Area: 491,210 sq km
Date of independence: October 27, 1991
Ethnic groups: Turkmen (85 %), Uzbek (5 %) and Russian (4 %)
Religion: Islam (93 % of population)
The present-day territory of Turkmenistan has a long history that dates back to the times of emergence of civilizations. The land was ruled in ancient times by Persian empires, and was conquered by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, Turkic army, and finally the Russians. City of Merv, formerly Achaemenid Satrapy of Margiana, and later Alexandria, was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today’s Mary in Turkmenistan. Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmenistan fought fiercely against Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it became independent in 1991.
Saparmurat Niyazov, the president for life, died in 2006, and Turkmenistan held its first presidential election in February 2007. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow became a new president that serves until today in an election widely regarded as "a democratic sham. Like his predecessor, he constructed a cult of personality and even built himself his own gold monument in a form of Bronze Horseman that resembles a monument of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg.
Turkmenistan’s human rights’ record remains atrocious. The country is extremely repressive and is closed to independent scrutiny. The government imposes restrictions on media and religious freedoms and controls access to information. Authorities continue to impose informal and arbitrary travel bans on various groups, including students leaving for study abroad, activists, and relatives of exiled dissidents. The NGO Freedom House ranks Turkmenistan 196 out of 197 countries in its latest Freedom of the Press index, and Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkmenistan 177 out of the 179 countries it covers. Local activists reported the fiercest government pressure against them in recent years. In the lead up to the November visit to Ashgabat by the United States secretary of state, authorities warned local activists to stay home or otherwise face retribution. Websites tied to the government published smear articles against several human rights defenders in the country and in exile.
Domestic violence against women and girls remains a serious problem. The poor implementation of 2003 domestic violence law that should protect victims of domestic violence and punish abusers, the absence of services and the authorities’ inaction or hostility toward victims obstruct survivors’ access to protection and justice. Police do not systematically enforce protection orders and few domestic violence complaints reach the courts. Pressure to keep families together, stigma, economic dependence, and fear of reprisals by abusers hamper some women from seeking assistance.
LGBT+ activity in Turkmenistan is punishable by imprisonment (up to two years). Homophobia is widespread, and homosexuals hide their sexual orientation to avoid discrimination in Turkmenistan. Criminalization and social prejudice create widespread homophobia, and medical institutions and judicial authorities often regard homosexuality as a disease. Despite encouragement to the contrary, Turkmenistan refused in the context of its latest UPR to decriminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.
The economy of Turkmenistan is dependent on hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves, which are not fully exploited. In recent years, Turkmenistan is moving to expand its exploitation of natural resources and attempts to diversify its gas export routes beyond Russia's pipeline network. In 2010, new gas export pipelines with Turkmen gas delivered to China and Iran were built and ended Russian control over Turkmen gas exports.