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The Republic of Turkmenistan is located in Central
Asia and, with an area of 488 100 km², is about the
size of Germany, Austria and Switzerland combined. The
country borders the Caspian Sea in the west, Kazakhstan
in the northwest, Uzbekistan in the north and northeast,
Afghanistan in the southeast and Iran in the south.
Almost 90% of the country's surface is occupied by
the sand and debris deserts of the Turanian valley. The
Karakum desert is located in the center of the country.
With an area of around 350,000 km² it is one of the
largest deserts in the world. It rises from 80 m below
sea level in the northwest to a height of up to 300 m
above sea level.
In the south of the Karakum is the Kopetdag
Mountains, an earthquake-intensive area that reaches
heights of up to 2,942 m in Turkmen territory. In the
east of the country are foothills of the Gissar
Mountains, in the border area with Uzbekistan the
Ayrybaba is the country's highest elevation in the
Kugitangtau chain (3 139 m). In the extreme north-west,
Turkmenistan has a share in the southern foothills of
the Ustyurt plateau, the majority of which lies on the
territory of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The coast on the Caspian Sea is particularly
structured in its northern section. The large
Kara-Bogaz-Gol bay is almost dry due to the falling
water level of the Caspian Sea. Due to the drift of salt
and sand into the hinterland, the cultivated areas there
suffer severe damage.
The longest river in Turkmenistan is the Amu-Darja,
which forms part of the border with neighboring
Uzbekistan. It rises in the Hindu Kush, merges with
other rivers and flows into the Aral Sea after a total
of 1,445 km in Uzbekistan. The 1,400 km long Karakum
Canal, which runs through the desert and is used for
irrigation, begins in eastern Turkmenistan on the
Amu-Darja before it flows into the Caspian Sea near the
city of Turkmenbaschi. By draining large amounts of
water from the Amu-Darja, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan is
at risk of drying out.
The capital city of Ashkabad is located in the south
of the country in the transition area between the
Karakum desert and the Kopetdag Mountains.
The climate in Turkmenistan is continental and
characterized by low rainfall (100 to 300 mm). The
winters are usually mild, in the capital Ashchabad the
average is 2 กใ C, but maximum values of 29 กใ C and
minimum values of -23 กใ C can be reached in January.
In July the average temperature is around 30 กใ C, the
maximum values are around 47 กใ C.
Flora and fauna
Except for light gallery forests along the rivers,
only plants that are well adapted to the great drought
can be found in Turkmenistan. These include, for
example, dwarf shrubs, desert grass and lichens. Large
parts of the deserts are almost without vegetation.
Grass steppes can be found in the mountainous regions.
In the country there are typical desert animals such
as jumping mice, lizards, snakes and the desert lynx
caracal. Mountain sheep, bezoars and lynxes live in the
steppe areas. The cheetah is considered extinct, the
Turkmen leopard and the screw horn goat are threatened
Around 5.5 million people live in Turkmenistan. Three
quarters of them belong to the Turkmen people, who are
descendants of the Islamic Turkic people of the Oguses.
The Turkmen tribes include, for example, the Jomudi, the
Ersari and the Tekke. The proportion of Russians has
dropped significantly to 4% in recent years due to
emigration; Uzbek's make up 5%. Ethnic minorities are
Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians,
and around 15,000 refugees, mostly from Tajikistan, are
in the country.
Islam, mostly Sunni, is the predominant religion,
Christian Orthodox form a religious minority. Turkmen is
the only official language, Russian and the languages
of the ethnic minorities are also spoken.
Turkmenistan's average population density is 11
people per square kilometer, but large parts of the
Karakum Desert are extremely thin or not populated at
all. The largest metropolitan area is the capital city
of Ashkabad with around 760,000 residents. Other major
cities are Charjew with 232,000 and Tasauz with 210,000
residents. Overall, around 45% of Turkmenistan's
residents live in cities. According to COUNTRYAAH,
the population growth is 1.4%.
The medical care of the population is inadequate, the
average life expectancy is 61 years, the infant
mortality rate 7.3%. School attendance is compulsory,
literacy is 98%.
According to the 2008 constitution, Turkmenistan is a
presidential republic. The head of state is the
president elected for five years by the people, who is
also head of the government (Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow,
since February 2007). A one-time re-election is
The actual parliament (Mejlis) has 125 deputies who
remain in office for five years. The People's Council
(Halk Maslahaty) has 2 507 delegates (some elected, some
appointed) and is purely advisory.
Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces
(Welayatlar) and one capital district.
As a Soviet republic, Turkmenistan's economy was
focused entirely on the export of natural gas, oil, and
cotton. Even today, economic policy is shaped by
socialist planned economic principles, but reforms are
ongoing; the principle of free market economy was
incorporated into the 2008 constitution. The country's
economy is stable due to the abundance of raw materials,
and high growth rates are forecast for the country by
opening up new markets. However, it is estimated that
more than every second Turkmen is unemployed; a third of
the population lives below the poverty line.
Just under 3% of the country's area can be used for
agriculture, of which 85% of the cultivated area must be
artificially irrigated. Cotton is mainly grown on large
plantations for export. These monocultures and extensive
irrigation have led to significant environmental damage.
Mulberry trees are grown as the basis for the breeding
of silkworms. The cultivation of cereals, fruits and
vegetables and fodder plants is intensified. The
population's food needs cannot be met. Livestock farming
is of great importance: the noble Akhal Teke,
thoroughbred horses, are bred for sale, the wool of the
Karakul sheep provides the basis for carpets.
Turkmenistan has the fourth largest natural gas
reserves in the world, mainly under the Karakum desert
and on the Caspian Sea. The exact extent of the oil
deposits is not yet known, but is highly valued. Energy
export is the country's most important source of foreign
exchange. In addition to the oil processing industry,
carpet knitting, textile and food production are
traditionally important branches. The chemical industry
and metal processing have become less important.
Industry has a 54% share of the gross domestic product.
The main imports are machinery and equipment, food
and chemical products from Iran, China and Russia.
Natural gas and oil as well as cotton are exported,
mainly to Turkey, China and Russia.
The road network covers a total of around 24,000 km,
of which around 20,000 are paved. Around 2,400 km are
available on rails. Navigation is possible on the
Amudjara and the Karakum Canal. The most important port
on the Caspian Sea is Turkmenbaschi. There is an
international airport in the capital city of Ashkabad.
The currency is the Turkmenistan manat (= 100 tenge;
firmly linked to the US dollar).