Turkmenistan formerly known as Turkmenia, is a country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
Turkmenistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea to the west, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the north-east, and Kazakhstan to the north-west. It 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 km). The other borders are with Iran (to the south, 992 km), Afghanistan (to the south, 744 km), Uzbekistan (to the north and east, 1,621 km) and Kazakhstan (to the north, 379 km). Turkmenistan is slightly larger than California in territory, occupying 488,100 km². By area Turkmenistan ranks fourth among the former Soviet republics, after Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
A dominant feature of the republic’s landscape is the Garagum Desert (also known as Karakum), which occupies about 350,000 square kilometers (see Environmental Issues). 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 Garaşor, which occupies 1,500 square kilometers in the northwest. The Sandykly Desert west of the Amu Darya river is the southernmost extremity of the Qizilqum Desert, most of which lies in Uzbekistan to the northeast.
Almost 80% 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 km 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). The river’s average annual flow is 1,940 cubic meters per second. Other major rivers are the Tejen (1,124 km); the Murgab (852 km); and the Atrek (660 km).
Turkmenistan has a cold 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 (11.8 in) in the Kopet Dag to 80 millimeters (3.15 in) in the northwest. The capital, Ashgabat, close to the Iranian border in south-central Turkmenistan, averages 225 millimeters (8.9 in) of rainfall annually. Average annual temperatures range from 17.1 °C (62.8 °F) in Ashgabat to 12.8 °C (55.0 °F) in Daşoguz, on the Uzbek border in north-central Turkmenistan. The almost constant winds are northerly, northeasterly, or westerly.
Turkmenistan is divided into five regions or welayatlar (singular welayat) and one capital city district (şäher).
Turkmenistan is divided into 5 provinces – Ahal, Balkan, Dashoguz, Lebap and Mary. Each province is divided into districts. There are 50 districts, 24 towns, including 15 towns district-wide, 76 villages and 553 rural councils (rural municipal units) and 1903 rural settlements in Turkmenistan
The heads of the regions (Turkmen: hyakim, “the leader”) are appointed by the President of Turkmenistan (Constitution of Turkmenistan, Articles 80-81).
Turkmenistan is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It is largely a desert country with intensive agriculture in irrigated areas, and huge gas and oil resources. In terms of natural gas reserves, it is ranked 4th in the world. Regarding agriculture, the two largest crops are cotton, most of which is produced for export, and wheat, which is domestically consumed. Turkmenistan is among the top ten producers of cotton in the world. From 1998 to 2005, Turkmenistan suffered from the continued lack of adequate export routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive short-term external debt. At the same time, however, total exports rose by an average of roughly 15% per year from 2003 to 2008, largely because of higher international oil and gas prices. As in the Soviet era, central planning and state control pervade the system, and the Niyazov government (in power 1991–2006) consistently rejected market reform programs. The state subsidizes a wide variety of commodities and services. Since his election in 2007, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has unified the country’s dual currency exchange rate, ordered the redenomination of the manat, reduced state subsidies for gasoline, and initiated development of a special tourist zone (Avaza) on the Caspian Sea. Since 2009, Turkmenistan has maintained the fixed exchange rate. As of June 18, 2016, 1 United States dollar is equivalent to 3.50 Turkmenistan manat.
The politics of Turkmenistan takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President of Turkmenistan is both head of state and head of government. No true opposition parties are allowed; every registered political party supports the second and current President and Arkadag Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
Turkmenistan’s declaration of “permanent neutrality” was formally recognized by the United Nations in 1995. Former President 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. Although the Government of Turkmenistan claims to favour trade with and export to the United States and Turkey, it has significant commercial relationships with Russia and Iran and a growing cross-border trade with Afghanistan. The Government of Turkmenistan often appears to be trying to use the conflicting interests of these regional powers as a means to extract concessions from the others, especially on energy issues.
Most of Turkmenistan’s citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kurds (native to 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. In 2012 it was confirmed that the population of Turkmenistan decreased due to some specific factors and is less than the previously estimated 5 million.
The CIA World Factbook gives the ethnic composition of Turkmenistan as 85% Turkmen, 5% Uzbek, 4% Russian and 6% other (2003 estimates). According to data announced in Ashgabat in February 2001, 91% of the population are Turkmen, 3% are Uzbeks and 2% are Russians. Between 1989 and 2001 the number of Turkmen in Turkmenistan doubled (from 2.5 to 4.9 million), while the number of Russians dropped by two-thirds (from 334,000 to slightly over 100,000.
The Turkmen of Turkmenistan, like their kin in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are Muslims. According to the CIA World Factbook, Turkmenistan is 89% Muslim and 10% Eastern Orthodox. Most ethnic Russians are Orthodox Christians. The remaining 1% is unknown. A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims with 93.1% of Turkmenistan’s population adhering to Islam.
The great majority of Turkmen readily identify themselves as Muslims and acknowledge Islam as an integral part of their cultural heritage. However, there are some who only support a revival of the religion’s status merely as an element of national revival.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. Since 1993, citizens have received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.