Turkmenistan was a sub-republic in the Soviet
Union between 1924 and 1991, when the Union dissolved
and Turkmenistan became independent. During the Soviet
era, the population was suppressed, while agriculture
developed and the important cotton harvest sevenfold.
After independence, Turkmenistan has remained an
authoritatively controlled one-party state, first under
President Saparmurat Nijazov (Saparmyrat Nyıazow) and
after his death in 2006 by President Gurbanguly
During Josef Stalin's time as Soviet leader (c.
1930–1953), no efforts were made to industrialize
Turkmenistan. Every effort was concentrated on getting
agriculture to produce raw materials. Despite the dry
climate, extensive irrigation efforts were made. In
1954, Soviet prisoners began building the Karakum Canal,
which is just over 140 km long, which runs along the
desert of the same name. Thanks to the canal more than
doubled the area cultivated, which was mainly used for
cotton cultivation. The cotton harvest was sevenfold
between 1940 and 1980. In the early 1960s, extraction of
the now so economically important natural gas began.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Turkmenistan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
At the end of the 1980s, almost half the population
lived below the official poverty line. Birth rates were
high and youth unemployment was high. Popular
dissatisfaction led to demonstrations in the cities in
the spring of 1989. Later that year, an opposition
movement was formed against Soviet rule, called Unity.
The movement was banned and in the election of
Turkmenistan's highest Soviet (parliament) in January
1990, only the Communist Party was allowed to stand. The
party's first secretary Saparmurat Nijazov was appointed
chairman of the Republic's highest Soviet. In the same
year, he ran for direct presidential elections. As the
only candidate, he was reported to have received just
over 98 percent of the vote.
Independence, Nijazov strengthens its power
The program of greater transparency and economic
reform launched by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in
the late 1980s had no impact in Turkmenistan. Rather,
Nijazov took advantage of the situation to strengthen
his own position.
When the Old Communists in August 1991 carried out a
coup against Gorbachev in Moscow, Nijazov was waiting.
He succeeded in retaining power after the coup failed,
but the Communist Party changed its name to
Turkmenistan's Democratic Party. On October 27, 1991,
Turkmenistan was declared independent, after more than
94 percent of Turkmen had voted for independence.
The following year, the regime presented a program
with promises of free electricity, gas and water, later
also bread, to all residents. The fact that this was
largely implemented was probably of great importance for
Nijazov's continued support among the population.
He was re-elected as president in 1992 with over 99.5
percent of the vote. A year later, Parliament decided
that Nijazov would be allowed to continue as president
until 2002, without voters being allowed to speak.
Parliament's decision was confirmed in a referendum in
1994, again with around 99 percent yes votes.
Türkmenbaşy - "leader of all Turkmen"
The regime regularly presented staggered figures for
the country's economy, but the reality of the residents
was difficult. In 1995, up to 1,000 people in the
capital Ashgabat (Aşgabat) demonstrated in protest
against Nijazov's policies and the economic problems
that had worsened after independence (see Economic
overview). About 20 protesters were arrested and eight
of them were sentenced to long prison terms.
Following criticism from the outside world, President
Nijazov in 1998 admitted that many of those brought to
trial in Turkmenistan were not criminals. He dismissed
the state prosecutor and complained about incompetence
and corruption within the police. Later that year, the
president issued amnesty for around 8,000 prisoners
sentenced for minor crimes. Some political prisoners
were also released on appeal from abroad. However, it
would appear that political repression had not seriously
Nijazov's rule was characterized by Turkmen
nationalism in association with a remarkable cult of
personality. He had the streets and monuments named
after himself and made his birthday a public holiday.
Nijazov's portrait was printed on all banknotes. In
Ashgabat, he had the country's tallest building erected,
crowned with a gilded statue of himself, slowly rotating
after the sun. The statue was taken down in 2010 on the
orders of Nijazov's successor to the presidential post,
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (see Current Policy).
In 2000, opposition leader Nurberdy Nurmamedow was
arrested after he protested against a 1999
constitutional change that made Nijazov a lifetime
president. Nurmamedow, who was the leader of the banned
party Unity, was formally charged with attempted murder
and sentenced to five years in prison. He was later
pardoned by the president and released.
The opposition is being persecuted and imprisoned
Former Foreign Minister Boris hmyhmuradow in 2001
accused Nijazov of being more powerful than the old
Soviet leaders. Ayhmuradow then lived in Moscow, which
had become the center of the Turkmen opposition in
exile. There was also Abdy Kulyıew, also a former
Turkmen Foreign Minister, and leader of the Turkmenistan
Fund's opposition group. In 2002, the Turkmen Ambassador
to Turkey, Nurmuhammet Hanamow, and former governor
Chudajberdy Orazow also joined the opposition and fled
At the end of 2002, the regime stated that Nijazov
had been subjected to a murder attempt but escaped
unharmed. The opposition, including various civil rights
groups and environmental groups, was designated as
responsible for the attack. Ayhmuradow, who had secretly
returned to his homeland, was arrested. In a television
appearance, he pleaded guilty to the attempted murder, a
confession widely believed to have been enforced during
torture. He was later sentenced to life in prison
without the possibility of pardon. Many other opposites
were also sentenced to prison sentences of varying
There were also reports that some members of
Parliament had been involved in the assassination plot.
This may have been behind Nijazov's 2003 decision to
deprive Parliament of its powers. Through a
constitutional amendment, the right to pass laws was
passed from Parliament to another political body, the
People's Council, which was controlled by the regime.
Nijazov dies quickly
It was difficult for the outside world as well as for
the internal opposition to access Nijazov's imperial
power. He acted as a strong clan leader at the national
level and managed to win the loyalty of various peoples.
He presented himself as a father figure and protector of
the vulnerable. At the same time, his political
decisions were often bizarre and led to a deterioration
in people's living conditions. He banned opera (started
performing again in 2019), closed libraries, closed
hospitals, withdrew pensions and more.
In the hidden, power struggles obviously went on, and
sometimes Nijazov undertook surprising remodeling in the
country's leadership so that no conceivable competitor
could build their own power base. In 2006, the
prosecutor was dismissed, who was considered one of the
president's most loyal employees. The head of the
central bank also had to go, as did several ministers.
Most were blamed for corruption and inefficiency.
Nijazov announced that all newly appointed officials
would in the future be allowed to begin their service
with study visits in the country's prisons.
The 2006 layoffs were followed by a series of arrests
of people accused of hostile activities, illegal weapons
possession and relations with foreign organizations. One
of the arrested journalist Ogulsapar Myradowa, a
correspondent for the US-funded news service Radio Free
Europe / Radio Liberty, was sentenced after a ten-minute
trial to five years in prison for possession of
ammunition. Shortly thereafter, she died in prison under
In December 2006, Nijazov died of a heart attack at
the age of 66. The sudden death shocked the nation and
it was unclear who would succeed the president.
According to the constitution, the President of
Parliament would take over, but he was rejected as a new
president when a criminal investigation was ongoing
against him. Instead, Deputy Speaker of Parliament
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was appointed acting head of
state. Presidential elections were announced in February