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Turkmenistan Unearthing The Natural and Cultural Treasures of Central Asia

Turkmenistan The City of White Marble: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

A sub-tropical desert nation bordered by the Caspian Sea, this former Soviet Central Asian nation has a rich history and will celebrate its 24th Independence Day on 27 October 2015.

History

Turkmenistan— a majority Muslim, Türkmen nation— was an important stop along the Silk Road trading route as well as part of the great Persian Empire. Additionally, it is home to the city of Merv (Marv-i-shahjahan) in the present day region of Mary—one of the great Islamic cities and spiritual centres of the ancient world. In the 1800s the nation was annexed by Russia and became a Soviet Republic in 1924 until the USSR dissolution in 1991. Türkmen are historically nomadic people and agriculture, to this day, remains the primary means of living for the majority of the population.

Geography

Bordered by Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan the Caspian Sea remains the country’s only non-landlocked area and is home to the oil and natural gas fields. Tradition and natural beauty envelop Central Asia’s leastvisited country and there are many untouched and diverse landscapes to see including caves, mountains, valleys, canyons, craters, forest oasis and deserts. Of the many ranges, The Kopet Dag Mountain Range is undergoing tectonic transformations, making the area prone to earthquakes. The last earthquake devastated the capital Ashgabat in 1948.

Known as ‘The Door to Hell’, the Darvaza Gas Crater is the result of Soviet era gas exploration, it is also a hot, fiery reminder of Mother Nature’s power. Kugitang Nature Reserve is a pristine reserve that is home to the country’s highest peak—Mount Aýrybaba, 3,139 m— and a unique species of goat, the Markhor mountain goat. You will see massive canyons, dense forests, streams and rivers. Also part of this reserve is the 50km cave network called the Karlyuk Caves and the Dinosaur Plateau, which is a lava sealed lake that preserved dinosaur prints. Named after a 14th century Sufi, Gozli Ata & Yangykala Canyon was formed by weather, water and tectonic shifting to form beautiful, earth-toned formations. Other exciting tours and places to visit include the Türkmen Carpet Museum in Ashgabat, horseracing, dinosaur tracing or visit any of the countless mosques and various UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

TURKMENISTAN

Capital Ashgabat
Population 5.2 million
Area 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles)
Major Language (s) Turkmen, Russian
Major Religion (s) Islam
Life Expectancy Male: 61 years ; Female: 69 years
Currency Turkmen manat
Literacy rate Male 90.00%, Female 82.7%
GDP Per Capita 6,389.33 USD (2016)

Culture and Lifestyle

Perhaps one of the most important and defining aspects of Türkmen culture is the symbolism of the Akhal-Teke, or Ahalteke, breed horse. Horses have always provided cultural and personal pride, especially after independence because people were not allowed under Soviet rule to own any personal property, including horses. This breed of horse almost became extinct due to Soviet motive to cross-breed. The animal’s importance is noticeable throughout the country and culture. For example, horses are given as gifts to heads of state, it has been printed on the money, 27 April has been declared a national holiday for Akhal-Teke and its image is also on the state seal. Currently, there are a little over 6,000 Akhal-Teke horses in the world—predominately in Turkmenistan and Russia. Türkmen have a historical reputation for being magnificent horsemen and warriors.

Turkminestan Turkmen traditional wedding ceremony

Economy

Agriculture employs roughly 50% of the nation and contributes roughly about 20% to the GDP. The main crops are cotton and wheat. Cotton is typically exported while wheat is consumed domestically. Up to 90% of the terrain in the country is desert, inhospitable to plant and animal life, leaving little room for cultivated land. Due to the climate and desert conditions most of the cultivated land must be irrigated. The difficulties of irrigating in a desert environment have caused cotton exports to fall recently. However, in the past Turkmenistan was per capita the largest cotton producer in the world.

Turkmenistan has large, natural gas reserves which rank fifth in the world and produce approximately 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year. Previously, the largely unexploited reserves were monopolised by Russia who refused to allow exportation to other markets. However, in 2010 this monopoly was ended by the new export pipeline routes to China and Iran. In 2002, a pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan was approved but has yet to be realised due to security issues. Other natural resources include petroleum, sulfur and salt. According to government and IMF data there was 10.3% GDP growth in 2014. In an effort the draw foreign direct investment to the country and the oil and gas industry, improvements are being made in the banking industry and tax codes.

The State News Agency of Turkmenistan stated that ‘a key priority of the energy strategy of Turkmenistan will be shifted from exports of raw materials to exports of finished products through introduction of scientific and technological advances, modernization of the petrochemical industry and construction of gas processing plants and oil refineries. For example, Turkmenbashi complex of oil refineries has become Central Asia’s largest producer of high-octane gasoline, aviation kerosene, hydrotreated diesel fuel, petroleum coke, industrial lubricants and liquefied gas through the fundamental reconstruction and modernization. The flagship of Turkmenistan’s petrochemical industry will reach new frontiers in the near future. The amount of oil that can be refined at the complex of oil refineries is to increase to 10.5 million tons per year and the intensity of hydrocarbons processing is to rise to 95 per cent to meet the highest international standards.’