Eastern Turkmenistan for centuries formed part of the Persian province of Khurasan; in medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1924. It achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country once extraction and delivery projects are expanded. The Turkmen Government is actively working to diversify its gas export routes beyond the still dominant Russian pipeline network. In 2010, new gas export pipelines that carry Turkmen gas to China and to northern Iran began operating, effectively ending the Russian monopoly on Turkmen gas exports. President for Life Saparmurat NYYAZOW died in December 2006, and Turkmenistan held its first multi-candidate presidential election in February 2007. Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, a deputy cabinet chairman under NYYAZOW, emerged as the country's new president.
Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia with a population of about 5 million, and an area around half a million km2, or almost the size of Spain. Neighboring countries are Iran and Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the North. It has a coast on the Caspian Sea, but is otherwise landlocked. Nearly 80% of the country is considered part of the Karakum Desert.
Turkmenistan is one of just two Stalinist countries in existence (the other being North Korea) and the government is in firm control of nearly everything, although, surprisingly, tourism is welcomed as long as you don't discuss politics or omnipresent police/military. The cult of personality the previous president created for himself is truly amazing and reminders of the Turkmenbashi's legacy are everywhere.
The traditional life of the Turkmen is that of nomadic shepherds, though some have been settled in towns for centuries. The country is known for its fine carpets (one is even featured in its flag) and horses. It is a fairly poor country, that has been isolated from the world. Other than that, Billions have been spent on modernization in Ashgabat, Turkmenbashi, and many other cities in post Soviet times. And also, the country has extensive oil and gas reserves being developed, with recently opened pipelines to China, Iran, and soon Azerbaijan. Turkmenistan is also the second wealthiest country in Central Asia.
Read more about Turkmenistan in our Turkmenistan travel guide »