Turkmenistan, formerly known as Turkmenia, is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, Uzbekistan to the east and northeast, Kazakhstan to the north and northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west.
The majority of Turkmenistan’s citizens are ethnic Turkmen; other ethnic groups include Russian, Uzbek, and Kazakh. Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, though Russian still is widely spoken as a “language of inter-ethnic communication” according to the 1992 constitution. Turkmens are predominantly Muslim.
The territory of Turkmenistan has been populated since ancient times, as armies from one empire to another decamped on their way to more prosperous territories. Tribes of horse-breeding Turkmen drifted into the territory of Turkmenistan, possibly from the Altay Mountains, and grazed along the outskirts of the Karakum Desert into Persia, Syria, and Anatolia.
Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century B.C. on his way to India. It came under local control in subsequent centuries. In the 7th century A.D., Arabs conquered this region, bringing with them Islam and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle Eastern culture. It was around this time that the famous “Silk Road” was established as a major trading route through Turkmenistan between Asia and Europe. In the middle of the 11th century, the powerful Turks of the Seljuk Empire concentrated their strength in the territory of Turkmenistan in an attempt to expand into Afghanistan. The empire broke down in the second half of the 12th century, and the Turkmen lost their independence to the Mongols when Genghis Khan took control of the eastern Caspian Sea region on his march west. For the next 7 centuries, the Turkmen people lived under various empires and fought constant intertribal wars. By 1894 imperial Russia had taken control of Turkmenistan. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent political unrest led to the declaration of the Turkmen Republic as one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union in 1924. At this time, the modern borders of Turkmenistan were formed. Until its independence in 1991, Turkmenistan was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Turkmen government operates as a single-party system. Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (called “Türkmenbasy” — “leader of the Turkmens”) until his sudden death on 21 December 2006. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was elected the new president on 11 February 2007.
Turkmenistan’s GDP growth rate of 11% in 2010 ranks 4th in the world. The country is an important supplier of raw materials, especially natural gas, petroleum products, and raw cotton. It possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Its wealth in natural sources makes the country one of the strategically important countries in the region.
Location: Turkmenistan, the farthest southwest of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, is located on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. To the south is Iran, to the south and east is Afghanistan, and to the north are Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Size: Turkmenistan occupies 488,100 square kilometers, almost all of which is land surface.
Land Boundaries: The length of Turkmenistan’s borders with neighboring countries is as follows: with Uzbekistan, 1,621 kilometers; Iran, 922 kilometers; Afghanistan, 744 kilometers; and Kazakhstan, 379 kilometers.
Length of Coastline: Turkmenistan’s only coastline, along the Caspian Sea, is 1,768 kilometers long.
Principal Rivers: The most important river is the Amu Darya, which flows across northeastern Turkmenistan, thence eastward to form the southern borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Other major rivers are the Tejen (1,124 kilometers), the Murgap (852 kilometers), and the Atrek (660 kilometers).
Climate: Most of Turkmenistan has a subtropical desert climate that is severely continental. Summers are long, hot, and dry, and winters are mild and dry. Annual precipitation ranges from 80 millimeters in the northwest to 300 millimeters in the Kopetdag Range along the border with Iran.
Natural Resources: By far the most plentiful natural resources are natural gas and oil. Reserves of gas, estimated in 2005 at 2 trillion cubic meters (fifteenth in the world), could rise to as much as 9 trillion cubic meters if the newly discovered Iolotan field is as large as predicted. Reserves of oil are estimated at 500 million barrels. Small amounts of salt and gypsum are extracted. Agricultural land generally is of poor quality and requires intensive irrigation.
Land Use: Some 3.7 percent of the land is classified as arable, and less than 0.2 percent is planted to permanent crops. About 17,500 square kilometers are irrigated, mainly for cotton production.
Environmental Factors: Turkmenistan has fewer critical water- and air-pollution problems than most of the other former Soviet republics because it has relatively little heavy industry, a low concentration of motor vehicles, and low population density. Turkmenistan’s major environmental problems are the various effects of the desiccation of the Aral Sea; contamination of soil and groundwater by agricultural chemicals; desertification, which is reducing the stock of arable land; and a complex of conditions resulting from water levels and industrialization on the Caspian Sea. Related to the first two problems is an intensifying shortage of water, which is an absolute requirement for the development of agriculture, industry, and large population centers anywhere in the country. The cult-of-personality dictatorship of former President Niyazov combined with a shortage of resources to limit citizen input on environmental issues. Turkmenistan’s participation in regional environmental programs has been stymied by government control of environmental information.
Time Zone: Turkmenistan’s time zone is five hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
In the eighth century A.D., 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 tenth 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. Turkmen soldiers 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 twelfth 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 sixteenth 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 nineteenth century, raids and rebellions by the Yomud Turkmen group resulted in that group’s dispersal by the Uzbek rulers.
Russian forces began occupying Turkmen territory late in the nineteenth century. From their Caspian Sea base at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi), the Russians eventually overcame the Uzbek khanates. In 1881 the last significant resistance in Turkmen territory was crushed at the Battle of Gokdepe, 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 1924 the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was formed from the tsarist province of Transcaspia. By the late 1930s, Soviet reorganization of agriculture had destroyed what remained of the nomadic lifestyle in Turkmenistan, and Moscow controlled political life. 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 communist leader Saparmurad 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.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Turkmenistan in 1992 following its independence from the Soviet Union. Turkmenistan occupies a critical geographic juncture, sharing long borders with Afghanistan and Iran, and acts as a transportation, humanitarian, and economic link to Afghanistan and the South Asian subcontinent, advancing regional stability.
The Government of Turkmenistan engages with the United States in many areas, including cooperation in border and regional security programs, educational and cultural exchanges, and English-language training.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas and oil resources continue to attract foreign companies to the country, but the Government of Turkmenistan has yet to implement reforms needed to create an inviting business climate where foreign investment and foreign investors are truly welcomed. Turkmenistan has signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the United States and other Central Asian countries establishing a regional forum to discuss ways to improve investment climates and expand trade within Central Asia.
The United States and Turkmenistan have a most favored nation trade agreement. There is an ongoing review of Turkmenistan’s status as a beneficiary country under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program, due to significant deficiencies in Turkmenistan’s intellectual property protection regime. The U.S. Government considers the Soviet-era dual taxation convention to continue to be in effect and applicable between the United States and Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan’s Membership in International Organizations
Turkmenistan and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. Turkmenistan is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace.