Known for its autocratic government and large gas reserves, Turkmenistan has been an island of stability in restive Central Asia.
Despite the gas wealth, much of the population lives in poverty. After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country entered a period of isolation that has only recently begun to end.
Turkmenistan produces roughly 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year, and about two-thirds of its exports go to Russia’s Gazprom gas monopoly.
The government has sought out gas deals with several other countries, including China and neighbouring Iran, in order to reduce its dependency on Russia.
President: Serdar Berdymukhamedov
Serdar Berdymukhamedov took over in March 2022 as the third president of the authoritarian state.
His father Gurbanguly had become president in 2007, on the death of his own mentor Saparmyrat Niyazov.
Like his predecessors, President Berdymukhamedov wields absolute power, and is the focus of a personality cult in the state-run media.
The government has an absolute monopoly of the media and state TV and radio pump out a steady stream of propaganda.
Reporters Without Borders has called Turkmenistan “an ever-expanding news black hole”.
Foreign news and opposition websites are blocked and international social networks are often inaccessible.
Some key events in Turkmenistan’s history:
1881 – Most of present-day Turkmenistan is annexed by Russia after the Battle of Geok Tepe against nomadic Turkmen troops.
1925 – Turkmenistan becomes a constituent republic of the Soviet Union.
1991– Turkmenistan proclaims independence.
2009 – A pipeline is opened for gas exports to China, breaking Russia’s stranglehold on Turkmenistan’s energy reserves.2007 – Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov becomes president on the death of his mentor Saparmyrat Niyazov. He in turn steps down in favour of his own son Serdar in 2022.
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