Central Asia   Turkmenistan

Sketch of Turkmenistan

By Andrew Oh

Formerly a republic of the Soviet Urnon, the Republic of Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia east of the Caspian Sea. It borders Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Turkmeni stan has an area of approximately 188,500 square miles (488,200 square kilometers). The capital is Ashkhabad.

Turkmenia, as it is often known, is mostly desert. The Kara-Kum, a desert of long sand ridges, is its largest single feature and accounts for more than 70 percent of its land area. (Maslow, 1994) The only part of the republic that is not essentially flat is the Kopetdag Mountains at Turkmenia's southern boundary. There is only one major body of water the Amu Darya, which flows through the republic's eastmost regions.

Low humidity, little rainfall, and high evaporation make Turkmenia's climate very dry.

The Kara-Kum receives only about 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rainfall a year and the

Kopetdags no more than 16 inches (40 centimeters). The average temperature in July is 82

F (28 C) in the north and 90 F (32 C) in the south.

Turkmenia has one of the highest rates of population growth of all the former Soviet republics, but it is the least densely populated. Most people live in the oasis areas in the south and along the Amu Darya in the east.

Although Russians, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs live in Turkmenia, the largest ethnic group is the Tur~en, making up two thirds of the republic's population. The Turkmen migrated to Central Asia beginning in the 8th century AD and intermingled with the local population. They speak a language known as Turkic, a branch of the Altaic language family, which makes them linguistically similar to the Azerbaijanis and the Turks. The Turkmen were nomads throughout most of their history but are now mostly farmers. 

Since the Russian Revolution of 1917, the economy of Turkmenia has been transfomed. Agriculture has been mechanized and, because of widespread irrigation, greatly expanded.(United Nations Pub, 1988) Kara-Kum Canal, using water from the Ainu Daiya, irrigates approximately 1,000,000 acres (404,700 hectares).

Discoveries of petroleum and natural gas have greatly expanded Turkmenia's heavy industry and made the republic one of the former Soviet Union's major energy producers. Production of chemicals and generation of electricity are also significant in the economy. Light industry has centered on food processing and textiles, especially cotton, woolen, and silk fabrics. Rug making and embroidery are major activities of local industry. Cotton is the main agricultural product, though grain crops especially wheat, barley, and corn are grown. Livestock raising follows cotton in importance. Karakul sheep, whose wool is used to make carpets, are the most plentiful.

As early as the 6th century BC, Turkmenia was part of the Persian Achaememan empire. It fell to Alexander the Great in 331 BC and then to his successors, the Seleucids. The Parthians and then the Sassanids controlled the area in the early centuries of the Christian Bra, but Arabs conquered it in the 7th century. The migration of Turkic peoples into Turkmenia began about the same time. The Mongols, under Genghis Khan, overran Turkmenia in the 13th century, and it passed to various local khanates thereafter. (Encyclopedia, 1995)

Russian penetration into Turkmenia began in the 18th century in an attempt to control Asian trade routes. Despite some resistance, Turkmema was annexed by Russia between the years 1869 and 1881 Alter the Russian Revolution, it was an administrative subdivision of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 1924 it became the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. There was resistance to Soviet rule throughout the 1930s. Amid the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan declared its independence in 1991. Population (1991 census), 3,714,100 (Encyclopedia, 1995)

Turkmenistan's economy is in the process of converting to a free-market system. It had functioned for much of the Soviet period as a source of raw materials, specially cotton and petroleum products as mentioned before, which were shipped outside its borders for further processing. Until the end of 1991 Turkmenistan had never independently exported or imported goods or services.


1.. Sacred horses: The members of a Turkmen Cowboy. Jonathan Maslow, New York:

Random House, 1994.


2.  Integrated  desert development and desertification control in the Turkrnenian USSR:

United Nations, 1988.


3.       Encyclopedia. New York: Random House, 1995.





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