Central Asia already has a lot going for it – dictators and post-soviet bureaucracy, coupled with mountains, deserts, yurts and the Silk Road. But something that’s often overlooked is how unique and interesting their flags are, the flag of Turkmenistan really cakes the cake for being unique.
Which is the only flag in the world with pictures of carpets on it? You got it – Turkmenistan! Carpets are very important in Turkmenistan and an integral part of Turkmen culture. They’re very proud of their lucrative carpet sector and photos of carpets are found everywhere – posters, signposts, petrol stations, book sleeves and even coin machines. The carpet museum in Ashgabat is one of the most expensive sights to visit in the whole country and the government holds an annual festival that is devoted entirely to carpets. Every official event has Turkmen carpets covering the floors and lining the walls, and most pictures of the President (except when he’s outside with horses and dogs) have him in front of an iconic Turkmen carpet.
The five carpets that run down the left-hand side of the flag are the symbols of the five tribes of Turkmenistan. This is a concept that was restored by Turkmenbashy to bring a sense of national identity back to the Turkmen people after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, people all over were looking for meaning and a culture to attach themselves, looking to their roots and common history to feel part of a something bigger. In restoring the people’s feeling of being Turkmen and not Soviet anymore, Turkmenbashy united them and strengthened his position as their president. This is one of the aspects of Turkmenbashy’s rule that Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov has continued and if you keep your eyes out, you’ll see five symbols of the different tribes all over the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat.
Although there are very few remainders of the religion now within the country, since it was erased out of the culture violently by the Soviet Union, the crescent moon that remains pays tribrutes to Turkmenistan’s Islamic tradition, with the five stars representing the five ethnic tribes of the country. The crossed olive branches in the lower part of the flag, like the one which can be seen on the UN flag, represents Turkmenistan’s “status of permanent neutrality”.
The flag of Turkmenistan also holds an interesting record. In Ashgabat, the flagpole bearing the national flag ranks as the fifth tallest flagpole in the world.