History of Turkmenistan — Asia Travel


The first scientific evidence of human settlement on the territory of the modern lands of Turkmenistan refers to the Neolithic era. In the eastern part of the Caspian Sea during archaeological surveys, numerous fragments of the villages’ remains of hunters and anglers have been found. The best preserved of them are located in the grotto of Jibal.

The southern lands of Turkmenistan are believed to be the outskirts of the ancient farming cultures of the Middle East. Therefore, specifically in these areas agriculture and animal husbandry, the first in Central Asia began to develop. This fact was eloquently evidenced by the ancient agricultural settlement of Jeytun, which was found near the present capital city –Ashgabat. This town is supposed to be referred to the VI century BC and occurs to become the oldest one on the entire post-Soviet space.

Just discovered historical findings suggesting that in the foothills’ areas of the ancient Turkmenistan, the farmers have already lived quite settled and built their houses from the clay beads — the forerunner of adobe brick, manufactured ceramic utensils, tools. The first irrigation canals for watering the lands in this area were also created in the Neolithic period.

In the Bronze Age the development of agriculture has resulted in appearing the first settlements, which historians used to refer to the city proto type. The most famous of them are Namazga-Tepe, Altin-Tepe, Kara-Tepe and other of them.

At this time, the lands of the southern Turkmenistan were concluded into various states as the parts of them. Thus, the territory of Murghab River’s Basin was the area of Margiana, as well as was included in Bactria. At the same time, the south-western region, such as Parthia and Hyrcania were the part of the Midia.

From the IV to VI century the territory of ancient Turkmenistan was often passed from hand to hand. At first, it was conquered by Achaemenids, then became prey for Alexander of Macedon, and after that, was transmitted to his successors. Later, during the reign of King Mithridates II, the lands became part of the Parthian Empire, which quickly took the leading position in the Ancient East, becoming one of the strongest states.

Exactly during those days the capital of the kingdom — Merv (these days it is called as Mary), due to its prime location on one of the busiest highways of the Great Silk Road, became an important commercial, political, cultural and scientific center.


At the beginning of the VIII, the whole territory from the Caspian to the Amu Darya River was conquered by the Arab Caliphate. Thus, the local Turkic tribes, who already had taken the Islam by that time, started to establish trade relations with the rest of the Muslim world.

Over time, the Arabian influence gradually weakened and that is why Oghuz Turks began to come to the territory of Turkmenistan.

By the middle of the XI century, the Arab conquerors gave way to be replaced by Seljuks, who has received this name from their leader — Seljuk ibn Tugak. Oghuzs were very numerous, and soon mingled with the local population. As the result of assimilation, a new nation was revealed, called «Turkmen». And respectively, the land on which such people lived, got the title ofTurkmenistan.

In XII-XIII centuries, Turkmenistan came under the authority of Khorezmshahs, who, in their turn, were expelled by Mongolian troops. It was the reason why from 1219 to 1921 year, the country was a part of the Mongol Empire.

The following century was marked by a wide dispersal of the Turkmen tribes along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. The north-western part of the Khorezm Kingdom and the lands in southern Turkmenistan, where Iranian-speaking population was still maintained, were all occupied.

During the reign of Chingizids, several Turkmen tribes were able to achieve partial independence and founded feudal states, which were supposed to be vassals of the Mongols, but have played a significant role in the nation’s history.

In the XIV century the whole Central Asia region was conquered by Tamerlane, and after the fall of the Timurid dynasty, the control over the territory of the region partly passed to the Khiva Khanate and Persia.


At this time the Turkmen tribes who lived on the Caspian coast, formed a social stratum of merchants, who commenced trade with Russia, which especially flourished in times of Peter I.

The late medieval period brought the Turkmens the final division of their land between the three feudal states — Persia, Khiva and Bukhara. At this time, local tribes had almost not any major cities, their social system was defined as the patriarchal and feudal together with the elements of slavery. There was not any kind of crafts, the economy lagged far behind in its development as well as political fragmentation could be seen. That was what caused the violent wars over the territory of Turkmenistan between Khiva and Bukhara khanate and also the capturing the southern territories of the ancient Turkmenistan by Safavid Iran.

By the end of the XVII century, many Turkmen tribes tired of endless wars, invasions of Kalmyks and gradual dehydration of territory, due to drying of Sarakamysh Lake, went under a protectorate of Russia and partially moved to the North Caucasus.

In the XVIII century the entire territory of modern Turkmenistan was already inhabited by ethnic tribes of Turkmens: Ersari, Tekints, Gauquelin, Saryk, Salars and others. They had an impressive military potential and were able to establish economic ties with a great number of countries, paving the trade routes that connected Europe and Asia, including Iran and Afghanistan.

Landing in the port of Krasnovodsk on the Caspian’s southeastern shore from Baku in 1906, Gustaf Mannerheim happened upon a restless and backward outpost on the margins of the Russian Empire. “On Monday morning we reached Krasnovodsk, a small prettily situated town on the barren, rocky shore of the Caspian,” he wrote. “The harbour was deserted, the houses small, one-storeyed with flat roofs. No trees, no bushes—tropical heat and enormous masses of dust. The town is surrounded by high, barren hills. After about 7 months in Europe I was on Asiatic soil once more.” Nowadays, Krasnovodsk is as sleepy and backwards as it ever was.

Since time immemorial, Tsarist Russia was interested in the Turkmen land, as the bridgehead for the conquest of the whole Central Asia, which was always rich in natural resources. And the reason has been found. During the Russian-Persian War (1804-1813 years), a Russian diplomat managed to conclude a military alliance with some of the Turkmen tribes against Persia. And in a far 1869 year, a gradual expansion of territories began, the first step toward which became the base on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea a Russian city, called Krasnovodsk.

As a consequence, the western tribes of Turkmenistan easily passed under Russian protection, while the population of the eastern lands continued to provide strong resistance until 1881 year, until the time, when Russian troops had taken the fortress of Geok-Tepe. With the fall of the last stronghold of militia, the power in Turkmenistan was fully transferred to Russia.

After joining Russia, the Turkmenistan’s economy began to develop with an unusually fast pace. At the end of the XIX-th century, Zakaspiysk Railway was built the country, which has become a powerful tool for the region’s economy, stimulating the growth of production and export of raw materials (cotton, oil) to Russia and for the world markets.

Appeared in the Trans-Caspian region, new cities (Krasnovodsk, Ashkhabad) had the basement of Russian and Armenian population, industrial enterprises were built. Some elements of the market have become increasingly prominent in the patriarchal-feudal social structure of the Turkmen.

In 1917year, after the overthrow of the tsarist authorities in the major cities, together with the benefit of European citizens, the Bolsheviks and the Social Democrats have intensified. However, the rural population, which was under the control of their religious leaders, remained aloof. And even after the victory of the October Revolution, at the time, when a war broke out for the territory of Turkmenistan between troops of the regular Red Army, the White Guards, the troops of the British expeditionary corps and the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks were able to get help only from the urban population. It was because Turkmen farmers were not going to be in conflict.

By February of 1920 year, regular troops of the Red Army occupied Krasnovodsk, British troops were withdrawn by the Government, The White Guard and Revolutionaries were defeated. Turkmenistan as autonomy became a part of the RSFSR, and in 1924 year was declared to be the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the USSR.

The first steps of the party leadership of the new Republic became the continued water reforms, initiated immediately after the revolution, as well as the land redistribution, the organization of peasant cooperatives and restoring the country’s oil industry.

By 1926 year, nearly 15% of rural population has been involved in collective farms. Thus, by the middle of 1940 year, almost one hundred percent of the rural population participated in the state and collective farms. It was quite noteworthy that namely in this period, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic took the second place, after Uzbekistan, in the growing and processing of cotton.

The thirties of last century were marked by unprecedented scale of the oil industry. The work was resumed on existing drillings, the just discovered fields were broadly developed. But, unfortunately, almost all the raw materials after having been recycled, were exported into other regions of the Soviet Union.

The level of literacy has been significantly increased inside the country, health care and medicine were also improved. It became possible to form new social groups of engineering and technical intelligentsia and skilled workers. However, in addition to this, during the collectivization of the village, the middle class, named «kulaks”, was completely destroyed as well as the Muslim clerics were brutally repressed.

The Second World War served as a powerful impetus for a new round of Republican economics development, because many of the largest factories of the European part of the country have been evacuated to Turkmenistan. Accordingly, transportation was also developed, and, as the result, the Central Asian Railway was extended to the Caspian Krasnovodsk.

The tragedy of the devastating earthquake of 1948 year in Ashgabat added difficulties for the post-war economy of the republic. However, with the help of the other republics of USSR, Turkmenistan relatively quickly succeeded in restoring the national economy: they re-established the destroyed oil and gas industry, paved the Karakum Channel, improved agriculture, including the doubling of the harvest.

And in August 1990 year, at the time, when the Soviet Union lived out its last days, Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty. Thus, in October, Saparmurat Niyazov, who headed the republic since 1985 year, was elected as the first president of Turkmenistan.

Exactly one year later, the government after the referendum, announced the country’s independence. Therefore, in December,Turkmenistan was acceded to the CIS. Namely at the same time, due to the decision of Parliament and the Council of Elders, Saparmurat Niyazov, got the authority for staying on as president indefinitely.

In May 1992 year, the constitution of Turkmenistan was adopted. And in 1995 year internal and external policy of the country was permanently identified, according to the UN General Assembly resolution about “the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan «.


The beginning of the «golden age» for Turkmenistan was publicly announced in 2001 year, the century of the rise of the economy and social infrastructure development. However, according to numerous international human rights organizations, the country at that time was considered to be among the ten states with the most rigid dictatorships. The opposition was completely suppressed here, as well as the state penal machine was working with the full power.

On the other hand, the totalitarian rule had a number of very positive aspects: there was stability in society, a lot of significant measures were taken to prevent penetration of orthodox Islam into the country, the crime rates decreased. Moreover, there were quite low cost of utilities (gas and water are free), public transport, fixed low prices for essential foods in Turkmenistan.

On the 20-th December of 2006year, Saparmurat Niyazov, who has suffered from an incurable heart disease for a long time, died.

In February of 2007 year, early presidential elections were held, won by the former Deputy Prime Minister — Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.