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 in the southwest by Iran.

All but about 20 percent of the land consists of the arid “black sands” of the Karakum Desert. In the central and northern part of the country 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, which is one of the longest canals in the world and provides irrigation and drinking water for the southeastern parts of the country. The Kara Kum is the largest of the many other channels which are vital for the country’s existence.

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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 precipitation 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 important to the way of life of the nomadic Turkmen people.

The republic 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 put in place for the growth of cotton, and this remains the most important crop. Besides, wheat and a variety of fruits and vegetables 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 exported through Russian-controlled pipelines. Still, since independence, Turkmenistan has been developing new partnerships with other countries for the exploitation of its fossil fuels.

Other industries include food processing, cotton, and textiles, especially silk but also 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 its carpet styles and patterns. The rugs and carpets (called “Bukhara rugs” simply because they usually sold in Bukhara in neighboring Uzbekistan) are produced for export and provide valuable revenue for the country.

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

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