|General background: Annexed by Russia between
1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic
in 1925. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution
of the USSR in 1991. President NIYAZOV retains absolute
control over the country and opposition is not tolerated.
Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove
a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction
and delivery projects can be worked out.
comparative: Slightly larger than California.
Climate: Subtropical desert.
Flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes rising to mountains
in the south; low mountains along border with Iran;
borders Caspian Sea in west.
Population: 4,688,963 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Turkmen 77%, Uzbek 9.2%, Russian
6.7%, Kazakh 2%, other 5.1% (1995)
Religions: Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%,
Language: Turkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek
9%, other 7%
Government type: Republic
Legal system: Based on civil law system.
Economic overview: Turkmenistan is largely
desert country with intensive agriculture in irrigated
oases and huge gas (fifth largest reserves in the
world) and oil resources. One-half of its irrigated
land is planted in cotton, making it the world's tenth
largest producer. Until the end of 1993, Turkmenistan
had experienced less economic disruption than other
former Soviet states because its economy received
a boost from higher prices for oil and gas and a sharp
increase in hard currency earnings. In 1994, Russia's
refusal to export Turkmen gas to hard currency markets
and mounting debts of its major customers in the former
USSR for gas deliveries contributed to a sharp fall
in industrial production and caused the budget to
shift from a surplus to a slight deficit. With an
authoritarian ex-Communist regime in power and a tribally
based social structure, Turkmenistan has taken a cautious
approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and
cotton sales to sustain its inefficient economy. Privatisation
goals remain limited. In 1998-2001, Turkmenistan has
suffered from the continued lack of adequate export
routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive
short-term external debt. At the same time, however,
total exports have risen sharply because of higher
international oil and gas prices. Prospects in the
near future are discouraging because of widespread
internal poverty, the burden of foreign debt, and
the unwillingness of the government to adopt market-oriented
reforms. However, Turkmenistan's cooperation with
the international community in transporting humanitarian
aid to Afghanistan may foreshadow a change in the
atmosphere for foreign investment, aid, and technological
support. Turkmenistan's economic statistics are state
secrets, and GDP and other figures are subject to
wide margins of error.
Communication/Telephone system: Poorly developed.
Places of interest: Traditionally patterned carpets,
their ceremonies, hospitality and fleet Akhal-Teke