Turkmenistan

Driving Directions Turkmenistan

TURKMENISTAN, a central Asian republic of the former USSR, declared itself a republic in 1991. It is bounded in the west by the Caspian Sea, in the northwest by Kazakhstan. In the north and northeast by Uzbekistan, in the southeast by Afghanistan, and the southwest by Iran.

All but about 20 percent of the land consists of the arid “black sands” of the Karakum Desert. In the country’s central and northern part lies the Adzhakya Basin, where the land descends to some 80 meters or 265 feet below sea level. Hills and the Köpet Dag Mountains rise in the south and east, and some peaks exceed 3,040 meters or 10,000 feet in height. These ranges extend for over 1,449 kilometers or 900 miles and straddle the border with Iran and Afghanistan.

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The only significant rivers are the Amudarya, which forms the border with Uzbekistan, and the Murgab, which rises in Afghanistan. The Amudarya diverted to build the critical Kara Kum Canal, one of the longest canals globally, and provides irrigation and drinking water for its southeastern parts. The Kara Kum is the largest of the many other channels vital for the country’s existence.

Turkmenistan is an arid country where surface water of any kind is scarce. The country has environmental problems relating to its basic lack of water and poor water quality. Most water is not fit to drink, and this causes serious health problems. Also, the lack of water sometimes causes food shortages, and infant mortality is high.

The climate of Turkmenistan is desert/continental with sweltering summers, bitterly cold winters, and very little precipitation. Most of the rainfall is in the mountains, falling as snow at higher levels. Conditions are pleasant to tolerable in spring and autumn but uncomfortable in summer and winter. In most of Turkmenistan, the natural vegetation consists of species adapted to desert or extremely arid conditions but greener plants able to grow around the scattered oases, which, for centuries, have been so crucial to the way of life of the nomadic Turkmen people.

The republic is sparsely populated with about four and a half million inhabitants. The capital and largest city are Ashgabat (“City of Love”).

Agriculture remains one of the essential activities in Turkmenistan and employs about 45 percent of the workforce. Traditional breeding and rearing of livestock continue to be prominent, and the most notable animals are the renowned Akhal-Tekke horses, cattle, camels, and Karakul sheep. Under Russian rule, irrigation schemes were put in place for cotton growth, which remains the most important crop. Besides, wheat and a variety of fruits and vegetables are cultivated where conditions are suitable. Silkworms raised for silk, which is used in traditional clothing still commonly worn by Turkmen.

Turkmenistan has valuable and extensive reserves of oil, natural gas, sulfur, copper, and coal. The mining and processing of fossil fuels are the principal industrial activities. Oil and natural gas have long been exported through Russian-controlled pipelines. Still, since independence, Turkmenistan has been developing new partnerships with other countries to exploit its fossil fuels.

Other industries include food processing, cotton, and textiles, especially silk and wool for the manufacture of the traditionally patterned red carpets and rugs for which the Turkmen are renowned. These carpets are very much a part of the culture of the Turkmen as each tribe. In addition to having its dialect, costume and jewelry also have their carpet styles and patterns. The rugs and carpets (called “Bukhara rugs” simply because they are usually sold in Bukhara in neighboring Uzbekistan) are produced for export and provide valuable revenue.

Other industries are mainly small-scale enterprises for local needs.

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The terrain of Turkmenistan is mostly low and flat, with nearly all of the western and central portions of the country covered by the great Kara-Kum (Garagum) Desert. The Kara- Kum is a part of the Turan Lowlands, a vast area of desert and steppe that extends throughout Central Asia.

The desert gives way to mountains in the south. The eastern region is a plateau called the Garabil. Although Turkmenistan is considered landlocked, it borders the saltwater Caspian Sea on the west. Turkmenistan is on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. Violent earthquakes are frequent in the mountains of the south.

Turkmenistan is landlocked with no ocean coasts. However, it does lie along the Caspian Sea, which forms its entire western border for 1,768 kilometers (1,096 miles). The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. Its area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean depth is about 170 meters (550 feet), deepest in the south. Although connected to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Black Sea by extensive inland waterways (chief of the Volga River), the Caspian Sea has no natural outlet.

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Located within the Kugitang State Nature Reserve, Dinosaur Plateau contains nearly three thousand well-preserved dinosaur footprints in the region’s Jurassic rock layers. The tracks seem to belong to a variety of dinosaurs, with the smallest prints (of a three-toed dinosaur) at about 18 to 20 centimeters (7 to 8 inches) long and the largest (a megalosaur print) at about 71 centimeters (28 inches) long. The plateau contains the most extended set of dinosaur tracks in the world. Within the thousands of dinosaur footprints, scientists have found two human footprints as well.

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