Area: 488,100 sq. km. (303,292 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Ashgabat. Other
cities--Turkmenabat (formerly Chardjou/Charjew),
Dashoguz (formerly Dashowuz), Mary, Turkmenbashi
Terrain: 80% covered in subtropical, sandy
Karakum Desert, with dunes rising to the Kopet
Dag Mountains in the south along the border with
Iran; borders the Caspian Sea to the west and
the Amu Darya River and Uzbekistan to the east;
borders Afghanistan to the southeast, Kazakhstan
to the north. Climate: Subtropical desert.
Population (2005 est.): 4.9 million.
Population growth rate (2005 est.): 1.81%.
Ethnic groups (2003 est.): Turkmen 85%, Uzbek
5%, Russian 4%, other 6%.
Religion: Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%,
Language: Turkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%,
Education (2002 est.): Literacy--98.8%.
Health (2005 est.): Infant mortality rate--73.1/1,000.
Life expectancy--61.3 years.
Independence: October 27, 1991 (from the Soviet
Constitution: May 18, 1992.
Legislative--Mejlis (Parliament); Halk
Maslahaty (People's Council). Judicial--Supreme
Administrative subdivisions: 5 Welayats
(provinces)--Ahal Welayat (Ashgabat), Balkan
Welayat (Balkanabat), Dashoguz Welayat (formerly
Dashowuz), Lebap Welayat (Turkmenabat, formerly
Chardjou/Charjew), Mary Welayat.
Political parties: Democratic Party of
Turkmenistan (opposition parties are outlawed).
GDP (PPP - Purchasing Power Parity): $29.38
GDP per capita (PPP): $5,900.
GDP real growth rate (IMF estimate): 7%. Note:
official government statistics show 20.7%
growth, but these estimates are unreliable.
Inflation rate: 10%.
Agriculture: Products--cotton, grain,
Industry: Types--natural gas, oil,
petroleum products, textiles, food processing.
Trade: Exports ($4.7 billion
f.o.b.)--gas 47%; oil 34%; petrochemicals 15%;
cotton 4%. Partners--Ukraine, Iran,
Italy, Turkey, Russia, United States.
Imports ($4.175 billion f.o.b.)--machinery
and equipment 46%; chemicals 11%; food and live
animals 5.3%. Partners--United States,
Russia, U.A.E., Ukraine, Turkey, Germany.
Debt, external (2001 est.): $2.4 billion to $5
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
The majority of Turkmenistan's citizens are
ethnic Turkmen; other ethnic groups include
Russian, Uzbek, and Kazakh. Turkmen is the
official language of Turkmenistan, though
Russian still is widely spoken as a "language of
inter-ethnic communication" (per the 1992
constitution). Education is universal and
mandatory through the secondary level, the total
duration of which was recently reduced from 11
to 9 years.
The territory of Turkmenistan has been
populated since ancient times, as armies from
one empire to another decamped on their way to
more prosperous territories. Tribes of
horse-breeding Turkmen drifted into the
territory of Turkmenistan, possibly from the
Altay Mountains, and grazed along the outskirts
of the Karakum Desert into Persia, Syria, and
Alexander the Great conquered the territory
in the 4th century B.C. on his way to India. One
hundred fifty years later the Parthian Kingdom
took control of Turkmenistan, establishing its
capital in Nisa, an area now located in the
suburbs of the modern-day capital of Ashgabat.
In the 7th century A.D. Arabs conquered this
region, bringing with them the Islamic religion
and incorporating the Turkmen into Middle
Eastern culture. It was around this time that
the famous "Silk Road" was established as a
major trading route between Asia and Europe.
In the middle of the 11th century, the
powerful Turks of the Seljuk Empire concentrated
their strength in the territory of Turkmenistan
in an attempt to expand into Afghanistan. The
empire broke down in the second half of the 12th
century, and the Turkmen lost their independence
when Genghis Khan took control of the eastern
Caspian Sea region on his march west. For the
next seven centuries, the Turkmen people lived
under various empires and fought constant
From the 16th century on, Turkmen raiders on
horseback preyed on passing caravans, pillaging
and taking prisoners for the slave trade. In
order to consolidate the Tsarist Empire in
Central Asia, and upon the pretext of freeing
Russian citizens from slavery, Russia sent
forces to Turkmenistan, and in 1881 fighting
climaxed with the massacre of 7,000 Turkmen at
the desert fortress of Gokdepe, near modern
Ashgabat; another 8,000 were killed trying to
flee across the desert. By 1894 imperial Russia
had taken control of Turkmenistan. The October
Revolution of 1917 in Russia and subsequent
political unrest led to the declaration of the
Turkmen Republic as one of the 15 republics of
the Soviet Union in 1924. At this time the
modern borders of Turkmenistan were formed.
The Turkmen Republic was under full control
of Moscow, which exploited its raw material
resources for the purposes of the Soviet Union.
Sovereignty was only a formality since Russia
ultimately ruled all Soviet states.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Following the end of the Cold War and the
breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan
declared its independence on October 27, 1991.
Saparmurat Niyazov became the first president of
the new republic and still remains the supreme
decision-maker. On December 28, 1999, Niyazov's
term was extended indefinitely by the Mejlis
(parliament), which itself had taken office only
a week earlier in flawed elections that included
only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov.
Neither independent political activity nor
opposition candidates are allowed in
Turkmenistan. The Democratic Party of
Turkmenistan (DPT) is the only legal political
party. Political gatherings are illegal unless
government sanctioned, and the citizens of
Turkmenistan do not have the means to change
their government democratically.
On November 25, 2002, an armed attack against
President Niyazov's motorcade was made and the
Government of Turkmenistan moved quickly against
perceived sources of opposition. There were
widespread reports of human rights abuses
committed by officials investigating the attack,
including torture and punishment of families of
the accused. The Government of Turkmenistan
denied the charges, but refused to allow
independent observers at trials, to accept a
mandatory Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding
mission, or to permit the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to
prisons. It also instituted new measures to
stifle dissent and limit contact with the
While the constitution provides for freedom
of the press, there is virtually no freedom of
the press or of association. The government has
full control of all media and restricts foreign
publications. International satellite TV is
The population is 89% Sunni Muslim. The
constitution provides for freedom of religion
and does not establish a state religion;
however, in practice, the government continues
to monitor all forms of religious expression.
Amendments to the law on religious organizations
adopted in March 2004 reduced membership
requirements from 500 to 5. All groups must
register in order to gain legal status with the
government. Until 2004 the only religions that
were registered successfully were Sunni Islam
and Russian Orthodox Christianity, which are
controlled by the government; by January 2006,
nine minority religious groups had registered.
The government limits the activities of
unregistered religious congregations by
prohibiting them from gathering publicly,
proselytizing, and disseminating religious
A Soviet-style command economy greatly limits
equality of opportunity. Industry and services
are almost entirely provided by government or
government-owned entities, while agriculture is
dominated by a state order system. Women face
discrimination, and their freedom is somewhat
restricted due to traditional socio-religious
norms. All citizens are required to carry
internal passports, noting place of residence,
and movement into and out of the country, as
well as within its borders, is difficult.
President Niyazov introduced a new migration law
in late 2005 that suggested a reimposition of
exit restrictions on Turkmen citizens. As of
January 2006, the law was not fully implemented
and its effect remained unclear.
Corruption continues to be pervasive. Power
is concentrated in the president; the judiciary
is wholly subservient to the regime, with all
judges appointed for 5-year terms by the
president without legislative review. The
president routinely dismisses cabinet members
and other government officials on charges of
corruption and they are subsequently tried in
secret trials and frequently imprisoned or
sentenced to internal exile. These dismissals,
however, are often politically motivated and
have little impact on the culture of corruption.
Principal Government Officials
Foreign Minister--Rashit Meredov
Ambassador to the United States--Meret B. Orazov
Turkmenistan maintains an
embassy at 2207 Massachusetts Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 588-1500, fax:
(202) 588-0697, website:
Turkmenistan is an important supplier of raw
materials, especially natural gas,
petrochemicals and raw cotton. With the 2005
harvest of 700,000 tons, Turkmenistan is the
second largest cotton producer in the former
Soviet Union after Uzbekistan. However, the crop
yield has been steadily declining since
independence because of poor irrigation and
While outside estimates place Turkmenistan’s
proven natural gas reserves among those of the
top 15 of gas-producing countries,
Turkmenistan’s claims place its reserves at far
higher than outside sources consider credible.
In January 2005 Turkmenistan claimed its current
recoverable gas resources to be as much as 20.42
trillion cubic meters (tcm), but controversy
surrounding the as yet unreleased certified
audit results of Turkmenistan’s single largest
field, Dovletabad, casts serious doubts on the
verifiability of Turkmenistan’s claims for its
Despite its non-transparency about gas
reserves, Turkmenistan remains the second
largest gas producer in the former Soviet Union
after Gazprom. Production figures have been
consistently climbing since 1998 when
Turkmenistan was virtually cut off from all
outside markets by Russia. Turkmenistan’s 2005
output was an estimated 63 billion cubic meters
(bcm); the bulk of which (45.2 bcm) went to
Ukraine, Russia and Iran.
Turkmenistan relies exclusively on Russia for
its export routes as most of the pipeline
network is laid on Russian territory. Russian
control of the northward pipeline is a source of
frequent gas price disputes with Russia.
Turkmenistan managed to hike up its previous
average price of $44 per 1,000 cubic meters at
the end of 2005. It currently holds a contract
with Gazprom to supply 30 bcm in 2006 at $65 per
1,000 cubic meters. Ukraine countered with a
deal to supply 40 bcm at $50 per 1,000 cubic
meters (cm) in the first half of 2006 and $60
per 1,000 cubic meters in the second half of
2006. It is unclear if Turkmenistan can fulfill
these obligations. Turkmenistan also exports to
Iran about 8 bcm a year.
Turkmenistan’s 2005 oil production dropped to
9.5 million tons (about 1%) over that of 2004.
Among other major exports are liquefied natural
gas (LNG) and polypropylene.
With an authoritarian post-communist regime
in power, Turkmenistan has taken a cautious
approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas
and cotton sales to sustain inefficiencies in
its economy. Privatization goals remain limited,
with a substantial private share only in food
processing, consumer trade and services. Despite
the increased inflow of gas revenue, prospects
in the near future are uncertain; widespread
internal poverty, the burden of foreign debt,
and the unwillingness of the government to adopt
market-oriented reforms continue to offset
gas-related gains. Turkmenistan's economic
statistics are closely held secrets, and
published GDP and other figures are subject to
wide margins of error. Turkmenistan's
unrealistic goal of "self-sufficiency" also
artificially sustains the cultivation of
inefficient crops, such as wheat and cotton. The
2005 UN Development Program (UNDP) Human
Development Report places Turkmenistan in the
category of "medium human development" although
the unemployment rate may be as high as 70%.
Turkmenistan has cooperated with the
international community in transporting
humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan’s declaration of "permanent
neutrality" was formally recognized by the
United Nations in 1995. Although the Government
of Turkmenistan favors high-profile purchases
from the United States, it has significant
commercial relationships with Turkey, Russia,
and Iran, and increasingly with China. The
government worked closely with the Taliban
regime in Afghanistan until September 11, 2001,
and until that time had a growing cross-border
trade with the regime in Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and
Uzbekistan wrestle with sharing limited water
resources and regional environmental degradation
caused by the shrinking of the Aral Sea.
Multilaterally accepted Caspian Sea seabed and
maritime boundaries have not yet been
established. Iran and Turkmenistan insist on
dividing the Caspian Sea into five equal sectors
while Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia have
generally agreed upon equidistant seabed
For several years, Turkmenistan was a key player
in the U.S. Caspian Basin Energy Initiative,
which sought to facilitate negotiations between
commercial partners and the Governments of
Turkmenistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey to
build a pipeline under the Caspian Sea and
export Turkmen gas to the Turkish domestic
energy market and beyond--the so-called
Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP). However, the
Government of Turkmenistan essentially removed
itself from the negotiations in 2000 by refusing
all offers by its commercial partners and making
unrealistic demands for billion-dollar
The United States and Turkmenistan continue
to disagree about the country's path toward
democratic and economic reform. The United
States has publicly advocated industrial
privatization, market liberalization, and fiscal
reform, as well as legal and regulatory reforms
to open up the economy to unhindered foreign
trade and investment, as the only way to achieve
prosperity and stability.
U.S. criticism of the Government of
Turkmenistan’s crackdown against perceived
sources of political opposition after the
November 2002 motorcade attack led to a marked
downturn in bilateral relations between the
Governments of the United States and
Turkmenistan. However, currently the Government
of Turkmenistan is interested in engaging with
the United States in several areas, including
security and energy issues. In order to secure
and maintain this engagement, the government has
been willing to take some small steps forward in
democratic reform, such as lifting exit visas
and allowing the registration of religious
minorities. Its human rights record, however,
remains poor. Diplomatic missions from various
countries and international organizations have
joined together to persuade the Government of
Turkmenistan to improve its human rights
practices, but their efforts have not led to
significant improvements overall.
sheet on FY 2005 U.S. Assistance to
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jennifer L. Brush
Political-Economic Officer--Carla A. Gonneville
Public Affairs Officer--Helen Lovejoy
Defense Attache-Major Padraig Clark
Consular Officer--Ian Turner
Management Officer--Molly Fayen
USAID Director--Ashley Moretz
Peace Corps Director--Ed Willet
U.S. Embassy is located at 9 1984 Street
(formerly Pushkin Street), Ashgabat,
Turkmenistan; tel: (12)35-00-45; fax:
USAID is located at 1, Yunus Emre Str.,
International Business Center, 744017, Ashgabat,
Turkmenistan, tel: (12)45-61-30 ; fax:
Peace Corps is located at 31-A Professor
Myati Kosaev Street, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan,
tel: (12)35-04-50; fax: (12)51-12-08.