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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 6/30/2002
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
A diplomatic visa is required for Turkmenistan and should be
obtained prior to arrival.
HHE and unaccompanied baggage (UAB) should be marked and
Ambassador (Employee's Initials) American Embassy Ashgabat
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
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
The metric system is used in Turkmenistan for all forms of
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 6/30/2002
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
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
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
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.