When I mention Turkmenistan, often people look at me with a confused stare and then ask what it is – a place, a city, what? This Central Asian country between Kazakhstan, Iran, and a huge desert, has been ruled by a dictator for 15 years with some truly bizarre laws. A mixture of Disneyland meeting North Korea with it’s incredible architecture, yet lack of freedoms, this country has a very rich history of violence, and serves as a meeting point between East and West.
Today we are going to look at 20 facts about this little unknown country.
- Turkmenistan declared independence from the Soviet Union on 27th of October, 1991,
- Turkmenistan was ruled by dictator and President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov between 1991 and 2006.
- This unique country holds the Guinness World Record for the largest indoor Ferris wheel in an architectural structure. The Ferris wheel is 156 feet (47.60 m) tall, while it’s surrounding structure is 187 feet (57 m).
- The Darvaza Gas Craters, or Gates to Hell as the locals know it, is a 226 feet (60 m) wide and 98 feet (30 m) deep crater that has huge deposits of oil and natural gas. In an attempt to burn off the excess gas, Soviet engineers set it alight in 1971, estimating that it would take a few weeks to burn off. It still burns to this day!
- The Ancient City of Merv in South Eastern Turkmenistan, is a city that was completely destroyed several times. It was captured by the Mongols who executed the entire population, apart from 400 artisans. Some historians believe that over one million people were killed.
- The Karakum Desert, or Black Sand in the Turkic languages, occupies 70% of Turkmenistan, or 135,135 square miles (350,000 km²). It’s also one of the driest deserts in the world, with some areas recording only 0.005 inches (0.12mm) of precipitation annually.
- July 1983 officially saw the hottest day in Turkmenistan and the Soviet Union – it was recorded at the Repetek Reserve at 122 F.
- Turkmenistan has the 6th largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world.
- In March 2014, 15,000 public health workers were dismissed from their roles. A year later, all hospitals outside of the capital were closed. This was because it was decided that everyone should come to the capital for treatment.
- President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov implemented many laws throughout his reign, here are just a few:
On February 2004 men were banned from having long hair or beards.
In 2005 lip syncing was banned at concerts.
Dogs were banned from the capital due to their “unappealing odor.”
Smoking was banned in all public places and for all government employees.
- Dubbed as the North Korea of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is ranked as one of the hardest countries to enter, with strict visa applications requiring assistance from tour agencies and a guide.
- Ashgabat holds the Guinness World Record for the most public pools in a single place. At 27, the most buildings clad in marble and the largest architectural star with a mind blowing area of 34,875 square feet (3,240 sq. m).
- Between 2002 and 2008, the days of the week and months of the year were renamed to Turkmen National Symbols.
- 2015 saw Turkmenistan’s first satellite launched, in the same month all satellite dishes were banned across the country in an attempt to stop Turkmen’s gaining access to international media.
- The Ruhnama – a book written by Saparmurat Niyazov had to be displayed in a locations of prominence, all government buildings, and shops. Within mosques, it was to be treated the same as the Qur’an. Failure to do this would lead to destruction of the mosque.
- Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow took power of Turkmenistan in February 2007, succeeding Saparmurat Niyazov.
- A main part of the original constitution was “permanent neutrality” which was officially recognized by the UN in 1995. Turkmenistan has no ties with NATO or Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
- Under the Decree of the People’s council, on the 17th of August 2003, the population of Turkmenistan is entitled to subsided electricity, natural gas, water, and salt until 2030. Up to 2014, this also included the vehicles.
- Saparmurat Niyazov’s cult of personality and leadership was used as base for the film, “The Dictator.”
- According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan ranked is 178th out of 180 with only North Korea and Eritrea below it. This puts it in the top 10 of most censored countries.