Site Information:  Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union



Public Affairs Source: Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication Description: Washington, DC Date: May 27, 19925/27/92 Category: Site Information Region: Eurasia Country: Turkmenistan, USSR (former) Subject: History, Democratization, Trade/Economics, Cultural Exchange Map: Central, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Republics [TEXT]


Situated in Central Asia, Turkmenistan extends from the Caspian Sea on the west to Uzbekistan on the east. It is bordered by Kazakhstan on the north and by Afghanistan and Iran on the south and is the southernmost of the former Soviet republics. It lies between the Caspian Sea in the west and the Amu Darya River in the east, stretching about 1,100 kilometers (720 miles) from east to west and about 650 kilometers (420 miles) north to south. The terrain of Turkmenistan is primarily desert (the Kara- Kum, or Black Sand), with an arid climate and severe fluctuations in temperature. The capital and largest city, Ashgabat, is situated in the south at the foot of the Kopet Dag mountain range, which rises along the border with Iran. The population is concentrated here and in the valley of Amu-Darya in the northeast. Turkmen is the official language, with Turkmens comprising about two-thirds of the population. The exact origin of the Turkmens is uncertain, but they were known to be a pastoral and nomadic people until their occupation by tsarist Russia in the 19th century. The Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1924. Turkmenistan declared its independence on October 27, 1991. Although historically a herding region, Turkmenistan under Soviet influence became an important producer of minerals and cotton. Natural gas was first discovered in the desert in the 1960s, and the gas field of Sovete-bad is today a major supplier. Cotton production has increased because of construction of the Kara-Kum canal, which crosses the desert. Herds of karakul sheep provide pelts renowned as Persian lamb. Western Turkmenistan has fisheries, fish processing, and chemical and mining industries. n

Turkmenistan at a Glance

* Most Turkmens are Sunni Muslims. Their society is patrilinear, with extended families made of up parents, unmarried children, and married sons living together. * Some Turkmens remained nomadic until the early 20th century, supplementing their income by robbing caravans passing through their territory, sometimes holding the travelers for ransom or even selling them into slavery. * Since the 1950s, construction has been underway on the world's largest irrigation project, the Kara-kum Canal, across the Kara-Kum desert. * Fox, wildcat, and gazelle roam the desert range of the Kara- Kum, while cheetah, lynx, and snow leopard are found in the mountain range of Kopet-Dag. Beluga sturgeon, prized for caviar, is found in the Caspian region. * Many women in Turkmenistan are engaged in the art of carpet weaving. Their woolen carpets feature colors and patterns distinct to their culture. Principal Government Officials

Principal Government Officials

President and Prime Minister: Saparmurad Niyazov Minister of Foreign Affairs: Avdy Kuliyev Capital: Ashgabat, formerly Ashkhabad Ashgabat was founded in 1881 as a fortress. An earthquake in 1948 virtually destroyed the city, which sits on a major fault zone. The city has textile and machine-building industries, as well as a film studio. It also is the home of the Turkmen Academy of Sciences.