Asia

Turkmenistan country profile

  • 22 February 2017
  • From the section Asia
Map of Turkmenistan

Known for its autocratic government and large gas reserves, Turkmenistan also has a reputation as an island of stability in restive Central Asia.

Despite its gas wealth, much of Turkmenistan's population is still impoverished. After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the country entered a period of isolation that has only recently begun to end.

Turkmenistan produces roughly 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year and about two-thirds of its exports go to Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly.

The government has sought out gas deals with several other countries, including China and neighbouring Iran, however, to reduce its dependency on Russia.

FACTS

Turkmenistan

Capital: Ashgabat

  • Population 5.2 million

  • Area 488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles)

  • Major language Turkmen, Russian

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 61 years (men), 69 years (women)

  • Currency Turkmen manat

Getty Images

LEADER

President: Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Image copyright Getty Images

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2007 when he succeeded life-long president Saparmyrat Niyazov.

Following in his predecessor's footsteps, Mr Berdymukhamedov is an autocratic ruler who has built a personality cult. Officially titled the "Arkadag" (The Patron), he is also prime minister and commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces.

Constitutional changes passed in 2016 extended presidential term limits from five to seven years and scrapped the 70-year age limit which was the only legal barrier to Mr Berdymukhamedov remaining in power indefinitely.

In February 2017, Mr Berdymukhamedov was sworn in as president for a third consecutive term.

MEDIA

The Turkmen government has an absolute monopoly of the media. The authorities monitor media outlets, control printing presses, block websites, monitor internet use and lay down editorial policies.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says a 2013 media law which bans censorship, is a "complete fiction". The watchdog says independent journalists work in secret, reporting for outlets based abroad.

An "atmosphere of fear" prevents reporting of negative news, says Freedom House.

The state controls internet access, which is prohibitively expensive for most citizens. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LiveJournal are blocked, as are foreign news and opposition websites. RSF lists Turkmenistan as an "Enemy of the Internet".

TIMELINE

Some key events in Turkmenistan's history:

6th century BC - Area of what is now Turkmenistan forms part of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great.

1881 - Area of present-day Turkmenistan incorporated into Russian Turkestan after Battle of Gok Tepe.

1925 - Turkmenistan becomes a fully-fledged constituent republic of the USSR. It does not gain independence until 1991.

2009 December - Pipeline opened for gas exports to China, breaking Russia's stranglehold on Turkmenistan's energy reserves.

2011 December - Transparency International names Turkmenistan as joint third most corrupt country in the world.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The late president Niyazov developed a personality cult, embodied by a rotating, gold statue of himself

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