Turkmenistan, formerly also known as Turkmenia, is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR). Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, Uzbekistan to the east and northeast, Kazakhstan to the north and northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west.
Turkmenistan's GDP growth rate of 11% in 2010 ranks 4th in the world, but these figures are subject to wide margins of error. It possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Although it is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas, most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert.
The Turkmen government operates as a single-party system. Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (called "Türkmenbaşy" — "leader of the Turkmens") until his sudden death on 21 December 2006. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov became the new president on 11 February 2007.
After 69 years as part of the Soviet Union (including 67 years as a union republic), Turkmenistan declared its independence on 27 October 1991.
President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former bureaucrat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He retained absolute control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 28 December 1999, Niyazov was declared President for Life of Turkmenistan by the Mejlis (parliament), which itself had taken office a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov. No opposition candidates were allowed.
Since the December 2006 death of Niyazov, Turkmenistan's leadership made tentative moves to open up the country. His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen". In education, Berdimuhamedow's government had increased basic education to ten years from nine years, and higher education had been extended from four years to five. He has also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches.
The politics of Turkmenistan take place in the framework of a presidential republic, with the President both head of state and head of government. Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan had a single-party system; however, in September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new Constitution. The latter resulted in the abolition of the Council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008. The new Constitution also permits the formation of multiple political parties.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, has been the only one effectively permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.
The country possesses the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources. In 1994, the Russian government's refusal to export Turkmen gas to hard currency markets, and mounting debts of its major customers, in the former Soviet Union, for gas deliveries, contributed to a sharp fall in industrial production, and caused the budget to shift, from a surplus to a slight deficit. Half of the country's irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's ninth-largest cotton producer.
Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to sustain its economy. In 2004, the unemployment rate was estimated to be 60%.
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