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Preface Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan is in the heart of central Asia. Long on history—Alexander the Great passed through (and, according to local legend, his horse Bucephalus was from here); the Parthian Kingdom, a nemesis of the Romans, was located here; and later the Silk Road passed through the area—Turkmenistan is one of the newest countries in the world. It is now struggling to transform its political and economic systems to meet the challenges of the future.

The most significant geographic feature is the Kara Kum Desert, which covers 80% of the country's total land area. During summer, temperatures consistently exceed 40°C. Turkmenistan possesses significant natural resources. It has large reserves of natural gas, significant oil reserves, and various mineral resources.

Ashgabat, located near the border with Iran, is a surprisingly green city boasting a number of parks and tree-lined avenues. It is a relatively new city, built by the Russians in the late 19th century as a railroad center, and has a population of around 500,000.

Although the climate and the process of economic transformation create challenges, a tour in Turkmenistan can be extremely rewarding. Turkmenistan's historical significance, geographic location, and cultural activities make for an interesting time, and the capital city itself offers a comfortable life.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Situated in central Asia, Turkmenistan lies north of the Kopet Dag Mountain Range, between the Caspian Sea and the Amu Darya River. The country has borders with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the north and northeast and with Iran and Afghanistan on the south and southeast. Turkmenistan has an area of 488,100 square kilometers or 188,417 square miles (slightly larger than the state of California).

The most significant geographic feature is the Kara Kum Desert. One of the world's largest deserts, it covers 350,000 square kilometers, or 80% of the country's total land area. The Repetek Sandy Desert Biosphere Reserve near Charjew (Turkmenabad), which was set up in 1928, monitors the unique desert flora and fauna found in the Kara Kum.

The Kopet Dag Mountain Range, to the south, forms a 2,000-meter-high natural border between Iran and Turkmenistan. The stark slopes are home to a number of endangered species, including leopards and mountain sheep. Most of the mountains are inaccessible, as they fall within restricted border areas.

Cities, towns, and farms are confined to the Amu Darya (historic Oxus) River Valley and to the narrow strip of arable land along the Iranian and Afghan borders.

The Silk Road ran from the central regions of China through Turkmenistan to the Mediterranean coast during ancient times and the Middle Ages. The caravans carried silk, tea, china, and lacquerware to the European markets. Significant ruins related to these trade routes are located outside the present-day cities of Mary (Merv) and Dashoguz.

Precipitation in the inhabited regions averages 19 centimeters per year. Most of this falls between December and April. As you would expect in a desert climate, it does get very hot. In June, July, and August it is often uncomfortable to be outside during the day, as the temperatures consistently exceed 40°C (over 100°F), although with very low humidity. At times in August, the "Afghan Winds" come from the east, and the temperature can soar into the high 40s. However, by late September the temperatures cool, and pleasant, autumn-like weather prevails.

The winter, which begins in late November, can be chilly, wet, and muddy, with temperatures between 0°C and 15°C in the daytime, with occasional light snow.

In Turkmenistan, there are the usual insects and snakes associated with a desert climate: scorpions, spiders, sand flies, cobras, and other poisonous snakes. There have been no unusual problems with insects or vermin in homes. Care should be taken, though, if exploring the desert or countryside because poisonous snakes have often been seen there.

Turkmenistan is in one of the world's high seismic regions. During the past 100 years, there have been four disastrous earthquakes with intensities of 6+ on the Richter scale, each one resulting in great loss of life and property. In 1948, Ashgabat suffered a quake of tremendous strength. All but six buildings were destroyed, and the entire city shifted 2 meters to the north. More than 30,000 of the 130,000 residents died, and an additional 85,000 were injured.

Population Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The Turkmen trace their ancestry back to the Oguz tribe, one of the early Turkic tribes to move west from north Asia. The Oguz came to present-day Turkmenistan in the 9th or 10th century A.D. That same tribe founded the Seljuk Empire and was the first Turkic group to colonize Anatolia. With the fall of the Seljuk Empire to the Mongols in the 13th century, the Turkmen entered a period of tribal fragmentation and foreign domination that did not end until independence in 1991.

From the 14th to the 19th centuries, the area was dominated by Persians (in the south) and the Khanae of Khiva and Emirate of Bukhara (in the north and east, respectively). Through it all, the nomadic Turkmen tribes lived a largely isolated existence on the margins of the Kara Kum Desert.

The Turkmen bitterly resisted Russian conquest and were the last of the central Asians to fall under Russian domination in the 19th century. In 1881 the Battle of Goktepe (some 25 kilometers west of Ashgabat) ended Ahal Teke resistance and allowed the Russians to consolidate their central Asian dominions. The nomadic life of the Turkmen did not change markedly under the Russians until the Bolshevik Revolution. Forced collectivization in the 1930s resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

The Soviets were ambivalent about ethnic identification. At first, they did not recognize a Turkmen nationality and identified people by their tribe. Later, they created the "national" republics, largely as an effort to prevent the development of a pan-Turkic nationality in central Asia. After creation of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, the Turkmen nationality was recognized in the U.S.S.R.

Today, of the five or six Turkmen tribes that flourished 500 years ago, two major tribes remain, each of them divided into two distinct groups: the Ahal and Mary Teke, and the western and northern Yomut. The Teke is the largest of the modern Turkmen tribes. Its two subgroups, however, share little in common and are political and economic rivals. The Ahal Teke occupy most of the Ahal Region, a populous area in the south center of the country that includes the capital, Ashgabat. The Mary Teke occupy much of the Mary Region, located to the east of Ahal and bordering on both Iran and Afghanistan.

The western Yomut occupy much of the Balkan Region, which borders on the Caspian Sea. Their territory extends southward into Iran. The northern Yomut live in the Dashoguz Region in the north. The Yomut were separated in the 19th century during the wars against Russia.

Remnants of the other Turkmen tribes still live in the country: the Ersari in the Lebap Region, bordering on Uzbekistan and occupying much of the Amu Darya River Valley; the Salor and Saryk in the Mary and Lebap Regions; the Choudour in the north and east; and smaller groups like the Alili and Ata. The emblems of the five major historical tribes (Teke, Yomut, Ersari, Salon, and Saryk), best known for being the focal point of carpet designs, are preserved in the national flag of Turkmenistan.

The value that modern Turkmen place on tribal identity varies considerably according to age, location, and social status. Not surprisingly, the young, urban, and well educated are less likely to consider tribal origins important than the old, rural, and less educated. Still, it is the rare Turkmen who completely discards tribal identity. Even today, many Turkmen marriages in Ashgabat are intra-tribal.

Accents, intonation, vocabulary, and grammatical style are strong tribal/regional identifiers. Dress, particularly among women, can be another giveaway: color choices, embroidery patterns, and jewelry styles vary from tribe to tribe. Names can also give a hint of tribal identity. Preferences for given and surnames and the use of name endings ("-geldy;" "-murad") vary from region to region.

There is one important group—the Russified Turkmen elite—which has genuinely lost most of its tribal identity. For these individuals, Russian remains the daily language despite Government efforts to accelerate a transition to the Turkmen language. This effort appears to be picking up steam, however, and knowledge of Turkmen language is likely to become increasingly important, particularly in government employment and in the universities.

Turkmen social events revolve around the family. Memorials, weddings, and birthdays are celebrated with large parties called "toi." The menu for such occasions consists of traditional nomadic food. A favorite party specialty is "dograma," a thick soup made from dry bread, raw onions, and mutton fat. A must at any Turkmen meal for foreigners is the local version of the ubiquitous central Asian lamb and rice dish, "plov."

Public Institutions Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkmenistan formally declared its independence from the U.S.S.R. on October 27, 1991. It became an independent state when the Soviet Union disbanded on December 25, 1991. President Niyazov, who was elected (uncontested) on October 27, 1990, was previously Chairman of Turkmenistan's Supreme Soviet and First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Republic's Communist Party. He won reelection for a 5-year term in June 1992. In January 1994, a referendum was held that ensured that President Niyazov will remain in office until June 2002. A recent announcement extended this date to 2010.

Turkmenistan remains a single-party state, with the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (formerly the Communist Party), chaired by the President, as the only registered party. Government policy criticism is not tolerated, and the press is completely Government controlled and tightly censored.

Most Government power is vested in the Presidency. There is no Vice President or Prime Minister. A Cabinet of Ministers and a number of offices within the presidential apparatus advise the President. According to the Constitution, the Chairman of the Parliament (Mejlis) assumes the Presidency upon the death or permanent incapacitation of the President and then calls an election to replace him.

The Mejlis consists of 50 members, half of whom work permanently and half of whom are called for short sessions two or three times a year. The Mejlis was chosen in the December 1999 elections with only one candidate per constituency. The Mejlis is largely a rubber stamp for Presidential decisions and decrees. Mejlis members serve for 5 years.

The Turkmen Constitution adopted two traditional advisory/legislative organs. One is the Council of Elders (Aksakal Maslahaty), which is used as a sounding board by the President to validate policies. The other is the People's Council (Halk Maslahaty), which is identified in the Constitution as the supreme representative body of popular rule. Chaired by the President and composed of ministers, Mejlis members, Supreme Court judges, and some 60 directly elected members, the Halk Maslahaty approves policy directions and constitutional amendments. It meets twice a year.

The court system in Turkmenistan has not been reformed since Soviet days. It consists of a supreme court, regional courts (including one solely for the capital city of Ashgabat), and, at the lowest level, 61 district and city courts. There are also military courts to handle crimes involving military discipline, criminal cases concerning military personnel, and crimes by civilians against military personnel; and a supreme economic court, which hears cases involving disputes between state economic enterprises and ministries. The President appoints all judges for a term of 5 years without legislative review, except for the chairman (chief justice) of the supreme court, and he has the sole authority to remove them from the bench before the completion of their terms.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkmen maintain the traditional arts of their nomadic and Silk Road ancestors.

Poets, both traditional and contemporary, have the status of national heroes. The work of Magtymguly, an 18th-century poet, is especially honored. Turkmen love to recite poetry and use it often in their speech.

Private art galleries offer both ancient and modern designs in the form of sketches, paintings, and sculptures. An art academy in Ashgabat offers similar items at lower prices. Just outside of the capital, Sculpture Town offers many local artists in one location.

Folk dancing is highly regarded, and dancing groups make frequent appearances during local holidays and at important social events. Turkmen folk music features the "dutar," a two-stringed wooden instrument shaped like a mandolin.

Silversmiths, weavers, and carpetmakers are the most highly appreciated artisans. Very few traditional jewelers remain. Traditional Turkmen jewelrymaking includes fire gilding, painting an amalgam of gold and mercury on the silver, and then heating the piece over a charcoal fire.

Carpets from Turkmenistan are known in the West as Bokhara rugs. They are made of wool or silk and usually come in various shades of red, with white, black, yellow and orange making up the tribal symbols and design. Virtually every major rug-producing country in the world has copied their geometric patterns. It is accepted that the carpets on the market now are of modern vintage, with genuine antiques only rarely found outside museums.

The education system is currently undergoing major changes, the most significant being a reduction of the number of years students spend in formal education. Although Turkmen is the official language, there is a dual primary and secondary school system: Some schools teach in Turkmen, some in Russian, and some in a combination of the two languages. As of January 2001, education in the Turkmen-language school system is compulsory through grade 9, and in the Russian-language system, through grade 10 (both equivalent, in theory at least, to a secondary education in the U.S.). Foreign language (English, Turkish, etc.) is generally taught in specialized "magnet" schools.

There are a number of scientific and technical institutions and training institutes in Ashgabat that offer degrees in cultural studies, business, economics, foreign languages, etc.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkmenistan is rich in natural resources, including natural gas, oil, iodine-bromine, sodium sulfate, salts, sulfur, potassium, gold, platinum, molybdenum, and coal.

Turkmenistan's major exports are cotton, gas, oil and refined oil products, food products, chemical raw materials, and manufactured products such as carpets, textiles, leathers, and furs. Major imports are machinery, agricultural and industrial equipment and vehicles, metals, chemicals, synthetic rubber, raw materials and processed products (nonfood), timber, paper, small manufactured goods and food products, raw material for food flavoring, and sugar. The country's major trading partners are Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Turkey, and Iran.

Natural gas was first discovered here in the 1960s. Turkmenistan has large gas and oil reserves. These hydrocarbon reserves promise to provide hard currency earnings in the future and mining for precious metals and other minerals also holds potential.

Cotton production was increased during Soviet rule through extensive irrigation, albeit at the cost of environmental degradation. As yields have declined, the Government has attempted to keep output at least level by putting more land under cultivation for crops such as wheat and rice. The net effect has been to put enormous strain on the agricultural system and the environment. Other key economic sectors include textiles, Caspian Sea fisheries, and the production of karakul lamb pelts. Agriculture accounts for 10% of GDP and about 40% of total employment.

Turkmenistan is among the top 10 cotton producers in the world, and cotton provides 17% of GDP. Other important products include grains, vegetables, fruit, and livestock. Livestock accounted for nearly one-fourth of total gross agricultural production in 1992. Inefficiencies exist in processing agricultural goods: only 8% of fruit and vegetables and 4% of cotton are processed, and much produce spoils, because processing plants are located too far from the farms. The Government is strongly promoting investment in cotton processing, with a goal of raising the percentage of the cotton processed locally to 15% of GDP. Agricultural yields are comparatively low, due to years of inefficient water use, salinization, inappropriate land irrigation, and overdevelopment of cotton cultivation.

The Government practices import substitution in the agricultural sector. It has made a major effort to make the country self-sufficient in grains. It has also introduced sugar beets to reduce dependence on imported sugar. In many cases, the land and climate are ill-suited for the Government's plans, exacerbating existing inefficiencies.

Industry is dominated by the extraction of fuel and minerals. Other industrial products include textiles and chemicals. Industry accounts for only 11% of total employment.

Despite public pronouncements that it wishes to transform Turkmenistan into a market economy, the Government continues policies that ensure it remains a centralized, command economy. There has not been significant privatization of any sector of the economy.

Turkmenistan's major trading partners remain Ukraine and Russia, although trade with Turkey and Iran has increased significantly since independence. Most gas exports have been to Ukraine and Russia, which pay overtime in a mixture of cash and commodities. The U.S. granted Turkmenistan Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status in October 1993, but bilateral trade remains quite low. In 1999, Turkmenistan exported goods valued at $8.4 million to the U.S. and imported $60.2 million of goods from the U.S.

Turkmenistan has agreements with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank. Among U.S. institutions, Turkmenistan has agreements with the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency. In many cases, however, these relations are strained by the Government's unwillingness to engage in a meaningful dialog with the institutions, the almost total lack of progress on economic reform, and delays or failure to make loan payments.


Automobiles Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

As of this writing, there is no official limit on the number of personally owned vehicles per family that may be imported or registered. (In the case of motorcycles, the GOTX allows their importation duty free but will not issue diplomatic plates for them.) However, each compound residence has only one parking space. Most off-compound homes have space for two vehicles. Many families opt for one vehicle and rely on privately hired drivers to supplement their transportation needs. Private drivers are readily available and inexpensive. It is also possible to buy secondhand Soviet, Turkish, or German vehicle at moderate prices. There is also a Ford dealership, as well as Korean and Turkish new car dealerships, where duty-free vehicles may be purchased.

Third-party liability insurance is mandatory and may be purchased from local companies at low costs. Comprehensive insurance is also available, but the terms of coverage are not always clear. Check with U.S. firms for comprehensive collision and theft coverage of your personally owned vehicle.

Spare parts and maintenance for local vehicles are relatively easy to find. If you are shipping your personally owned vehicle to post, it is strongly recommended that you include in your household effects (HHE) a good supply of spare parts, including tires. To date, there have been some problems selling non-Turkish/Soviet-made vehicles. The import duty and the local restrictions can make the overall cost of an imported vehicle prohibitive to local buyers. Soviet and Turkish vehicles are relatively easy to sell.

Gasoline prices are subsidized, and gasoline is generally available, although there are only a small number of gas stations. Gasoline grades are theoretically 95 octane and 76 octane. Diesel is also available. Gasoline is very inexpensive.

A valid international or Turkmen drivers license is required. A Turkmen drivers license will be issued upon presentation of a valid U.S. license.

Traffic in Turkmenistan is chaotic but generally light. Although most drivers adhere to traffic signals and speed limits, they do not always stay in the proper lanes. Main city streets are generally well maintained. Side streets can be dangerously ill kept, however, with open manholes, huge potholes, no lighting, and other obstacles. Pedestrian traffic can also present a hazard, with people in dark clothing and standing well in the roadway to hitch rides or hail a taxi.

Major intercity highways are in reasonable shape but can be very dangerous, particularly at night when there is no lighting whatsoever. The regional security officer has recommended that no driving be done outside the city after dark. Long vehicle trips should not be undertaken alone.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Taxis are available in Ashgabat, but they are not recommended. There have been reported incidents of both men and women passengers being molested or mugged by local taxi drivers. The regional security officer strongly recommends that taxis be avoided, except in emergencies.

Ashgabat has a shortage of public transportation due to the poor condition of many of the buses. Bus service is available to cities outside of Ashgabat, but the buses are overcrowded and uncomfortable. There is no regular bus service from the city center to the housing compound.

Private drivers can be hired very easily and inexpensively. New arrivals are authorized Embassy motorpool support until the arrival of their vehicles on a reimbursement basis.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are four land routes out of Ashgabat. For Americans, the road to the south stops at the Iranian border. The road to the west leads to the Caspian Sea, an 8-hour drive through the desert. The northern road goes directly across the Kara Kum, ending 10 or more hours later in Dashoguz. The road to the east leads to Mary, Turkmenistan's second largest city, near the site of ancient Merv (4 hours from Ashgabat by car).

It is possible to take trains across the country but they are in bad condition. They are not air-conditioned, there is no food or drink available, and the toilets are unusable.

Flights within the country and the Commonwealth of Independent States region are possible via Turkmen Airlines. New Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft service major international routes, and service includes London, Frankfurt, Istanbul, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Moscow, Almaty, Baku, Kiev, and Tashkent. Domestic routes are still serviced by Soviet-era aircraft, but Turkmen Airlines is purchasing Boeing 717's to replace them. Turkmen Airlines safety record is good, though it can be quite unreliable, with last-minute cancellations leaving travelers stranded until the next available flight. However, domestic flights are frequent, and even Turkmen Air's routes to neighboring countries are inexpensive.

At present, Turkish Airlines flies three times a week to Istanbul; Lufthansa has a flight to Frankfurt three times a week; Aerosvit flies once a week to Kiev; and Uzbek Air also flies regularly.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Direct dialing and operator-assisted calls can be made from Turkmenistan, though both methods are very expensive ($4-$7 per minute). Most staff use the Embassy lines and their personal calling cards. Fax is also available, again using personal calling cards or Embassy cards for official business. Cellular phone service is available and widely used in the capital.

Internet Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkmen Telecom is the monopoly Internet provider in Turkmenistan. Internet service varies from moderate to painfully slow, and interruptions of service are not uncommon.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

International mail is unreliable. Post personnel use the weekly pouch for outgoing mail, which takes about 2-3 weeks for delivery to the U.S. No outgoing packages, except rolls of film, cassettes, and returned merchandise, can be shipped. Use the State Department pouch for packages being shipped to post from the U.S. Packages should not exceed 40 pounds in weight, 24 inches in length, and 62 inches total in length plus girth.

Address pouch mail as follows:

U.S. Embassy-Ashgabat 7070 Ashgabat Place Department of State Washington, DC 20521-7070

Radio and TV Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Local television programs are in either Turkmen or Russian. Local radio broadcasts are in Turkmen. Television sets in the compound houses are connected to a satellite dish that allows reception of CNN, BBC, AFRTS, and a few Russian stations. Off-compound houses are connected to an individual satellite dish if one is available. A multisystem or PAL/SECAM television set is necessary in either case to receive these broadcasts.

BBC and VOA can be heard on shortwave radio, but the reception is sometimes poor.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are no locally published English-language newspapers or magazines, and only rarely is English reading material sold in bookstores. Some hotels carry limited English-language newspapers (e.g., USA Today), but generally such material is unavailable.

The local press does not subscribe to international news wire services and carries scant international news.

The National Library has a collection of several thousand books and a number of dated magazines in English in its foreign-language collection. The university also has English-language books in its library, primarily for the use of its foreign-language students. Materials may be "checked out" to read in a designated area but they are not permitted outside of the building.

The Embassy subscribes to The Economist, Newsweek, Time, Business Week, and several other publications. There is also an informal lending library at the Embassy.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Local medical care and facilities are limited due to the lack of equipment and staff and sanitary conditions. The Central Hospital (private, Turkish owned), considered the best in Ashgabat, has been known to run out of surgical gloves, syringes, IV needles, and medications.

The State Department's regional medical officer is based in Moscow and makes periodic visits to Ashgabat. The Embassy shares a Joint Medical Unit (JMU) with the Peace Corps. The JMU is staffed by a local doctor and an American physician's assistant or nurse practitioner. The Medical Unit provides routine medical care and noncritical emergency care to direct-hire U.S. Government employees and their dependents. It also assists in arranging medevacs when necessary. The medevac point for Ashgabat is London, although Istanbul is also used in cases of extreme emergency.

With a few exceptions, local dentistry lacks modern techniques, equipment, medication, and basic sanitation. Dental emergencies are medevaced to London, and nonemergencies can be attended to in Istanbul.

Community Health Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Community sanitation levels are low. Tap water is not potable (all Embassy houses are equipped with distillers), and restaurant food is often of questionable safety, especially outside the major hotels and the handful of restaurants that cater to Westerners. Ashgabat has had cases of typhoid and the Embassy staff has suffered numerous incidents of E. coli contamination and other gastrointestinal ailments. Care should be taken when eating in restaurants, and all produce should be soaked in a chlorine solution before consumption at home.

Western standards of public cleanliness are not observed in Turkmenistan. Public toilets are generally in poor condition, and those on trains are often virtually unusable. Though the main streets are swept each day, on the side streets garbage is often placed unwrapped in open containers outside residential buildings for collection once a week.

Turkmenistan's health indicators are among the worst in the former Soviet Republics. Infant mortality is reported to be 50 per 1,000, and anemia is common. There is a high rate of Hepatitis A, B, and C. Amebic gastroenteric disease is common. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, caused by a parasite spread by sandfly bites and quite common throughout central Asia, is prevalent. Typhus, spread by body lice, and scrub typhus, spread by mites, are both considered endemic in Turkmenistan. Rabies is present in Ashgabat.

All newly assigned personnel and long-term temporary duty employees should have all routine vaccinations before arrival. Minimally, this includes Hepatitis A and B, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria/ tetanus, and rabies. Check with the Medical Unit after arrival at post to make certain immunizations are current.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Because tapwater is considered contaminated, the Embassy provides water distillers in both the houses and the Chancery. Since distillers remove all substances from the water, including helpful minerals, vitamin and mineral supplements should be taken regularly.

Foodstuffs can be exposed to a variety of contaminating agents, such as flies and rodents. Due to unregulated pesticide and fertilizer use, personnel are advised to buy only undamaged fruit and vegetables, clean them carefully with a mild detergent, soak them in a chlorine solution for 15 minutes, and then rinse them with potable water before consuming them or storing them in the refrigerator. Raw meat should be purchased as early in the day as possible to avoid contamination and should be cooked thoroughly before eating.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The Embassy employs spouses or dependents whenever possible, though with such a small staff, it is not always possible to provide employment for everyone who wants to work.

Outside the Embassy, there is a demand for English teachers at all levels. The Embassy has a bilateral work agreement with the Government of Turkmenistan, but so far no work permit has been required. Payment for employment on the local economy is in the local currency, and salaries are extremely low in dollar terms (less than $40 a month).

Foreign business firms are potential sources of employment in Ashgabat, but most are not currently expanding operations, and fluency in either Turkmen or Russian is a prerequisite.

American Embassy - Ashgabat

Post City Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM


Ashgabat is located on the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, at 58°20´ E. and 37°58´ N. Immediately south is the Kopet Dag Mountain Range. To the north, on the other side of the Kara Kum Canal, lies the Kara Kum Desert. The city is in the foothills at an altitude of 236 meters. Ashgabat is the country's largest city with a population of around 500,000.

The number of trees and city parks is surprising, considering the inhospitable climate. From Friday through Sunday, wedding parties pose in front of the Magtymguly Statue (in honor of a famous 18th-century Turkmen poet) near the Museum of Fine Arts.

The city boasts three museums: the Turkmen National History and Ethnography Museum, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Carpet Museum. There is also an Exhibition Hall featuring works by contemporary Turkmen artists.

The Hippodrome on the eastern edge of town offers Ahal Teke horseracing in the early fall and late spring. A soccer club, Kopet Dag, plays in the stadium in the suburb of Berzengi.

Because of its history of catastrophic earthquakes, Ashgabat architecture tends toward low-level buildings; huge high-rise apartment blocks, such as those seen in many parts of the former Soviet Union, are a recent development. The number of high-rises in Ashgabat is increasing rapidly, though, as part of the Government reconstruction of the city.

Fifteen kilometers west of Ashgabat are the ruins of Nisa. This Parthian city was founded in the third century B.C. The palace fortifications are punctuated by the remains of a series of towers. Among the buildings that can be identified at the site are a palace, two Zoroastrian temples, kitchens, and a treasury.

Twelve kilometers east of Ashgabat on the south side of the road to Mary lies Annau. There are three mounds at this site. The easiest to spot is the site of a 15th-century (A.D.) mosque that was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake. On and off, the site is being excavated by an American team from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The U.S. recognized the independence of Turkmenistan on December 25, 1991. The American Embassy was opened in March 1992. The present Chancery, which was opened in June 1995, is located at 9 Pushkin Street (phone: 993-12-350045; fax: 993-12-511305).

The Embassy's American staff includes the Ambassador, the DCM, two political/economic officers, two political/military officers, a Defense attach‚ and OPSCO, an administrative officer, a general services officer, a consular officer, a regional security officer, a public affairs officer, an office management specialist, two communicators, and a six-marine security guard detachment. USAID is represented by a full-time contract position. The Embassy employs some 130 local staff and several personal service contractors.

The Peace Corps has three direct-hire American staff members and an American medical officer. Currently, some 77 Peace Corps volunteers serve throughout Turkmenistan.

The Embassy hours are 9 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. American and local employees are paid biweekly. It is not possible to open a local checking account, so paychecks should be deposited directly to an account in the U.S.


Permanent Housing Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Permanent housing is available for all State Department employees. Compound housing is located in the suburb of Berzengi, about 10 kilometers from the Chancery. It consists of a 40-hectare compound containing the Ambassador's residence and nine townhouse units of two and three stories. The compound also has a swimming pool and tennis court and is equipped with an emergency generator and a well to supplement city water.

Off-compound housing is also available. Houses range from one to three stories, and are generally larger than those on the compound, but utilities are not as reliable. As the Government of Turkmenistan is in the process of a major overhaul of the city, substituting high-rise apartment buildings for existing homes, the supply of appropriate single-family homes available for rental is diminishing. Americans who live off-compound have access to all compound facilities, including the pool, poolhouse, and tennis courts. A number of private firms and several diplomatic missions rent suites or apartments for staff at the many hotels and guesthouses near the Embassy housing compound.

Embassy housing is assigned according to rank and family size. In most cases, employees occupy their permanent housing immediately upon arrival at post. Each compound unit has two or four bedrooms, a living/dining area, two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half baths, a kitchen, and a laundry area. Off-compound houses vary considerably but have as a minimum two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living/dining area, and one-and-a-half baths. The Ambassador's residence has a library, living room, dining room, master suite, family living room, study, and three guest rooms with baths en suite.

The compound housing was built according to American standards. All compound units are centrally heated/cooled with heatpumps. The off-compound houses have air-conditioners (central or wall units) and central heat (usually gas). All Embassy housing has fully equipped kitchen with appliances, including a water distillation unit, microwave oven, a dishwasher, and American standard clothes washer and dryer. All housing is furnished with standard Drexel Heritage furniture. Compound houses are fully carpeted, but off-compound houses generally have area carpets.

Furnishings Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The Ambassador's residence is furnished and equipped with standard china, glassware, and silver. Kitchen equipment, serving pieces, and table linens for representational purposes are provided. Linens are provided only for the guest quarters. There is a stereo system with CD player in the living room, and the house has a television and VCR (both multisystem).

Personnel assigned to Ashgabat are authorized a limited HHE shipment. Storage space is limited, and the Embassy cannot provide storage for personal effects. As the units are quite well equipped with furniture, lamps, etc., it is recommended that staff bring only small pieces of personal furniture. Bookcases are provided. HHE should include china, glassware, cookware, linens, and decorative items.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Electrical current is 220v, 50 cycles. The Chancery, residential compound, and most off-compound houses have emergency generators so power outages are rarely a problem. However, surges of over 300v are common, and sensitive electronic equipment can be damaged. UPS devices are recommended. One will be provided to you at post.

Food Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Fresh meat, fish, poultry, and produce are limited and of variable quality. During the winter months, fresh vegetables consist of beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Fruit is limited to lemons, oranges, grapes, and apples. During the summer, the selection improves, including eggplant, lettuce, radishes, sweet peppers, fresh garlic, melons, cherries, strawberries, bananas, tangerines, apricots, and peaches.

The quality of the fruits and vegetables in the markets varies. The regional medical officer recommends that produce with broken skins not be consumed due to the potential for pesticide and fertilizer residue, as well as parasites and worm eggs, on the surface of the fruits and vegetables.

Beef, lamb, and pork are available in the local markets, though not always in familiar cuts. Because most meat is cut with an ax and then displayed in the open air, all meat should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Local chicken and other poultry are of very inferior quality. U.S. chicken legs imported via Russia are available at most of the bazaars. Fresh fish is rarely seen in the markets.

Milk, butter, and cheese are locally produced but are not pasteurized, so are considered unsafe. Long-life milk, butter, and processed cheeses are imported from Turkey, Germany, and Iran but can be expensive. It must also be noted that many vendors turn off their refrigeration units at night leaving their products in the (now unrefrigerated) units. Eggs are available, though they should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

A number of small Turkish-run stores stock bread, juices, and other canned goods, but the selection is limited and inconsistent. There is also a larger Turkish "supermarket" called Yimpas that offers food, toys, clothing, shoes, and some furniture. The prices tend to be higher and their shelves are always full, but selection is often very limited. Quality, especially for toys, clothing, and shoes, is not very good.

Personnel assigned to Ashgabat are authorized a consumables allowance, usually 2,500 pounds. It is recommended that 1,500 pounds or less be shipped initially; the remaining allowance can be ordered before the end of the first year at post. Employees are advised to include in their shipment an adequate supply of cooking oil, flour, sugar, rice, pasta, dried beans, processed foods of all kinds, breakfast foods, canned meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. A stock of dry or long-life milk should be included. Baby foods and supplies, as well as pet food and supplies should be included, as they are not always available on the local market.

The Embassy does not operate a commissary, although staff have organized a group-purchasing system. Good-quality frozen meats and vegetables, dairy products, limited fresh produce, canned and dry goods, wine, and beer are available through the Lufthansa Deli Catering Service, but costs are very high. The Embassy staff also orders through Peter Justesen but again, costs are very high. Net grocer and other Internet grocery sites are also an option.

Turkish beer is usually available locally, and Turkish wine can occasionally be obtained from local Turkish firms. Coca-Cola has a local bottling plant that produces quality soft drinks. Imported soft drinks are also usually available, although in limited flavors (cola, orange, and lemon/lime).

The Embassy does not have a snackbar, although there are two kitchens equipped with refrigerators and microwave ovens. Several restaurants within walking distance of the Chancery are popular with the Embassy community. There is some concern, however, with food handling and preparation, and incidents of mild food poisoning have been attributed to the most frequented restaurants.

Clothing Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

For summer, bring lightweight, washable clothing. Cotton is the most comfortable fabric. For winter, bring sweaters, a coat, and waterproof shoes or boots. The streets are very uneven, so comfortable walking shoes are important for all seasons. Rubber boots or shoes are also useful when conditions become wet and muddy during the winter. Purchasing clothing and shoes locally is not an option.

Dress for work and social occasions is relaxed in Turkmenistan. Turkmen rarely wear suits in the summer, although most office workers do wear ties. Embassy dress is a suit or sport coat, with short-sleeved shirts acceptable. Dress for national day and other receptions is generally a suit. Aside from the Marine Ball, there are few formal affairs, and a tuxedo or other formal wear is not necessary. Slacks and skirts are acceptable attire for women.

Formal evening wear is rarely necessary. Tanktops and shorts worn in public will inevitably draw unwanted attention and are discouraged, although they are fine on the housing compound.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Some household products are sold in the Turkish stores, but they are of inconsistent quality and are not always available. Consumables shipments should include paper products, toiletries, pet supplies, plastics, and other household necessities. Christmas ornaments, toys, tools, and other nonconsumables should be included in your HHE or airfreight. Employees should also include in their shipments flashlights, batteries, gardening supplies, and hobby and exercise equipment. If prescription or other medicines are needed, employees should bring a good supply because mail service can be very slow. A basic first-aid kit is furnished to official residences.

Basic Services Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are drycleaning establishments that are generally adequate and comparable in price to the U.S. shoe repairs are available, but materials are not up to U.S. standards.

Appliance repairs are available only for locally made products. Repairs take a long time, are not guaranteed, and often require extensive paperwork.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Part-time domestic help is available and generally inexpensive (approximately $2 per hour). Full-time housekeepers, cooks, and nannies that speak English are more difficult to find. There is no professional referral service; word of mouth will usually bring a flood of interested applicants.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are two Russian Orthodox Churches in Ashgabat that have regular Sunday services. Catholic services are held in Russian and English. There are several large mosques and more are under construction. There are Bahai, Jewish, and Christian communities, but none has permanent facilities for meeting.


Dependent Education Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The Ashgabat International School, run by Quality Schools International, opened in September 1994. It offers English-language education for students from preschool through 12th grade.

The curriculum includes English (reading, grammar, composition, keyboarding, and spelling), mathematics, cultural studies (history, geography, economics, etc.), science, computer literacy, art, music, and physical education.

For additional information, contact Quality Schools International in care of the Embassy in Ashgabat, or phone them at 993-12-519027 or 993-12-519028. They can also be contacted by email:

Turkmenistan's public schools welcome foreign pupils. However, the language of instruction is either Russian or Turkmen or a combination of both. The schools are short of textbooks and all supplies. From an American point of view, the curriculum is rigid. The foreign families that have tried the local schools have not been satisfied.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

During the racing season (in the spring and fall), you can watch the famous Ahal Teke horses in action. Horseback riding is available a short distance outside the city. Although the stable's facilities are basic, riding or hiking in the foothills around Ashgabat is an unforgettable experience.

The city swimming pool is not sanitary, and most employees use only the pool on the compound or the pools at local hotels.

Just north of the city is a reservoir lake that is used for swimming, boating, sailing, and sunning. However, as summer progresses the water is increasingly polluted, and it reaches the point where it is no longer usable for recreation.

Jogging is popular among foreigners, though not among the Turkmen. Joggers, especially women, should expect to draw much attention and occasional harassment. The Ashgabat Hash House Harriers meet every other Sunday for a family-style run through the countryside.

The larger hotels have adequate if small gyms and saunas, and there is a gym at a local stadium and a private gym in a local office building. Most require a membership fee, with a diplomatic discount.

Bicycle riding is an increasingly popular sport and means of transportation, though in the winter the cold weather and slick streets could present problems.

Yimpas, the Turkish "supermarket," has opened a three-lane bowling alley. It has a good selection of balls but no rental shoes. Score pads are rarely available.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

In addition to horseback riding, during the spring and fall when temperatures permit, it is possible to hike and climb in the hills outside of Ashgabat. Turkmen consider the warm waters of the underground thermal lake located about an hour outside of Ashgabat to be therapeutic for medical conditions. It is an interesting formation, and a fun place to take children for the day.

While there is almost no tourist infrastructure in Turkmenistan, you can hire an English-speaking guide in most places for a reasonable price. With advance planning and the right permits, it is possible to tour the ancient Silk Road cities of Kohne Urgench, Mary (ancient Merv), Sarakhs, as well as the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. There are daily flights to the city of Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk), located on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The government has recently completed a very nice resort-type hotel there with both indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, and a small beach. There is little else of tourist interest in this industrial port town.

Entertainment Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are a few drama theaters in Russian or Turkmen in Ashgabat. Tickets are not expensive, but the quality is very low. The season runs from October to April. There is also a Conservatory for mainly Turkmen music but occasionally foreigners perform classical music concerts there. Seating and acoustics are poor, and it is unheated in the winter.

There are three concert venues, most of which host "traditional" Turkmen performances. Traditional Turkmen dances include elaborate steps, arm movements, accompanied by high-pitched Turkic music. Unfortunately, few current performances feature authentic traditional songs. Foreign films are occasionally shown in local hotels or in one old theater.

Some of the larger hotels have good-quality restaurants, ranging in price from $10 to $30 per person. (The major hotels strongly prefer dollars; none accept credit cards, and few willingly accept local currency.)

There are other, smaller restaurants popular among the Western community. Most serve a variation of Turkish cuisine at very low prices. There are also a few Chinese and Indian cuisine restaurants that offer meals at slightly higher prices.

Because of the lack of structured entertainment facilities, socializing with family and friends is the most popular form of entertaining.

Social Activities Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There are relatively few organized social activities in Ashgabat, in part because the international community is small. The Ashgabat International Women's Club holds monthly meetings and sponsors charity events. The Marine Security Detachment hosts movie nights several times a month, as well as larger parties, and the annual Marine Ball. The "Hash House Harriers" meet weekly, and there's a weekly basketball game at the Embassy residential compound. The Marine Detachment will often organize a friendly game of touch football when the weather is nice. There is also an informal weekly dining club open to those with adventurous palates.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The Ambassador hosts a Fourth of July reception, and other missions host national day celebrations. The Turkmen have a week-long celebration of their independence, in October, and other events to which the diplomatic community is invited. Invitations to such events are often verbal and are delivered at the last minute, sometimes the very afternoon of a function that evening. Embassy staff are often invited, again with very short notice, to attend cultural presentations.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

It is standard practice to exchange calling cards. Officers usually have their cards printed locally in English/Russian or English/Turkmen. Four hundred calling cards are considered sufficient for a 2-year tour. Additional cards can be printed fairly quickly if necessary. If higher quality cards are desired, they should be ordered from the U.S.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa fly from Istanbul and Frankfurt to Ashgabat. Check with the State Department Travel Office to make certain the route you choose falls under the current travel guidelines. The most common route from the U.S. is through a European transit point (usually Frankfurt) to Ashgabat on Lufthansa Airlines.

A diplomatic visa is required for Turkmenistan and should be obtained prior to arrival.

HHE and unaccompanied baggage (UAB) should be marked and consigned to:

Ambassador (Employee's Initials) American Embassy Ashgabat Turkmenistan

HHE and personally owned vehicle shipments are shipped through ELSO/ Antwerp. The average time for shipments to get from point of origin to Ashgabat is approximately 3 months.

As of this writing, an additional amount of airfreight is allowed, the weight depending on family size. Check with the post management office for the amounts and details. UAB usually arrives in about a month.

Travel orders, medical records, and other personal or legal papers should be hand-carried to post.

On arrival, you will be met and assisted with customs and immigration by an Embassy expediter.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

When HHE, consumables, UAB, and personally owned vehicles arrive, the General Services Office notifies the employee immediately. The Embassy takes responsibility for clearing the freight through customs and delivering it to the residence. It is a routine procedure that usually takes a couple of hours.

Turkmenistan's import restrictions will in most cases not affect Embassy employees. The general rules apply: no weapons, illegal drugs, or drug paraphernalia. The Office of Sanitary Control may confiscate agricultural products (such as plants or seeds).

Pets Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

There is no quarantine requirement in Turkmenistan. All dogs and cats must be accompanied by a certificate of good health, bearing the seal of the local board of health and signed by a veterinarian. The certificate must be issued not more than 10 days prior to the animal's arrival in the country. A valid rabies certificate is also necessary. Pets are not allowed in the local hotels, so if for some reason you cannot move immediately into your permanent quarters, you will have to make boarding arrangements.

Veterinary care is available, though facilities and equipment are sorely lacking. If possible, bring supplies of rabies and other common immunizations and medicines with you, as they are generally unavailable in Ashgabat. Include in your consumables and HHE all necessary pet food and supplies. If you wish to have your pet spayed or neutered, do so before your arrival at post.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Unless given specific advance approval from the Embassy, U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from bringing any type of firearm or ammunition into Turkmenistan.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

The national currency is the manat, which circulates in 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 denomination notes. Since its introduction in 1993, the manat has devalued sharply against the dollar, although the rate of devaluation slowed considerably after the introduction of economic reforms at the beginning of 1996. The official rate is 5,250 manat=US$ 1 (June 2002).

The government exercises strict controls over the import and export of manat and foreign currencies. However, travelers with official or diplomatic passports are not required to declare their currency upon exit or entry.

Dollar transactions are permitted at banks, hotels, airlines, the phone company, and some restaurants. Most other merchants are required to accept payment in manat.

For authorized personnel, the Embassy cashier will cash personal dollar checks for limited amounts. Americans assigned to Ashgabat should maintain a checking account in the U.S., preferably with overdraft protection.

Correspondent bank arrangements between U.S. and Turkmen banks have been set up through various Western banks. Local bank facilities are not available for cashing personal checks.

The National Bank of Pakistan, located in the Sheraton Grand Turkmen Hotel, accepts American Express traveler's checks only. You can purchase or cash traveler's checks for a 5% processing fee. They can also wire transfer funds for a 0.5% fee with a minimum $20 charge for this service. They do not accept credit cards and do not process cashier's checks. Several other banks in town can transfer funds via Western Union.

Credit cards are not accepted at most local hotels or restaurants.

The metric system is used in Turkmenistan for all forms of measurement.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM


Officially, local residents who wish to sell personal property go through a process in which the seller goes to the Commission Store with the items. American personnel are not subject to these requirements for the sale of small items, and most have disposed of items through word of mouth or by advertising in the Embassy.

There has been some difficulty selling imported vehicles to local residents because of the high customs and the complications involved in obtaining permission to buy. Turkish, Soviet and German-made vehicles have been relatively easy to sell.


The Embassy cashier hours are Monday through Friday, 2 pm to 4 pm. Embassy employees and officials' guests have the authority to use the cashier facilities. Requests for large accommodation exchanges must be approved in advance by the administrative officer.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Akchurin, Marat. Red Odyssey: A Journey through the Soviet Republics. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 1992.

Blunt, Wilfrid. The Golden Road to Samarkand. Viking Press: New York, 1973.

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International: New York, 1992.

Kalter, Johannes. The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. Thames and Hudson: New York, 1984.

Mackie/Thompson. Turkmen Tribal Carpets and Traditions. Textile Museum: Washington, DC, 1980.

Maslow, Johnathan. Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy. Random House: New York, 1993.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 6/30/2002 6:00 PM

Turkmenistan celebrates the following national holidays:

New Year's Day January 1 Memorial Day January 12 National Flag Day February 19 International Women's Day March 8 Novruz Bairam March 21 Victory Day May 8 and 9 Revival and Unity Day May 18 Remembrance Day October 9 Independence Day October 27 and 28 Neutrality Day December 12

Also, Kurban Bairam and Oraza Bairam are celebrated on changing dates determined by the lunar calendar and announced by the Turkmen Government.

Visitors should avoid arriving during the entire week of the October Independence Day celebrations, as all the hotels are reserved for local dignitaries. All offices and schools are closed during this week as well. Obtaining hotel rooms is also problematic during the week of President's Day.

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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