Independent republic in Central Asia, N of Afghanistan and Iran, S of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and E of the Caspian Sea. Its capital is Ashgabat.
The region passed under many rulers in its early history, including the Achaemenid Persians, the Arabs in the eighth century a.d., Seljuk Turks in the 11th, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the Uzbeks. Russian military conquest began in 1869 and was completed in 1881, after which the region was included in the former Transcaspian region. During the Russian Revolution fighting broke out between the Bolsheviks and the Transcaspian provincial government, resulting in the fall of Ashgabat to the Red Army in July 1919. Turkmenistan then became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1925. In 1991, a referendum for independence from the Soviet Union was passed, and Turkmenistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Saparmurat Niyazov became president and has made himself the object of a nationwide personality cult. Niyazov was “reelected” unopposed in 1992 and 1994, and in 1999 was voted “President for life” by the parliament. The former Turkmen Communist Party has continued to hold power, while opposition to the regime has been suppressed.
The government has attempted economic reform, and has attracted some foreign investment, especially in exploiting the country’s rich gas reserves (including a natural-gas pipeline to Iran). In 1994 Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian republic to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. In 1995 Turkmenistan signed 23 bilateral agreements with Russia.