Glossary), but
also on issues of border security, transport cooperation, cultural
exchange, and business ventures. In 1993 the two countries signed a
joint statement emphasizing territorial sovereignty and non-interference
in Tajikistan. At the same time, Turkmenistan's diplomats conveyed
concern over the controversial agreement between Iran and Russia to
build a nuclear power plant near the Caspian Sea and the Turkmenistan
In January 1994, Niyazov made an official visit to Tehran, and the
two countries held a second round of talks in Ashgabat in June to create
an intergovernmental center for consultation and coordination on
socioeconomic questions. According to bilateral agreements, Iranian
specialists will aid in renovating the Turkmenbashy Oil Refinery and the
Mary Cotton Processing Plant, building the Turkmenistan-Iran-Europe Gas
Pipeline, and constructing the Ashgabat-Tehran, Mary-
Mashhad-Turkmenbashy, and Gudurol-Gorgan highways. In January 1996,
Niyazov signed agreements with Iran linking the two countries' electric
power networks, a joint dam on the Hari River, and cooperation in oil,
gas, and agriculture. A joint statement expressed concern about
Azerbaijan's exploitation of Caspian Sea resources, although
Turkmenistan generally has sided with Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, and
against Iran and Russia, on resource rights in the Caspian.
Contrary to initial expectations that Turkey would play a "big
brother" role in Turkmenistan's social and cultural development
following independence, Turkmenistan charts its own course in such
matters. An example is the adoption of a Latin script that owes little
if anything to that used for Turkish. However, Turkey has played a
prominent role in the development of Turkmenistan's economic potential.
Turkish firms are constructing US$1 billion worth of enterprises,
stores, and hotels in Turkmenistan. The Turkish Development and
Cooperation Agency manages a slate of projects in agriculture, civil
aviation, education, health care, minerals extraction, reconstruction of
infrastructure, initiation of small enterprises, and construction of a
complex of mosques and religious schools. Turkish high schools and
universities are hosting more than 2,000 Turkmenistani students, and, in
1994, Turkey began daily four-hour television broadcasts to the
Because of continuing fragmentation of political power in neighboring
Afghanistan and concern that civil strife in that country could threaten
the security of its borders, Turkmenistan's government pursued direct
agreements with the northern Afghan leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum,
an ethnic Uzbek. With the support of Uzbekistan's Karimov regime, Dostum
had carved out an Uzbek domain controlling 600 of the 850 kilometers
along the Afghan-Turkmen border. In July 1993, President Niyazov
discussed border security with officials from northern Afghanistan,
resulting in the establishment of consulates in the Afghan cities of
Mazari Sharif and Herat. Talks in 1994 focused on building a railroad
link and supplying electricity to Herat. A direct telephone
communications line was completed connecting Ashgabat and Mary with
Besides initiatives taken under the aegis of the ECO, Turkmenistan
signed a cooperation agreement with Pakistan in late 1991 and obtained a
promise of US$10 million in credit and goods from Pakistan in 1992. The
two countries signed memoranda in 1995 for the construction of a gas
pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Bridas
company of Argentina was engaged to do a feasibility study for the
Turkmenistan - CIS Relations
Turkmenistan has been hesitant to sign economic agreements within the
CIS framework. Niyazov has criticized the weakness of CIS mechanisms and
proposed a new CIS structure that would be exclusively consultative in
nature. As an example of its approach, Turkmenistan declined to attend
the Surgut Conference with Russia and Kazakstan (1994), whose goal was
to stabilize falling gas and oil output, stating that the domestic gas
industry was sufficiently stable without CIS investment funds. At that
time, Russian Federation deputy prime minister Aleksandr Shokhin
declared that Turkmenistan must decide whether it is with the CIS
countries or not. Despite such friction, Turkmenistan has maintained
close bilateral economic and military ties with Russia.
Regional cooperation among Central Asian republics has not been as
profound as anticipated upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In
1993 the other four Central Asian republics accounted for about
one-fifth of Turkmenistan's imports and exports. Turkmenistan has
followed its own path in all areas of post-Soviet reform, preferring
bilateral to regional agreements in the economic sphere; for example, it
has agreed to supply Kazakstan with electricity in return for grain. The
decisions of all five republics to switch to Latin-based alphabets will
not necessarily have the expected result of improving cultural ties
because the romanization of distinct sounds in the respective languages
will be far from uniform. Fragmentation is evident also in the
introduction by all five nations of separate national currencies.
Turkmenistan - Caspian Sea Issues
An important goal of Turkmenistan's foreign policy is working in
international groups to solve a range of issues involving the Caspian
Sea. That body of water, which affords Turkmenistan a 500-kilometer
coastline with numerous natural resources, including oil and fish, is
threatened by extreme levels of pollution, as well as fluctuating water
levels. In August 1993, Turkmenistani delegates attended a meeting in
Moscow to discuss the status of international claims to jurisdiction
over the Caspian Sea and its resources. Treaties between the Soviet
Union and Iran dating from 1921 and 1940 gave each country free
navigation and fishing rights within ten miles (sixteen kilometers) of
the entire Caspian coastline, putting other coastal nations at a
disadvantage. A second issue is the cartel formed by Turkmenistan,
Kazakstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to control sales of Caspian
caviar on the world market as a means of preventing individual Caspian
Sea states from selling too much to obtain hard currency. Thus far,
however, the cartel lacks an enforcement mechanism. Turkmenistan is a
member of the Caspian Sea Forum, which includes all the nations
bordering the sea. Until 1995 that organization had not taken concrete
action to limit pollution by oil extraction and shipping activities of
the member countries, however. In late 1994, Turkmenistan joined
Kazakstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia in forming the Caspian Border Patrol
force for joint border security (see Military Doctrine, this ch.). In
1995 and 1996, friction increased among the Caspian states as Iran and
Russia exerted pressure for the sea's resources to be divided equally
among the group, a formula that would pervent the other three countries
from taking advantage of their proximity to rich offshore oil deposits.
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CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.
Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.
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