Country profile: Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is made up mainly of desert and has the
smallest population of the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The government is autocratic, but the strict isolation imposed by eccentric
dictator Saparmurat Niyazov has lifted somewhat after his death.
The country says it has the world's fifth largest estimated reserves of
Despite its gas wealth, much of Turkmenistan's population is still
impoverished. After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the country
entered a period of isolation that has only recently begun to end.
- Politics: Turkmenistan has become less isolated
since President Berdymukhamedov took power in 2007
- Economy: It has large natural gas reserves but
poverty levels are high
- International: Turkmenistan exports most of its gas
to Russia, but has been expanding export routes to China and Iran since
It is a one-party state dominated by the Democratic
Party of Turkmenistan, which was led by the President Saparmurat Niyazov until
his death in December 2006.
The late leader styled himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of the Turkmen, and
made himself the centre of an omnipresent personality cult. Mr Niyazov, who made
himself president for life in 1999, spent large sums of public money on
grandiose projects while heavily cutting social welfare.
His influence spread into every area of life in the republic. Turkmens were
even expected to take spiritual guidance from his book, Ruhnama, a collection of
thoughts on Turkmen culture and history.
His successor, Kurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, has diluted much of the cult of
personality established around Niyazov, but his own promises of political reform
in the country have been largely unmet.
Turkmenistan is the most ethnically homogeneous of the Central Asian
republics. There are some Uzbeks in the east, as well as small populations of
Russians, Kazakhs, Tatars and others.
Late President Niyazov styled himself as Father
of the Turkmen
In contrast to other former Soviet republics, it has been largely free of
inter-ethnic hostilities. However, strong tribal allegiances among the Turkmen
can be a source of tension.
With foreign investors keeping away, the Turkmen economy remains
The country has been unable to benefit fully from its gas and oil deposits
because of an absence of export routes and a dispute between the Caspian Sea
littoral states over the legal status of offshore oil.
Turkmenistan produces roughly 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas each
year and about two-thirds of its exports go to Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly. A
protracted dispute between the two countries over the price ended in September
2006 when Gazprom agreed to pay 54% more.
Turkmenistan has since made efforts to break out of Russia's hold on its
exports. It has opened major gas pipelines to China and Iran, and is considering
taking part in the Nabucco pipeline - an EU-backed project designed to provide
an alternative to Russian gas supplies to Europe.
Turkmenistan has the smallest population of the
five former Soviet republics in Central Asia
- Population: 5.2 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Ashgabat
- Area: 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles)
- Major language: Turkmen, Russian
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Turkmen manat = 100 tenge
- Main exports: Oil, gas, textiles, raw cotton
- GNI per capita: US $3,420 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .tm
- International dialling code: +993
President: Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov secured a second five-year
term in February 2012, winning more than 97% of the vote. In the election, Mr
Berdymukhamedov faced several other candidates from his own party, all of whom
expressed their support for him.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to
send a mission to monitor the poll, saying there was little point given the
limited freedoms and lack of political competition in the country.
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took office as president after winning elections
in February 2007 with 89% of the vote.
There were six candidates in that poll, all from the Democratic Party of
Turkmenistan. Exiled figures from the Turkmen opposition were banned from
competing, and human rights groups and Western diplomats condemned the election
Weeks later the president was chosen as chairman of the People's Council,
Turkmenistan's highest legislative body. He was the only candidate.
A former deputy prime minister, Mr Berdymukhamedov became acting president
after authoritarian leader Saparmyrat Niyazov died in December 2006. Mr Niyazov
had been in power since Soviet times.
His nomination for the presidency surprised observers because under the
constitution the post should have gone to People's Council chairman Ovezgeldy
Atayev. However, after Mr Niyazov died Mr Atayev became the subject of a
criminal investigation and was sacked.
The new president promised to continue the policies of his predecessor but
also to introduce reforms, including unlimited access to the internet, better
education and higher pensions.
Soon after coming to power, he restored pensions to more than 100,000 elderly
citizens, reversing President Niyazov's decisions to withdraw them the previous
He has dismantled aspects of his predecessor's personality cult, but in part
only to introduce the beginnings of one of his own. Already, a new mosque was
named after him in 2009, and bookshops are full of Mr Berdymukhamedov's own
Once Mr Niyazov's personal dentist, Mr Berdymukhamedov became Turkmen health
minister in 1997 and deputy premier in 2001. One of his tasks was to implement
Mr Niyazov's closure of most medical facilities, which brought public health
care to the point of collapse.
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was born in 1957.
Programmes from Russian TV are censored before
The Turkmen government has an absolute monopoly of the
media. The authorities monitor media outlets, control printing presses, block
websites, monitor internet use and lay down editorial policies.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has described the
lack of press freedom in the country as "unprecedented" in the body's history.
Under President Berdymukhamedov, "the state's absolute control of the press
remains untouched", said Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) in 2010.
The president suggested that some private newspapers might be permitted in
comments in July 2010, but none has yet appeared.
Programmes from Russian TV are censored before being rebroadcast.
Turkmentelecom and other state bodies control internet access. There were
80,400 internet users by June 2010 (InternetWorldStats). Foreign-based
opposition websites are blocked. YouTube and blog platform Livejournal were
blocked in late 2009.
Turkmenistan is listed as an RSF "Enemy of the Internet" (2010) and one of
the Committee to Protect Journalists' "10 worst countries to be a blogger"
- Neytralnyy Turkmenistan - Russian-language, published six times a week
- Turkmenistan - Turkmen-language, published six times a week
- Watan (Homeland) - Turkmen-language, published three times a week
- Galkynys (Revival) - Turkmen-language weekly, mouthpiece of the ruling
Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
- Turkmen Dunyasi - Turkmen-language monthly, mouthpiece of the
Ashgabat-based World Turkmens Association
- Adalat (Justice) in Turkmen
- Edebiyat we Sungat (Literature and the Arts) in Turkmen
- Turkmen TV - state-owned, networks include main channel Altyn Asyr
- Turkmen radio - state-owned, operates four networks
- Turkmen State News Service (TSNS) - official news agency
- News Central Asia -
Turkmenistan-based agency, registered in US
A chronology of key events
6th century BC - Area of what is now Turkmenistan forms part
of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great.
Showpiece buildings dominate Ashgabat's skyline
- Founded in 1881 as Russian military outpost
- Largely destroyed in 1948 earthquake
- Population: 605,000
4th century BC - Alexander the Great
of Macedonia conquers Central Asia.
7th century AD - Arabs conquer Central Asia and convert
10th-13th centuries - Nomadic Oghuz Seljuk tribes - the
ancestors of present-day Turkmens - and Mongols immigrate from northeast;
Genghis Khan conquers the region.
15th-17th centuries - Southern part of modern Turkmenistan
comes under Persian rule, while the northern part is dominated by the
Uzbek-ruled states of Khiva and Bukhara.
1881 - Area of present-day Turkmenistan
incorporated into Russian Turkestan after Battle of Gok Tepe.
1916 - Turkmens join other Central Asians in violently
opposing Russian decree conscripting them for non-combatant duties.
1921 - Turkmenistan forms part of the Turkestan Autonomous
Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR).
1925 - Turkmenistan becomes a fully-fledged constituent
republic of the USSR.
1920s and 1930s - Sporadic armed resistance and popular
uprisings in response to Soviet programme of agricultural collectivisation and
1948 - Over 100,000 killed when earthquake devastates
1960-67 - Turkmen cotton production expands dramatically
following the completion of the Karakum Canal.
Children stand infront of the independence monument in Asgabat
- Living standards dropped in the post-Soviet years
1985 - Saparmyrat Niyazov assumes
leadership of the Turkmen Communist Party, replacing Muhammad Gapurov, who had
held the post since 1971.
1989 - Turkmen fledgling opposition sets up Agzybirlik
people's front, which is banned by the Turkmen Communist Party the following
1990 - Turkmen parliament declares sovereignty and
elects Saparmyrat Niyazov as its chairman.
1991 - Saparmyrat Niyazov supports attempted coup against
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but declares independence just before the
collapse of the USSR; joins Commonwealth of Independent States.
1992 - Turkmenistan adopts a new constitution making the
president head of government as well as head of state and giving him the option
to appoint a prime minister at any time; President Niyazov re-elected in direct
popular ballot in which he stood unopposed.
1993 - Turkmenistan introduces the manat as its national
currency, begins programme of cautious economic reform and encourages foreign
investment in its oil and gas reserves.
1994 - Referendum approves extending President Niyazov's
term until 2002 without the need for an election.
1997 - Turkmenistan legalises private ownership of land.
1998 - Natural-gas pipeline to Iran opens.
President for life
1999 - Parliament votes Saparmyrat Niyazov
president for life. Death penalty abolished.
2000 - President Niyazov announces that he will step down by
2010, after reaching the age of 70.
2000 - President Niyazov announces plans for a 2,000 sq km
artificial lake, to be built in the Karakum desert. The lake would aim to
guarantee water supplies, but scientists warn the plan could wreck the local
2002 August - President Niyazov renames the months of the
year after himself, his mother and a book he wrote, the Ruhnama.
Parlimentary elections 2004
- Elections were denounced by exiled opponents of authoritarian
President Nayazov; there were no oppostion candidates
2002 November - President Niyazov
unhurt as his motorcade comes under fire in capital. Authorities blame
"mercenaries" acting for exiled opposition leaders who in turn accuse Niyazov of
staging incident as excuse to crack down.
Opposition activist and former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov is soon
arrested, accused of being mastermind and sentenced to life imprisonment. More
than 40 others convicted and jailed.
2003 April - Agreement signed with Russian Gazprom monopoly
under which Russia will buy 60bn cubic metres of Turkmen gas annually.
President Niyazov decree cancels 1993 dual citizenship agreement with Russia,
sparking diplomatic row with Moscow.
2004 August - President Niyazov orders the construction of a
giant ice palace in the desert.
2004 November - Turkmen and Uzbek presidents sign friendship
declaration, agreement on water resources.
2005 February - President Niyazov undergoes eye operation.
Suggests closing hospitals other than those in capital.
2005 May - Deputy Prime Minister Elly Kurbanmuradov, a
senior figure in charge of the energy sector, is sacked. He is subsequently
jailed for 25 years on charges which include corruption.
2005 July - Rejep Saparov sacked as head of presidential
administration and sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption.
2006 January - President Niyazov orders
substantial cuts to state pensions saying he wants to "bring order"
to the system.
The late President Niyazov tolerated no dissent
2006 April - Agreement signed with
Beijing on building pipeline to supply Turkmen gas to China.
2006 September - Russia's Gazprom agrees to pay 54% more for
supplies of Turkmen gas.
Radio Liberty journalist and human rights activist Ogulsapar Muradova dies in
prison. Her family reports suspicions as to the cause of death but the
authorities insist that it was from natural causes.
2006 21 December - Death of President Niyazov from
heart failure is announced.
2007 14 February - Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is declared
the winner of presidential elections, in which no opposition candidate was
2007 July - Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan agree to
build new pipeline north of the Caspian Sea which will ensure Russian access to
The Peoples Council promised a multi-party system
2008 January - Turkmenistan cuts gas supplies to Iran,
blaming a technical fault and Iran's failure to pay for supplies. Iran reacts
angrily, saying its neighbour wants to double the price.
2008 April - Turkmenistan reverts to traditional Gregorian
2008 May - President orders removal of rotating gold statue
of his predecessor in Ashgabat.
2008 September - People's Council approves new
constitution that replaced it with larger, directly-elected
parliament and promise of multi-party system.
2008 December - First elections held under new constitution,
still dominated by pro-government candidates.
2009 April - Turkmenistan accuses Russia of causing
explosion on main gas pipeline by suddenly cutting imports. Russia denies the
2009 December - Pipeline opened for gas exports to China,
breaking Russia's stranglehold on Turkmenistan's energy reserves.
2010 January - Turkmenistan opens second gas pipeline to
2010 July - President Berdymukhamedov suggests that private
newspapers might be allowed. International media freedom monitors dismiss his
comments as window-dressing.
2010 August - Gold-plated statue of late President Niyazov
removed from central Ashgabat, eight months after announcement.
2010 November - Turkmenistan says it will supply gas for the
planned Nabucco pipeline, a project to allow EU countries to rely less on
Russian supplies. The country says it will have up to 40bn cubic metres (1,412bn
cu ft) of spare gas annually.
2010 December - Turkmenistan agrees to the "Tapi" deal to
build a pipeline to carry gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. No
details are given about funding or how to secure a pipeline that would have to
cross the violent Afghan-Pakistan border area.
2011 October - Parliament supports a motion conferring the
title "hero of the nation" on President Berdymukhamedov.
2012 February - President Berdymukhamedov wins a second term
in office, standing against token candidates and securing over 97% of the vote.