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Quick Facts
CapitalAshgabat
Governmentrepublic
CurrencyTurkmen manat (TMM)
LanguageTurkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, other 7%
ReligionMuslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%

Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia with a population of about 5 million and an area around half a million square km, a bit larger than California.

It has a coast on the the Caspian Sea, but is otherwise landlocked. Neighboring countries are Iran and Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the North.

It is a relatively poor desert country. The traditional life of Turkomans is as nomadic shepherds, though some have been settled in towns for centuries. The country has oil which is being developed.

Regions

The great Garagum (Kara-Kum) desert, occupies over 80% of the country in the West and center.

The Eastern part is a less desolate plateau.

Cities

  • Ashgabat, the capital
  • Merv
  • Turkmenbasy, a Caspian port

Historically, most of these towns were oases along the Silk Road.

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Understand

North Korea may get all the press, but even Kim Jong-Il's cult of personality fades when compared to the surreal Stalinist utopia set up by Turkmenistan's all-powerful President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov. He has adopted the title Turkmenbashi ("Father of Turkmen"), named the city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) after himself, and built a 15-meter tall golden statue that rotates to face the sun in the capital Ashgabat. The month of January is now known as Turkmenbashi, while the month of April and the word "bread" are now officially Gurbansoltan Eje, the name of Niyazov's mother. Decrees emanating from Niyazov's palace have banned, among other things, lip syncing, long hair, video games and golden tooth caps. Through it all, Serdar Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great (his official title) has remained modest: "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want", Niyazov said.

People

The people are predominantly Turkmen, also spelt Turkoman, by both ethnicity and language.

  • Religions : Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%

Terrain

Turkmenistan is largely desert country with intensive agriculture in irrigated oases and huge gas (fifth largest reserves in the world) and oil resources.

One-half of its irrigated land is planted in cotton, making it the world's tenth largest producer.

Get in

Ever since an assassination attempt on President-for-Life Niyazov in 2002, prompty blamed on foreigners as no Turkmen could possibly want to kill his dear Leader, Turkmenistan has ratcheted up its visa policy to the point where it's now probably the hardest country in the world to enter. Official visa costs are around US$50 for a transit or tourist visa, but getting the requisite letters of support, local travel agency itineraries etc often push up the actual price to multiples of this — and it's still difficult to get more than a one-week transit visa. Turkmenistan has withdrawn from the Commonwealth of Independent States unified visa regime, so this loophole is also closed now.

By plane

By train

There is a railway connection to Russia.

By car

By bus

By boat

There is a ferry between Baku (Azerbaijan) and Turkmenbashi aprox. twice a week.

Get around

The Amu Darya is an important inland waterway for Turkmenistan.

Talk

About 72% of people speak Turkmen. The rest speak Russian (12%), Uzbek (9%), or other languages (7%).

See also: Turkmen phrasebook

Buy

Turkoman rugs are famous, tending to rich reds with geometric patterns. Sometimes they are called Bokhara rugs. Turkoman designs are now often copied in India and Pakistan.

A good current reference is Murray Eiland [Oriental Carpets: A Complete Guide (http://www.twbookmark.com/authors/89/1475/critical_praise.html|)]

The classic book is "Tappiseries de l'Asie Centrale", written by AA Bogolyubov, Tsarist governor of Turkmenistan, in 1905. It was a limited edition with hand-painted illustrations, now rare and extremely expensive.

A translation, "Carpets of Central Asia", was published in Britain in the 60s. Even it is now hard to find and expensive. However, if you intend spending a lot on these carpets, it is definitely worth reading. Look for it in libraries.

Eat

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