Central Asia History: Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a mid-sized country in Central Asia. It covers 188,500 square miles (488,000 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of California. It shares borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, and has coastline along the Caspian Sea.


Turkmenistan flag

Turkmenistan flag

Turkmenistan’s concrete history begins at about 2000 BCE, when Iranian tribes began using the area as part of their nomadic lifestyle. Turkmenistan often served as a stop-over point for mass invasions or migrations of people, as well, heading further south. In the 4th century BCE,Alexander the Great conquered the region, adding it to his vast empire and constructing the city of Alexandria, which would later become Merv and then Mary. The Parthians invaded after Alexander’s death, conquering the region, along with Iran, and forming the Kingdom of Parthia. The Parthians held the region for a short time, however, before it was conquered by the Sasanids of Persia, who would hold on to Turkmenistan until the 5th century, when invading Huns drove them out.


By this time Turkmenistan had become an important point on the Silk Route, and Merv become an important city in the production of silk. This led to an Arab invasion near the end of the 7th century, introducing Islam to the region. Various Turks moved into the area, beginning with the Oghuz, and the region was soon divided by different groups. In the 11th century the Seljukid conquered much of the region, although portions remained under the control of the Oghuz, the Ghuzz, and the Karluk.

In the early 13th century Turkmenistan, along with much of Central Asia, was conquered brutally by the Mongols. After a brief period of autonomy, the Mongol Timurid Empire re-established Mongol rule through the 14th century, eventually collapsing in the early 15th century. Upon the Timurid Empire’s collapse, Turkmenistan went back to a system of small independent states. For the next few hundred years various sections of lands were passed back and forth between major powers and minor rulers.

Turkmenistan map

Turkmenistan map


In the late 19th century Imperial Russia took control of all of Turkmenistan. Russian control was not always friendly to the Turkmen population, but during this time the country’s infrastructure did develop somewhat, most notably with the creation of the Transcaspian Railway. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Turkmenistan became a center for anti-Bolshevik fighters, eventually being subjugated by the new Soviet Union, and becoming a Soviet Republic in 1924. During this period there was severe resistance from nomadic Turkmen and Muslims in Turkmenistan, but despite constant guerilla action, the Soviets remained in control.


Images from www.worldatlas.com and www.infoplease.com

Turkmenistan In Odds With Russian Partnership

A few weeks ago, Russia’s state-run Gazprom announced it would sharply and immediately cut the amount of gas it purchases from Turkmenistan. Now Turkmenistan’s authoritarian government has responded with a rare outburst. Unfortunately for Ashgabat, these days there’s not much it can do but screech. Russia is an “unreliable partner,” a think-tank inside Turkmenistan’s own state energy company, Turkmengaz, said in a February 16 rant published on its website.



The article – “Will Gas Exports of Turkmen Gas to Russia Recover?” – criticizes Russia and Gazprom for all of the unhappiest moments in an up-and-down relationship that has seen deliveries of Turkmen gas to Russia drop from a peak of around 45 billion cubic meters per year (bcm) in 2008 to the 4 bcm the Russian giant says it will now import in 2015.

The piece expressed outrage at Gazprom’s failure to fulfill a 2008 agreement to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline and fingered Gazprom for an unexplained pipeline explosion in April 2009 that marked the beginning of the decline in its purchases. Gazprom and its affiliates “periodically violate agreements at interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental levels,” the article notes.

The tone of the piece suggests Gazprom Vice Chairman Alexander Medvedev was exaggerating a bit when he said on February 3 that the decision to cut imports by more than 60 percent was made with Ashgabat’s blessing.

Alexander Medvedev

Alexander Medvedev

Turkmenistan appears to be struggling with depressed prices for the hydrocarbon’s it depends on for 90 percent of exports. The Central Bank devalued its manat by almost a fifth overnight on January 1. And in a rare moment of outreach to his cowed population, earlier this month strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov promised “anti-crisis measures.” Turkmenistan’s gas exports to number-one customer China are predicted to reach 65 bcm by 2020, almost double their current volume. But China’s buying price is reportedly tied to the low global oil price and some gas revenues are being used to pay Beijing back for constructing the pipeline. So Berdymukhamedov may have to do some belt-tightening in the short-term.

Images from www.shtokman.ru and images.google.com



Previously, the focus of the overall article is in Central Asia, one of the lesser known parts of Asia. In order to understand the present, the past must be explored as well. The brief background presented about Central Asia revealed past wars, conquests, as well as influences from neighboring countries. Now, in this article, each country of Central Asia in the 21st century would be explored.

First of all, Turkmenistan was formerly known as Turkmenia. It is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. The borders of Central Asia includes Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the northeast and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.

Politics: After 69 years as part of the Soviet Union, the political state of Turkmenistan underwent several changes. The former Communist Party was now the dominant party, Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. The second party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned. The first multi-party Parliamentary Elections were held on 2013. Now, Turkmenistan is a single-party state. Turkmenistan is a unitary presidential republic.

Demographics: As of 2014, the population of Turkmenistan is 5,171,943. And as is with other Central Asian minority groups. Some ethnics group include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kurds (from the mountains), Armenians, Uzbeks, Russians, Azeris, Balochs, and Pashtuns.

Language: Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan. Although the second majority language spoken is Russian. It is considered as a language of inter-ethnic communication. As there are a lot of ethnic groups in Turkmenistan, there are a lot of dialects spoken by the natives as well.

Religion: Since it is part of the Central Asia, and the neighboring countries are all Muslim countries, Islam is the main religion, which consists of 89% of the population, while 9% of the population is surprisingly of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 2% is reported as non-religious.


Other aspects would be discussed in later articles as there are a lot of intricate details and history involved.

Images both from en.wikipedia.org


Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert

Most people don’t even know where Turkmenistan is. The most mysterious country in Asia has just opened its doors to tourism after being closed off from the outside until the death of its dictator, Turkmenbashi, in 2006.

Many are surprised to realise that Turkmenistan lies in Central Asia and has been at the crossroads of civilisations for centuries. Comprised mainly of the Karakum Desert and with some bizarre public architecture on display, the country remains largely unfamiliar to anyone but the locals.

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Karakum Desert

Peregrine Adventures has just launched its first tour into the country that explores its medieval ruins, prehistoric towns, underwater caves and crater filled with flaming fire. “If travel is the search for something new, then Turkmenistan might be the ultimate travel destination,” Peregrine Adventures managing director James Thornton said.

“Most people would not even know where Turkmenistan is located let alone know what treasures lie within it. Tour operators are just scratching the surface in Central Asia and within five to 10 years we’ll start to see many more comprehensive tours such as this in the area.”

Covering more than 70 per cent of the country, the Karakum is more than just a desert. See the moonscape of the Yangykala Canyon, so isolated that many people in the country are still unaware of its existence.

Or the Bolshoi Balkan, a mountain range, in which archaeologists have found human remains dating back to the Stone Age. And small settlements like Yerbent, not too far from The Door to Hell, where you can see how locals live in this blistering desert.

"Door to Hell"

“Door to Hell”

In the heart of the Karakum Desert is a 70-metre wide flaming crater, fuelled by gas. In the early 1970s, oil drillers unearthed a large pocket of methane and, fearing it would pollute the surrounding air, decided to burn it off. Those flames still burn today giving it the name, The Door to Hell.

Images from panoramio.com and happygolucky.no



China needs Turkmenistan’s Natural Gas

One of China’s aims is to reduce its dependence on coal and switch to alternative energy sources like gas.

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So at an energy conference in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, China has been unveiling plans to pour billions into Turkmenistan’s energy sector just so it can boost its own gas supplies.

Since December 2009, the total amount of gas from Central Asian countries “mainly from Turkmenistan, delivered to China has reached 100bn cubic metres,” says Deng Minmin, general manager of China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

But Beijing is planning to increase its gas imports from this region further, and by 2020 China plans to be importing 65bn cubic metres of gas from Turkmenistan every year.

In order to deliver such large volumes it is expanding the existing pipeline network, and by 2016 the fourth branch of the China-Central Asia pipeline will be completed – raising the export capacity level to 85bn cubic metres a year.

With the fourth-largest gas reserves in the world, Turkmenistan is a vital energy partner for China.

Crucially, China’s CNPC is the only foreign company that has a direct access to Turkmenistan’s on-shore gas fields – including the world’s second-largest gas field, called Galkynysh.

This energy expansion fits China’s recently announced “Silk Road economic belt” policy, which focuses on a single transport infrastructure to “break the connectivity bottleneck” in the region.

And this month president Xi Jinping announced that China would set up a $40bn (£25bn) Silk Road Fund. Part of that money will go to infrastructure projects in Central Asia.

The United States has been pursuing a similar policy to boost economic co-operation and connectivity in Central and South Asia with the same name – Silk Road.

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Daniel Rosenblum, US State Department deputy assistant secretary for Central Asia, says that the infrastructure projects China has been implementing fit the goals of its own strategy – but there seem to be some differences, too.

Images from chinadaily.com