The Turkmenistan Guide
Turkmenistan is one of the former-Soviet “Stans” of Central Asia. It was once the border between the Soviet Union and the Middle East, and the Soviet Union and the Sub-Continent, with Iran and Afghanistan to the south. To the north and north-east lies Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan to the north, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
Part of the USSR until 1991, Turkmenistan is now an independent state with a “democratically elected” president. The current president is Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow whose predecessor was Saparmurat Niyazov, more commonly known as “Turkmenbashy” which translates literally to “The Father of All Turkmens”. Whilst in Turkmenistan you’ll become very familiar with these two men from the numerous posters, billboards, tv screens, carpets and of course gold statues, depicting them.
Ashgabat is the capital city, located in the Ahal region, one of the five regions of Turkmenistan. Although there was a large Russian population until the collapse of the Soviet Union, most since then have left, and it is now a majority Turkmen population, making up around 70%. Uzbeks make up the largest minority with about 10% of the total population, followed by Russians, Kazakhs, Balochi and plenty of other ethnicities from the region.
Turkmenistan is very closed-off to the rest of the world, with only around 6,000 foreigners per year gaining access, making it one of the 10th least visited countries in the world, alongside places like Somalia and Nauru. With a difficult and complicated visa process, and heavy restrictions when you’re there, it’s arguably one of the hardest countries to visit.
Although there is an obvious shared history and culture with its surrounding countries, Turkmenistan has in the last 30 years, really gone their own way, and there’s really nowhere else like it in the world.