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Turkmenistan: General Information

Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia and borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Caspian Sea. Its territory is 488,100 square kilometers, of which approximately 80% is desert. The country is rich in oil and natural gas resources and cotton is its major agricultural product. The Amu-Darya river is the main source of water, running along the eastern border between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan located in the southern part of the country. Turkmenistan is divided into five administrative regions (velayats): Ahal, Balkan, Lebap, Mary and Dashoguz, each consisting of several districts (etraps). The main sea port of Turkmenistan is the city of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea.  Turkmenistan is located in a disaster prone region and can be affected by a number of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, drought, desertification and others. The northern part of the country falls within the Aral Sea disaster zone, where salinisation of water and soil poses a serious challenge to all countries of the region.

The oil and gas industries occupy an important space in Turkmenistan's current economic development as well as in its vision for the future. Attracting foreign investors and constructing pipelines have been at the top of the government's agenda since 1992 when they began holding international conferences to gather oil companies and promote international competition for investment. To encourage such capital investments, efforts have been made to improve the banking industry and tax codes. Turkmenistan's commitment to these industries also impacts its foreign policy as it nurtures relationships with many potential investors and customers as well as neighbors like Iran which may be in a position to host a gas or oil pipeline.

Turkmenistan, as a country producing oil and gas, has experienced robust economic growth in recent years.  Forecasts suggest that the growth will continue in medium term. Along with the fast pace of economic development, realization is growing that attention must increasingly be focused on investment in institution building and human resource development as the main pillars of sustainable growth. Economic diversification is still in the initial stages and energy exports continue to play a key role in the country’s economy.

Turkmen identity and culture have been tied closely to the political history and shifts in power in Central Asia. Although Turkmen had their own religious, cultural, and political traditions, the emergence of powerful neighboring states affected their governing systems, economy, and ecology and sometimes altered their way of life.

Turkmen are culturally and linguistically related to other Turkic peoples, such as Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, Tatars, Baskurts, Azerbaijanis, and those in Turkey. They are descended from larger Turkic groups living on the Chinese border that began to migrate westward in the ninth century. While their migrations often were due primarily to a lack of pasturage, military and political conquests shaped the way of life in the new lands.

For many centuries the Turkmen were a fragmented group of tribes that associated and warred according to their immediate needs. They formed the ethnic base of great empires, however, such as the Seljuks and Ottomans, and of modern states such as Azerbaijan and Turkey. Their reputation as magnificent horsemen and warriors earned them a place as frontier fighters when those empires attempted to expand their borders. They also raided settled neighbors, especially Persia, for slaves and wealth.

The Russian invasion subjugated the Turkmen, ended practices such as slavery, and brought the Transcaspian Railroad as well as Russian colonists. The conquest of the Turkmen occurred at the battle of Gok Tepe in 1881, but the Russian army continued fighting until it had secured Merv (Mary) in 1884. Thousands of women and children were slaughtered at Gök Tepe. That memory is marked by the 12 January day of commemoration and by the extravagant mosque that was erected near the site of the massacre.