Turkmenistan ( or ; Turkmen: Türkmenistan, pronounced [tʏɾkmønʏˈθtɑːn]), also known as Turkmenia, is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north, east and northeast, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest and the Caspian Sea to the west. Ashgabat is the capital and largest city of the country. The population of the country is about 6 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics. Turkmenistan is one of the most sparsely populated nations in Asia. Citizens of Turkmenistan are known as Turkmenistanis (where citizenship and not ethnicity is emphasized), Turkmenians or Turkmens.
The area currently known as Turkmenistan has long served as a thoroughfare for many other nations and cultures. Merv is one of the oldest oasis-cities in Central Asia and was once the biggest city in the world. In medieval times, Merv was also one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1925, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum or Black Sand Desert. From 1993 to 2017, citizens received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
The country is widely criticized for its poor human rights. Notable issues were its treatment of minorities, press freedoms, and religious freedoms. After its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the sovereign state of Turkmenistan has been ruled by two repressive totalitarian regimes. It was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Türkmenbaşy or "Head of the Turkmens") until his death in 2006. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow became president in 2007 after winning a non-democratic election (he had been vice-president and then acting president previously). The use of capital punishment and the death penalty was formally abolished in the 2008 constitution.
The name of Turkmenistan (Turkmen: Türkmenistan) can be divided into two components: the ethnonym Türkmen and the Persian suffix -stan meaning "place of" or "country". The name "Turkmen" comes from Turk, plus the Sogdian suffix -men, meaning "almost Turk", in reference to their status outside the Turkic dynastic mythological system. However, some scholars argue the suffix is an intensifier, changing the meaning of Türkmen to "pure Turks" or "the Turkish Turks."
Muslim chroniclers like Ibn Kathir suggested that the etymology of Turkmenistan came from the words Türk and Iman (Arabic: إيمان, "faith, belief") in reference to a massive conversion to Islam of two hundred thousand households in the year 971.
Turkmenistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union after the independence referendum in 1991. As a result, the constitutional law was adopted on October 27 of that year and Article 1 established the new name of the state: Turkmenistan (Türkmenistan / Түркменистан).
Historically inhabited by the Indo-Iranians, the written history of Turkmenistan begins with its annexation by the Achaemenid Empire of Ancient Iran. Later, in the 8th century AD, Turkic-speaking Oghuz tribes moved from Mongolia into present-day Central Asia. Part of a powerful confederation of tribes, these Oghuz formed the ethnic basis of the modern Turkmen population. In the 10th century, the name "Turkmen" was first applied to Oghuz groups that accepted Islam and began to occupy present-day Turkmenistan. There they were under the dominion of the Seljuk Empire, which was composed of Oghuz groups living in present-day Iran and Turkmenistan. Oghuz groups in the service of the empire played an important role in the spreading of Turkic culture when they migrated westward into present-day Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey.
In the 12th century, Turkmen and other tribes overthrew the Seljuk Empire. In the next century, the Mongols took over the more northern lands where the Turkmens had settled, scattering the Turkmens southward and contributing to the formation of new tribal groups. The sixteenth and eighteenth centuries saw a series of splits and confederations among the nomadic Turkmen tribes, who remained staunchly independent and inspired fear in their neighbors. By the 16th century, most of those tribes were under the nominal control of two sedentary Uzbek khanates, Khiva and Bukhoro. Turkmen soldiers were an important element of the Uzbek militaries of this period. In the 19th century, raids and rebellions by the Yomud Turkmen group resulted in that group's dispersal by the Uzbek rulers. In 1855 the Turkmen tribe of Teke led by Gowshut-Khan defeated the invading army of the Khan of Khiva Muhammad Amin Khan and in 1861 the invading Persian army of Nasreddin-Shah.
In the second half of the 19th century, northern Turkmens were the main military and political power in the Khanate of Khiva. According to Paul R. Spickard, "Prior to the Russian conquest, the Turkmen were known and feared for their involvement in the Central Asian slave trade."
Russian forces began occupying Turkmen territory late in the 19th century. From their Caspian Sea base at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashy), the Russians eventually overcame the Uzbek khanates. In 1879, the Russian forces were defeated by the Teke Turkmens during the . However, in 1881, the last significant resistance in Turkmen territory was crushed at the Battle of Geok Tepe, and shortly thereafter Turkmenistan was annexed, together with adjoining Uzbek territory, into the Russian Empire. In 1916, the Russian Empire's participation in World War I resonated in Turkmenistan, as an anticonscription revolt swept most of Russian Central Asia. Although the Russian Revolution of 1917 had little direct impact, in the 1920s Turkmen forces joined Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks in the so-called Basmachi Rebellion against the rule of the newly formed Soviet Union. In 1921 the tsarist province of Transcaspia (Russian: Закаспийская область) was renamed Turkmen oblast (Russian: Туркменская область), and in 1924, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was formed from it. By the late 1930s, Soviet reorganization of agriculture had destroyed what remained of the nomadic lifestyle in Turkmenistan, and Moscow controlled political life. The Ashgabat earthquake of 1948 killed over 110,000 people, amounting to two-thirds of the city's population.
During the next half-century, Turkmenistan played its designated economic role within the Soviet Union and remained outside the course of major world events. Even the major liberalization movement that shook Russia in the late 1980s had little impact. However, in 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan declared sovereignty as a nationalist response to perceived exploitation by Moscow. Although Turkmenistan was ill-prepared for independence and then-communist leader Saparmurat Niyazov preferred to preserve the Soviet Union, in October 1991, the fragmentation of that entity forced him to call a national referendum that approved independence. On 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Niyazov continued as Turkmenistan's chief of state, replacing communism with a unique brand of independent nationalism reinforced by a pervasive cult of personality. A 1994 referendum and legislation in 1999 abolished further requirements for the president to stand for re-election (although in 1992 he completely dominated the only presidential election in which he ran, as he was the only candidate and no one else was allowed to run for the office), making him effectively president for life. During his tenure, Niyazov conducted frequent purges of public officials and abolished organizations deemed threatening. Throughout the post-Soviet era, Turkmenistan has taken a neutral position on almost all international issues. Niyazov eschewed membership in regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and in the late 1990s he maintained relations with the Taliban and its chief opponent in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance. He offered limited support to the military campaign against the Taliban following the 11 September 2001 attacks. In 2002 an alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov led to a new wave of security restrictions, dismissals of government officials, and restrictions placed on the media. Niyazov accused exiled former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov of having planned the attack.
Between 2002 and 2004, serious tension arose between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan because of bilateral disputes and Niyazov's implication that Uzbekistan had a role in the 2002 assassination attempt. In 2004, a series of bilateral treaties restored friendly relations. In the , only Niyazov's party was represented, and no international monitors participated. In 2005, Niyazov exercised his dictatorial power by closing all hospitals outside Ashgabat and all rural libraries. The year 2006 saw intensification of the trends of arbitrary policy changes, shuffling of top officials, diminishing economic output outside the oil and gas sector, and isolation from regional and world organizations. China was among a very few nations to whom Turkmenistan made significant overtures. The sudden death of Niyazov at the end of 2006 left a complete vacuum of power, as his cult of personality, comparable to the one of eternal president Kim Il-sung of North Korea, had precluded the naming of a successor. Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who was named interim head of government, won the special presidential election held in early February 2007. His appointment as interim president and subsequent run for president violated the constitution. Berdimuhamedow was re-elected in 2012 with 97% of the vote. In the 2017 Turkmenistan presidential election Berdimuhamedow was re-elected with 97.27% of the vote, following a tightly controlled and largely ceremonial election.
After over a century of being a part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union (including 67 years as a union republic), Turkmenistan declared its independence on the 27th of October, 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former official of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He retained absolute control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 28 December 1999, Niyazov was declared President for Life of Turkmenistan by the Mejlis (parliament), which itself had taken office a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov. No opposition candidates were allowed.
Since the December 2006 death of Niyazov, Turkmenistan's leadership has made tentative moves to open up the country. His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen", though other such rules were put into such as the banning of black cars. In education, Berdimuhamedow's government increased basic education to ten years from nine years, and higher education was extended from four years to five. It also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches.
The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government. Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan had a one-party system; however, in September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new Constitution. The latter resulted in the abolition of the council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008 and also permits the formation of multiple political parties.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, is the dominant party. The second party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs was established in August 2012. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned. In 2013, the first multi-party Parliamentary Elections were held in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan was a one-party state from 1991 to 2012; however, the 2013 elections were widely seen as mere window dressing. In practice, all parties in parliament operate jointly under the direction of the DPT. There are no true opposition parties in the Turkmen parliament. The 2017 Turkmenistan presidential election featured nine candidates; each opposition candidate made a point of wishing incumbent President Berdimuhamedov a happy new year in his manifesto.
In September 2020 the Turkmenistan Parliament adopted a constitutional amendment creating an upper chamber and thus making the Parliament bicameral. The upper chamber is named the People's Council (Turkmen: Halk Maslahaty) and consists of 56 members, 48 of whom are elected and 8 of whom are appointed by the president. Together with the previous unicameral parliament, the 125-seat Mejlis, as the lower chamber, the Parliament is now called the National Council (Turkmen: Milli Geňeş). Elections to the upper chamber were held March 28, 2021. Elections to the Mejlis were last held March 25, 2018.
The 25 March elections lacked important prerequisites of a genuinely democratic electoral process. The political environment is only nominally pluralist and does not offer voters political alternatives. Exercise of fundamental freedoms is severely curtailed, inhibiting free expression of the voters’ will. Despite measures to demonstrate transparency, the integrity of elections was not ensured, leaving veracity of results in doubt
Transparency International's 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index placed Turkmenistan in a tie with Congo, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, and Afghanistan for 165th place globally, between Iraq and Haiti, with a score of 19 out of 100.
Opposition media and foreign human rights organizations describe Turkmenistan as suffering from rampant corruption. A non-governmental organization, Crude Accountability, has openly called the economy of Turkmenistan a kleptocracy. Opposition and domestic state-controlled media have described widespread bribery in education and law enforcement. In 2019, the national chief of police, Minister of Internal Affairs Isgender Mulikov, was convicted and imprisoned for corruption. In 2020 the deputy prime minister for education and science, Pürli Agamyradow, was dismissed for failure to control bribery in education.
The illegal adoption of abandoned babies in Turkmenistan is blamed on rampant corruption in the agencies involved in the legal adoption process which pushes some parents to a "cheaper and faster" option. One married couple in the eastern Farap district said that they had to provide documents and letters from 40 different agencies to support their adoption application. Yet three years later there was still no decision on their bid. Meanwhile, wealthier applicants in Farap received a child for legal adoption within four months after applying because they paid up to 50,000 manats (about $14,300) in bribes.
The judiciary in Turkmenistan is not independent. Under Articles 71 and 100 of the constitution of Turkmenistan, the president appoints all judges, including the chairperson (chief justice) of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them with the consent of the Parliament. Outside observers consider the Turkmen legislature to be a rubber stamp parliament, and thus despite constitutional guarantees of judicial independence under Articles 98 and 99, the judiciary is de facto firmly under presidential control. The chief justice is considered a member of the executive authority of the government and sits on the State Security Council. The U.S. Department of State stated in its 2020-human rights report on Turkmenistan,
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive controls it, and it is subordinate to the executive. There was no legislative review of the president’s judicial appointments and dismissals. The president had sole authority to dismiss any judge. The judiciary was widely reputed to be corrupt and inefficient.
Many national laws of Turkmenistan have been published online on the Ministry of Justice website.
Turkmenistan's declaration of "permanent neutrality" was formally recognized by the United Nations in 1995. Former President Saparmurat Niyazov stated that the neutrality would prevent Turkmenistan from participating in multi-national defense organizations, but allows military assistance. Its neutral foreign policy has an important place in the country's constitution. Turkmenistan has diplomatic relations with 139 countries, some of the most important allies being Afghanistan, Armenia, Iran, and Russia.
Turkmenistan has been widely criticised for human rights abuses and has imposed severe restrictions on foreign travel for its citizens. Discrimination against the country's ethnic minorities remains in practice. Universities have been encouraged to reject applicants with non-Turkmen surnames, especially ethnic Russians. It is forbidden to teach the customs and language of the Baloch, an ethnic minority. The same happens to Uzbeks, though the Uzbek language was formerly taught in some national schools.
According to Human Rights Watch, "Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries. The country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal."
According to Reporters Without Borders's 2014 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the 3rd worst press freedom conditions in the world (178/180 countries), just before North Korea and Eritrea. It is considered to be one of the "10 Most Censored Countries". Each broadcast under Niyazov began with a pledge that the broadcaster's tongue will shrivel if he slanders the country, flag, or president.
Religious minorities are discriminated against for conscientious objection and practicing their religion by imprisonment, preventing foreign travel, confiscating copies of Christian literature or defamation. Many detainees who have been arrested for exercising their freedom of religion or belief were tortured and subsequently sentenced to imprisonment, many of them without a court decision. Homosexual acts are illegal in Turkmenistan.
Despite the launch of Turkmenistan's first communication satellite, the TurkmenSat 1, in April 2015, the Turkmen government banned all satellite dishes in Turkmenistan the same month. The statement issued by the government indicated that all existing satellite dishes would have to be removed or destroyed—despite the communications receiving antennas having been legally installed since 1995—in an effort by the government to fully block access of the population to many "hundreds of independent international media outlets" which are currently accessible in the country only through satellite dishes, including all leading international news channels in different languages. The main target of this campaign is Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which is run by the U.S. government).
Internet access is filtered and websites to which the government objects are blocked. Blocked websites include opposition news media, YouTube, many social media including Facebook, and encrypted communications applications. Use of virtual private networks to circumvent censorship is prohibited.
At 488,100 km2 (188,500 sq mi), Turkmenistan is the world's 52nd-largest country. It is slightly smaller than Spain and larger than Cameroon. It lies between latitudes 35° and 43° N, and longitudes 52° and 67° E. Over 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. The center of the country is dominated by the Turan Depression and the Karakum Desert. Topographically, Turkmenistan is bounded by the Ustyurt Plateau to the north, the Kopet Dag Range to the south, the Paropamyz Plateau, the Koytendag Range to the east, the Amu Darya Valley, and the Caspian Sea to the west. Turkmenistan includes three tectonic regions, the Epigersin platform region, the Alpine shrinkage region, and the Epiplatform orogenesis region. The Alpine tectonic region is the epicenter of earthquakes in Turkmenistan. Strong earthquakes occurred in the Kopet Dag Range in 1869, 1893, 1895, 1929, 1948, and 1994. The city of Ashgabat and surrounding villages were largely destroyed by the 1948 earthquake.
The Great Balkhan Range in the west of the country (Balkan Province) and the Köýtendag Range on the southeastern border with Uzbekistan (Lebap Province) are the only other significant elevations. The Great Balkhan Range rises to 1,880 metres (6,170 ft) at Mount Arlan and the highest summit in Turkmenistan is Ayrybaba in the Kugitangtau Range – 3,137 metres (10,292 ft). The Kopet Dag mountain range forms most of the border between Turkmenistan and Iran.
The Turkmen shore along the Caspian Sea is 1,748 kilometres (1,086 mi) long. The Caspian Sea is entirely landlocked, with no natural access to the ocean, although the Volga–Don Canal allows shipping access to and from the Black Sea.
Turkmenistan is in a temperate desert zone with a dry continental climate. Remote from the open sea, with mountain ranges to the south and southeast, Turkmenistan's climate is characterized by low precipitation, low cloudiness, and high evaporation. Absence of mountains to the north allows cold Arctic air to penetrate southward to the southerly mountain ranges, which in turn block warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean. Limited winter and spring rains are attributable to moist air from the west, originating in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Winters are mild and dry, with most precipitation falling between January and May. The Kopet Dag Range receives the highest level of precipitation.
The Karakum Desert is one of the driest deserts in the world; some places have an average annual precipitation of only 12 mm (0.47 in). The highest temperature recorded in Ashgabat is 48.0 °C (118.4 °F) and Kerki, an extreme inland city located on the banks of the Amu Darya river, recorded 51.7 °C (125.1 °F) in July 1983, although this value is unofficial. 50.1 °C (122 °F) is the highest temperature recorded at Repetek Reserve, recognized as the highest temperature ever recorded in the whole former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan enjoys 235-240 sunny days per year. The average number of degree days ranges from 4500 to 5000 Celsius, sufficient for production of extra long staple cotton.
Turkmenistan contains seven terrestrial ecoregions: Alai-Western Tian Shan steppe, Kopet Dag woodlands and forest steppe, Badghyz and Karabil semi-desert, Caspian lowland desert, Central Asian riparian woodlands, Central Asian southern desert, and Kopet Dag semi-desert.Districts of Turkmenistan and OpenStreetMap Wiki: Turkmenistan Geoname Changes
Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces or welayatlar (singular welayat) and one capital city district. The provinces are subdivided into districts (etraplar, sing. etrap), which may be either counties or cities. According to the Constitution of Turkmenistan (Article 16 in the 2008 Constitution, Article 47 in the 1992 Constitution), some cities may have the status of welaýat (province) or etrap (district).
Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to sustain its economy. In 2014, the unemployment rate was estimated to be 11%.
Between 1998 and 2002, Turkmenistan suffered from the continued lack of adequate export routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive short-term external debt. At the same time, however, the value of total exports rose sharply due to increases in international oil and gas prices. The subsequent collapse of both hydrocarbon and cotton prices in 2014 cut revenues from export sales severely, causing Turkmenistan to run trade deficits from 2015 through 2017. Economic prospects in the near future are discouraging because of widespread internal poverty and the burden of foreign debt, coupled with continued low hydrocarbon prices and reduced Chinese purchases of natural gas. One reflection of economic stress is the black-market exchange rate for the Turkmen manat, which though officially set at 3.5 manat to the U.S. dollar, reportedly was trading in January 2021 at 32 manat to the dollar.
President Niyazov spent much of the country's revenue on extensively renovating cities, Ashgabat in particular. Corruption watchdogs voiced particular concern over the management of Turkmenistan's currency reserves, most of which are held in off-budget funds such as the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund in the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, according to a report released in April 2006 by London-based non-governmental organization Global Witness.
According to a decree of the Peoples' Council of 14 August 2003, electricity, natural gas, water and salt were to have been subsidized for citizens until 2030. Under implementing regulations, every citizen was entitled to 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month. The state also provided 250 liters (66 gallons) of water per day. As of 1 January 2019, however, all such subsidies were abolished, and payment for utilities was implemented.
As of May 2011, the Galkynysh Gas Field was estimated to possess the second-largest volume of gas in the world, after the South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. Reserves at the Galkynysh Gas Field are estimated at around 21.2 trillion cubic metres. The Turkmenistan Natural Gas Company (Türkmengaz) controls gas extraction in the country. Gas production is the most dynamic and promising sector of the national economy. In 2009 the government of Turkmenistan began a policy of diversifying export routes for its raw materials.
Prior to 1958 gas production was limited to associated gas from oil wells in western Turkmenistan. In 1958, the first gas wells were drilled at Serhetabat (then Kushky) and at Derweze. Oil and gas fields were discovered in the Central Karakum Desert between 1959 and 1965. In addition to Derweze, these include Takyr, Shyh, Chaljulba, Topjulba, Chemmerli, Atabay, Sakarchage, Atasary, Mydar, Goyun, and Zakli. These fields are located in Jurassic and Cretaceous sediments. The Turkmen gas industry got underway with the opening of the Ojak gas field in 1966. To put this in perspective, associated gas production in Turkmenistan was only 1.157 billion cubic meters in 1965, but by 1970 natural gas production reached 13 billion cubic meters, and by 1989, 90 billion cubic meters. The USSR exported much of this gas to western Europe. Following independence, natural gas extraction fell as Turkmenistan sought export markets but was limited to existing delivery infrastructure under Russian control: Turkmenistan-Russia in two lines (3087 km, originating at Ojak, and another of 2259 km, also originating at Ojak); the Gumdag line (2530 km); and the Shatlyk line (2644 km) to Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus. On 1 January 2016, Russia halted natural gas purchases from Turkmenistan after reducing them step by step for the previous years. Russia's Gazprom announced resumption of purchases in April 2019, but reported volumes remained low compared to previous delivery levels.
In 1997, the Korpeje-Gurtguy natural gas pipeline was built to Iran. It is 140 kilometers in length and was the first gas pipeline to a foreign customer constructed after independence. Turkmenistan's exports of natural gas to Iran, estimated at about 12 bcma, ended on January 1, 2017, when Turkmengaz unilaterally cut off deliveries, citing payment arrears.
In December 2009 the first line, Line A, of the Trans-Asia pipeline to China opened, creating a second major market for Turkmen natural gas. By 2015 Turkmenistan was delivering up to 35 billion cubic meters per annum (bcma) to China. China is the largest buyer of gas from Turkmenistan, via three pipelines linking the two countries through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In 2019, China bought over 30bcm of gas from Turkmenistan, making China Turkmenistan's main external source of revenue.
The East–West pipeline was completed in December 2015, with the intent of delivering up to 30 bcm of natural gas to the Caspian shore for eventual export through a yet-to-be-built Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline connecting the Belek-1 compressor station in Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan.
The Turkmenistan government continues to pursue construction of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline, or TAPI. The anticipated cost of the TAPI pipeline is currently estimated at $25 billion. Turkmenistan's section of the pipeline was started in 2015 and was completed in 2019, though the Afghanistan and Pakistan sections remain under construction.
Oil was known to exist in western Turkmenistan as early as the 18th century. General Aleksey Kuropatkin reported in 1879 that the Cheleken Peninsula had as many as three thousand oil sources. Turkmen settlers in the 19th century extracted oil near the surface and shipped it to Astrakhan by ship and to Iran by camel caravan. Commercial oil drilling began in the 1890s. The oil extraction industry grew with the exploitation of the fields in Cheleken in 1909 (by Branobel) and in Balkanabat in the 1930s. Production leaped ahead with the discovery of the Gumdag field in 1948 and the Goturdepe field in 1959. By 1940 production had reached two million tons per year, by 1960 over four million tons, and by 1970 over 14 million tons. Oil production in 2019 was 9.8 million tons.
Oil wells are mainly found in the western lowlands. This area also produces associated natural gas. The main oilfields are Cheleken, Gonurdepe, Nebitdag, Gumdag, Barsagelmez, Guyujyk, Gyzylgum, Ordekli, Gogerendag, Gamyshlyja, Ekerem, Chekishler, Keymir, Ekizek, and Bugdayly. Oil is also produced from offshore wells in the Caspian Sea. Most oil is extracted by the Turkmenistan State Company (Concern) Türkmennebit from fields at Goturdepe, Balkanabat, and on the Cheleken Peninsula near the Caspian Sea, which have a combined estimated reserve of 700 million tons. Much of the oil produced in Turkmenistan is refined in the Turkmenbashy and Seydi refineries. Some oil is exported by tanker vessel across the Caspian Sea en route to Europe via Baku and Makhachkala. Foreign firms involved in offshore oil extraction include Eni S.p.A. of Italy, Dragon Oil of the United Arab Emirates, and Petronas of Malaysia.
On 21 January 2021, the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum of understanding to develop jointly an oil field in the Caspian Sea that straddles the nations' border. Known previously as Kyapaz in Azeri and Serdar in Turkmen, the oil field, now called Dostluk ("friendship" in both languages), potentially has reserves of up to 60 million tons of oil as well as associated natural gas.
Turkmenistan's first electrical power plant was built in 1909 and went into full operation in 1913. As of 2019 it was still in operation. The original triple-turbine Hindukush hydroelectric plant, built by the Austro-Hungarian company Ganz Works on the Murghab River, was designed to produce 1.2 megawatts at 16.5 kilovolts. Until 1957, however, most electrical power in Turkmenistan was produced locally by small Diesel generators and Diesel-electric locomotives.
In 1957 Soviet authorities created a republic-level directorate for power generation, and in 1966 Turkmenistan entered the first phase of connecting its remote regions to the regional Central Asian electrical grid. By 1979 all rural areas of Turkmenistan were brought on line. Construction of the Mary thermal power plant began in 1969, and by 1987 the eighth and final generator block was completed, bringing the plant to its design capacity of 1.686 gigawatts. In 1998 Turkmenenergo commissioned its first gas-turbine power plant, using GE turbines.
As of 2010 Turkmenistan featured eight major power plants operating on natural gas, in Mary, Ashgabat, Balkanabat, Buzmeyin (suburb of Ashgabat), Dashoguz, Turkmenbashy, Turkmenabat, and Seydi. As of 2013, Turkmenistan had 10 electrical power plants equipped with 32 turbines, including 14 steam-driven, 15 gas powered, and 3 hydroelectric. Power output in 2011 was 18.27 billion kWh, of which 2.5 billion kWh was exported. Major power generating installations include 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 2018, electrical power production totaled more than 21 billion kilowatt-hours.
Since 2013, additional power plants have been constructed in Mary and Ahal province, and Çärjew District of Lebap province. The Mary-3 combined cycle power plant, built by Çalık Holding with GE turbines, commissioned in 2018, produces 1.574 gigawatts of electrical power and is specifically intended to support expanded exports of electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Zerger power plant built by Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Rönesans Holding in Çärjew District has a design capacity of 432 megawatts from three 144-megawatt gas turbines and was commissioned in September 2021. It is also primarily intended for export of electricity. The Ahal power plant, with capacity of 650 megawatts, was constructed to power the city of Ashgabat and in particular the Olympic Village.
Turkmenistan is a net exporter of electrical power to Central Asian republics and southern neighbors. In 2019, total electrical energy generation in Turkmenistan reportedly totaled 22,521.6 million kilowatt-hours (22.52 terawatt-hours).
Following independence in 1991, Soviet-era collective- and state farms were converted to "farmers associations" (Turkmen: daýhan birleşigi). Virtually all field crops are irrigated due to the aridity of the climate. The top crop in terms of area planted is wheat (761 thousand hectares in 2019), followed by cotton (551 thousand hectares in 2019).
Turkmenistan is the world's tenth-largest cotton producer. Turkmenistan started producing cotton in the Murghab Valley following conquest of Merv by the Russian Empire in 1884. According to human rights organizations, public sector workers, such as teachers and doctors, are required by the government to pick cotton under the threat of losing their jobs if they refuse.
During the 2020 season, Turkmenistan reportedly produced roughly 1.5 million tons of raw cotton. In 2012, around 7,000 tractors, 5,000 cotton cultivators, 2,200 sowing machines and other machinery, mainly procured from Belarus and the United States, were used. Prior to imposition of a ban on export of raw cotton in October 2018, Turkmenistan exported raw cotton to Russia, Iran, South Korea, United Kingdom, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Ukraine, Singapore and the Baltic states. Beginning in 2019, the Turkmenistan government shifted focus to export of cotton yarn and finished textiles and garments.
Turkmenistan reported arrival of 14,438 foreign tourists in 2019. Turkmenistan's international tourism has not grown significantly despite creation of the Awaza tourist zone on the Caspian Sea. Every traveler must obtain a visa before entering Turkmenistan (see Visa policy of Turkmenistan). To obtain a tourist visa, citizens of most countries need visa support from a local travel agency. For tourists visiting Turkmenistan, organized tours exist providing visits to historical sites in and near Daşoguz, Konye-Urgench, Nisa, Ancient Merv, and Mary, as well as beach tours to Avaza and medical tours and holidays in the sanatoria in Mollagara, Bayramaly, Ýylysuw and Archman.
The last census to be published was held in 1995. Results of every census since then have been kept secret. Opposition media reported that some results of the 2012 census had been surreptitiously released, including a total population number of 4,751,120. According to this source, as of 2012 85.6% of the population was ethnically Turkmen, followed by 5.8% ethnic Uzbek and 5.1% ethnic Russian. In contrast, an official Turkmen delegation reported to the UN in January 2015 some different figures on national minorities, including slightly under 9% ethnic Uzbek, 2.2% ethnic Russian, and 0.4% ethnic Kazakh. The 2012 census reportedly counted 58 different nationalities.
Official population estimates of 6.2 million are likely too high, given known emigration trends. Population growth has been offset by emigration in search of permanent employment. In July 2021 opposition media reported, based on three independent anonymous sources, that the population of Turkmenistan was between 2.7 and 2.8 million.
Available figures indicate that most of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kurds (native to the Kopet Dagh mountains), Armenians, Azeris, Balochs and Pashtuns. The percentage of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan dropped from 18.6% in 1939 to 9.5% in 1989. The CIA World Factbook estimated the ethnic composition of Turkmenistan in 2003 as 85% Turkmen, 5% Uzbek, 4% Russian and 6% other. According to official data announced in Ashgabat in February 2001, 91% of the population were Turkmen, 3% were Uzbeks and 2% were Russians. Between 1989 and 2001 the number of Turkmen in Turkmenistan doubled (from 2.5 to 4.9 million), while the number of Russians dropped by two-thirds (from 334,000 to slightly over 100,000). As of 2021, the number of Russians in Turkmenistan was estimated at approximately 100 thousand.
A once-in-a-decade national census will be taken in the year 2022 and will determine the size of the country's population.
Based on data from receiving countries, MeteoZhurnal estimated that at least 102,346 Turkmenistani citizens emigrated abroad in 2019, 78% of them to Turkey, and 24,206 apparently returned home, for net migration of 77,014. According to leaked results of a 2018 survey, between 2008 and 2018 1,879,413 Turkmenistani citizens emigrated permanently out of an estimated base population of 5.4 million.
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan (per the 1992 Constitution), although Russian still is widely spoken in cities as a "language of inter-ethnic communication". As of 1999 Turkmen was spoken by 72% of the population, Russian by 12% (349,000), Uzbek by 9% (317,000), and other languages by 7% (Kazakh (88,000), Tatar (40,400), Ukrainian (37,118), Azerbaijani (33,000), Armenian (32,000), Northern Kurdish (20,000), Lezgian (10,400), Persian (8,000), Belarusian (5,290), Erzya (3,490), Korean (3,490), Bashkir (2,610), Karakalpak (2,540), Ossetic (1,890), Dargwa (1,600), Lak (1,590), Tajik (1,280), Georgian (1,050), Lithuanian (224), Tabasaran (180), Dungan).
According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims constitute 93% of the population while 6% of the population are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 1% religion is reported as non-religious. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, 93.1% of Turkmenistan's population is Muslim.
The first migrants were sent as missionaries and often were adopted as patriarchs of particular clans or tribal groups, thereby becoming their "founders." Reformulation of communal identity around such figures accounts for one of the highly localized developments of Islamic practice in Turkmenistan.
In the Soviet era, all religious beliefs were attacked by the communist authorities as superstition and "vestiges of the past." Most religious schooling and religious observance were banned, and the vast majority of mosques were closed. However, since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule.
Former president Saparmurat Niyazov ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. Under Niyazov, religious classes were held in both schools and mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur'an and the hadith, and history of Islam. At present, the only educational institution teaching religion is the theological faculty of Turkmen State University.
President Niyazov wrote his own religious text, published in separate volumes in 2001 and 2004, entitled the Ruhnama ("Book of the Soul"). The Turkmenbashy regime required that the book, which formed the basis of the educational system in Turkmenistan, be given equal status with the Quran (mosques were required to display the two books side by side). The book was heavily promoted as part of the former president's personality cult, and knowledge of the Ruhnama was required even for obtaining a driver's license. Quotations from the Ruhnama are inscribed on the walls of the Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, which many Muslims consider sacrilege.
Most Christians in Turkmenistan belong to Eastern Orthodoxy (about 5% of the population). There are 12 Russian Orthodox churches in Turkmenistan, four of which are in Ashgabat. An archpriest resident in Ashgabat leads the Orthodox Church within the country. Until 2007 Turkmenistan fell under the religious jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox archbishop in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but since then has been subordinate to the Archbishop of Pyatigorsk and Cherkessia. There are no Russian Orthodox seminaries in Turkmenistan.
There are also small communities of the following denominations: the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal Christians, the Protestant Word of Life Church, the Greater Grace World Outreach Church, the New Apostolic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and several unaffiliated, nondenominational evangelical Christian groups. In addition, there are small communities of Baháʼís, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Hare Krishnas.
The history of Baháʼí Faith in Turkmenistan is as old as the religion itself, and Baháʼí communities still exist today. The first Baháʼí House of Worship was built in Ashgabat at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was seized by the Soviets in the 1920s and converted to an art gallery. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1948 and later demolished. The site was converted to a public park.
Newspapers and monthly magazines are published by state-controlled media outlets, primarily in Turkmen. The daily official newspaper is published in both Turkmen (Türkmenistan) and Russian (Нейтральный Туркменистан). Two online news portals repeat official content, Turkmenportal and Parahat.info, in addition to the official "Golden Age" (Turkmen: Altyn Asyr, Russian: Золотой век) news website, which is available in Turkmen, Russian, and English. Two Ashgabat-based private news organizations, Infoabad and Arzuw, offer online content.
Articles published by the state-controlled newspapers are heavily censored and written to glorify the state and its leader. Uncensored press coverage specific to Turkmenistan is provided only by news organizations located outside Turkmenistan: Azatlyk Radiosy, the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague; Chronicles of Turkmenistan, the Vienna-based outlet of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights; Turkmen.news, previously known as Alternative News of Turkmenistan, based in the Netherlands; and Gündogar. In addition, Mediazona Central Asia, Eurasianet and Central Asia News provide some reporting on events in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan currently broadcasts 7 national TV channels via satellite. They are Altyn Asyr, Ýaşlyk, Miras, Turkmenistan (in 7 languages), Türkmen Owazy (music), Aşgabat and Turkmenistan Sport. There are no commercial or private TV stations. The nightly official news broadcast, Watan (Homeland), is available on YouTube.
Although officially banned, widespread use of satellite dish receivers allows access to foreign programming, particularly outside Ashgabat. Due to the high mutual intelligibility of the Turkmen and Turkish languages, Turkish-language programs have grown in popularity despite official efforts to discourage viewership.
Internet services are the least developed in Central Asia. Access to Internet services is provided by the government's ISP company, Turkmentelekom. As of 27 January 2021, Turkmenistan reported an estimated 1,265,794 internet users or roughly 21% of the total population.
Holidays in Turkmenistan are laid out in the Constitution of Turkmenistan, Holidays in Turkmenistan practiced internationally include New Year's Day, Nowruz, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha. Turkmenistan exclusive holidays include Melon Day, Turkmen Woman's Day, and the Day of Remembrance for Saparmurat Niyazov.
Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level. Under former President Niyazov, the total duration of primary and secondary education was reduced from 10 to 9 years. President Berdimuhamedov restored 10-year education as of the 2007–2008 school year. Effective 2013, secondary general education in Turkmenistan was expanded to three-stages lasting 12 years: elementary school (grades 1–3), high school – the first cycle of secondary education with duration of 5 years (grades 4–8), and secondary school (grades 9–12).
At the end of the 2019–20 academic year, nearly 80,000 Turkmen pupils graduated from high school. As of the 2019–20 academic year, 12,242 of these students were admitted to institutions of higher education in Turkmenistan. An additional 9,063 were admitted to the country's 42 vocational colleges. An estimated 95 thousand Turkmen students were enrolled in institutions of higher education abroad as of Autumn 2019.
The tasks for modern Turkmen architecture are diverse application of modern aesthetics, the search for an architect's own artistic style, and inclusion of the existing historico-cultural environment. Most major new buildings, especially those in Ashgabat, are faced with white marble. Major projects such as Turkmenistan Tower, Bagt köşgi, Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center, Ashgabat Flagpole have transformed the country's skyline and promote its identity as a modern, contemporary city.
The most popular sport in Turkmenistan is soccer. The national team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup but has appeared twice at the AFC Asian Cup, in 2004 and 2019, failing to advance past the group stage at both editions. Another popular sport is archery, Turkmenistan holds league and local competitions for archery. International sports events hosted in Turkmenistan include; the 2021 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, and the 2018 World Weightlifting Championships
Prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution only three automobiles existed in Turkmenistan, all of them foreign models in Ashgabat. No automobile roads existed between settlements. After the revolution, Soviet authorities graded dirt roads to connect Mary and Kushky (Serhetabat), Tejen and Sarahs, Kyzyl-Arvat (Serdar) with Garrygala (Magtymguly) and Chekishler, i.e., with important border crossings. In 1887-1888 the Gaudan Highway (Russian: Гауданское шоссе) was built between Ashgabat and the Persian border at Gaudan Pass, and Persian authorities extended it to Mashad, allowing for easier commercial relations. Municipal bus service began in Ashgabat in 1925 with five routes, and taxicab service began in 1938 with five vehicles. The road network was extended in the 1970s with construction of republic-level highways connecting Ashgabat and Kazanjyk (Bereket), Ashgabat and Bayramaly, Nebit Dag (Balkanabat) and Krasnovodsk (Turkmenbashy), Çärjew (Turkmenabat) and Kerki, and Mary and Kushka (Serhetabat).
The primary west–east motor route is the M37 highway linking the Turkmenbashy International Seaport to the Farap border crossing via Ashgabat, Mary, and Turkmenabat. The primary north–south route is the Ashgabat-Dashoguz Automobile Road (Turkmen: Aşgabat-Daşoguz awtomobil ýoly), built in the 2000s. Major international routes include European route E003, European route E60, European route E121, and Asian Highway (AH) routes AH5, AH70, AH75, AH77, and AH78.
A new toll motorway is under construction between Ashgabat and Turkmenabat by “Turkmen Awtoban” company, which will construct the 600-km highway in three phases: Ashgabat-Tejen by December 2020, Tejen-Mary by December 2022 and Mary-Turkmenabat by December 2023. A sister project to link Turkmenbashy and Ashgabat was suspended when the Turkish contractor, Polimeks, walked away from the project, reportedly because of non-payment.
As of 29 January 2019, the Turkmen Automobile Roads state concern (Turkmen: Türkmenawtoýollary) was subordinated by presidential decree to the Ministry of Construction and Architecture, and responsibility for road construction and maintenance was shifted to provincial and municipal governments. Operation of motor coaches (buses) and taxicabs is the responsibility of the Automobile Services Agency (Turkmen: Türkmenawtoulaglary Agentligi) of the Ministry of Industry and Communication.
Air service began in 1927 with a route between Çärjew (Turkmenabat) and Tashauz (Dashoguz), flying German Junkers 13 and Soviet K-4 aircraft, each capable of carrying four passengers. In 1932 an aerodrome was built in Ashgabat on the site of the current Howdan neighborhoods, for both passenger and freight service, the latter mainly to deliver supplies to sulfur mines near Derweze in the Karakum Desert.
Airports serving the major cities of Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat, and Turkmenbashy, which are operated by Turkmenistan's civil aviation authority's airline, Türkmenhowaýollary, feature scheduled domestic commercial air service. Under normal circumstances international scheduled commercial air service is limited to Ashgabat. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, international flights take off from and land at Turkmenabat, where quarantine facilities have been established.
State-owned Turkmenistan Airlines is the only Turkmen air carrier. Turkmenistan Airlines' passenger fleet is composed of Boeing and Bombardier Aerospace aircraft. Air transport carries more than two thousand passengers daily in the country. Under normal conditions, international flights annually transport over half a million people into and out of Turkmenistan, and Turkmenistan Air operates regular flights to Moscow, London, Frankfurt, Birmingham, Bangkok, Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Amritsar, Kyiv, Lviv, Beijing, Istanbul, Minsk, Almaty, Tashkent, and St. Petersburg.
Small airfields serve industrial sites near other cities, but do not feature scheduled commercial passenger service. Airfields slated for modernization and expansion include those serving Garabogaz, Jebel, and Galaýmor. The new Turkmenabat International Airport was commissioned in February 2018. In June 2021, an international airport was opened in Kerki.
Since 1962, the Turkmenbashy International Seaport has operated a passenger ferry to the port of Baku, Azerbaijan as well as rail ferries to other ports on the Caspian Sea (Baku, Aktau). In recent years tanker transport of oil to the ports of Baku and Makhachkala has increased.
In May 2018 construction was completed of a major expansion of the Turkmenbashy seaport. Cost of the project was $1.5 billion. The general contractor for the project was Gap Inşaat, a subsidiary of Çalık Holding of Turkey. The expansion added 17 million tons of annual capacity, making total throughput including previously existing facilities of over 25 million tons per year. The international ferry and passenger terminals will be able to serve 300,000 passengers and 75,000 vehicles per year, and the container terminal is designed to handle 400,000 TEU (20-foot container equivalent) per year.
The first rail line in Turkmenistan was built in 1880, from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Mollagara. By October 1881 the line was extended to Kyzyl-Arvat, by 1886 had reached Çärjew. In 1887 a wooden rail bridge was built over the Amu Darya, and the line was continued to Samarkand (1888) and Tashkent (1898). Rail service in Turkmenistan began as part of Imperial Russia's Trans-Caspian Railway, then of the Central Asian Railway. After the collapse of the USSR, the railway network in Turkmenistan was transferred to and operated by the state-owned Türkmendemirýollary. The rail gauge is the same as the Russian (and former Soviet) one-1520 millimeters.
The total length of railways is 3181 km. Only domestic passenger service is available, except for special trains operated by tour operators. The railway carries approximately 5.5 million passengers and moves nearly 24 million tons of freight per year.
Turkmen Railways is currently constructing a rail line in Afghanistan to connect Serhetabat to Herat. Upon completion, it may connect to the proposed rail line to connect Herat to Khaf, Iran.