According to historians’ assessments, history of civilizations that existed on this land in the past accounted for five thousand years. Remains of those ancient cultures can be found here almost anywhere: in the desert and at foothills of mountains, along the channels of dried rivers and in caves. Traces of human activity have been preserved in the form of implements, domestic utensils and real works of art made of stone and bone, ceramics and metal, including bronze, silver and gold. But it is the architecture that makes us recollect distant ancestors of the Turkmens starting from the earthenware houses, sanctuaries and formerly inaccessible fortresses of the ancient world to the luxurious palaces and temples of the Middles Ages. Certainly, few things that local towns were renowned for had escaped destruction and remained intact till nowadays.  

Turkmenistan is a country of the oldest civilizations, having made a significant contribution to the development of the world culture. Modern Turkmenistan borders were first to appear in the world along with India and Middle East. Historical sources prove that in the III-II millennium BC two big states, which consolidated nations living far from each other in the desert and river valleys, were established on the territory of present-day Turkmenistan.  

In the 4th century B.C., the Parthian Empire was defeated by the army of Alexander the Great. In 330 B.C., Alexander marched northward into central Asia and founded the city of Alexandria near the Murgab River. Located on an important trade route, Alexandria later became the city of Merv (modern Mary). The ruins of Alexander's ancient city are still visible along the banks of the Murgab River.

After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., his generals fought for control of his empire, which quickly fell apart. The Scythians—fierce, nomadic warriors from the north—then established the kingdom of Parthia, which covered present-day Turkmenistan and Iran. The Parthian kings ruled their domain from the ancient city of Nisa. At its height, Parthia extended south and west as far as the Indus River in modern India.

During the leadership of King Mitridat II (128-84 BC) Parthia became one of the Great States of that period. And during the existence of the Parthian State the city Merv was declared as the center of main Trade and work. Parthia fell in A.D. 224 to the Sasanian rulers of Persia. At the same time, several groups—including the Alans and the Huns—were moving into Turkmenistan from the east and north. A branch of the Huns wrested control of southern Turkmenistan from the Sasanian Empire in the 5th century A.D.

Central Asia came under Arab control after a series of invasions in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. Meanwhile, the Oguz—the ancestors of the Turkmen—were migrating from eastern Asia into central Asia, the Middle East, and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Arab conquest brought the Islamic religion to the Oguz and to the other peoples of central Asia.

By the 11th century, the Oguz were pushing to the south and west, and the Arabs were retreating from Turkmenistan. In 1040, the Seljuk clan of the Oguz tribe established the Seljuk Empire, with its capital at Merv. At one time, the Seljuk realm stretched all the way to Baghdad. Other Oguz groups moved west across the Caspian Sea, settling in Azerbaijan and in Asia Minor, where they joined the Seljuk Turks in establishing the Ottoman Empire. After mixing with the settled peoples in Turkmenistan, the Oguz living north of the Kopet-Dag Mountains gradually became known as the Turkmen.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the main centers of Turkmen culture were at Khiva in the north (now in Uzbekistan) and at Merv in the south. Khiva controlled the cities and farming estates of the lower Amu Darya Valley. Merv became a crossroads of trade in silks and spices between Asia and the Middle East. This business created vast wealth in the ancient city, where the Seljuk rulers built fabulous mosques and palaces. At the same time, a growing class of wealthy traders and landowners was challenging the Seljuks for control of Turkmenistan.

The Mongol invasions had divided the Turkmen into small clans and had pushed them into the desert. Later, as the Mongols retreated from Turkmenistan, the Turkmen fell under the control of Muslim khans (rulers) who established khanates in Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan) and Khiva.

The rivalry between the khans and the rulers of Persia touched off centuries of war in Turkmenistan. Persians, Turkmen, and the khans fought for the scattered oases in southern Turkmenistan. From the 14th through the 17th century, Turkmenistan was in decline. To escape the conflicts, most Turkmen moved to the remote deserts along the borders of Persia and Afghanistan.

In the 18th century, after centuries of poverty and isolation, the Turkmen began to rebuild their way of life. The poet Magtymguly created a literary language for the Turkmen and laid the foundations for their modern culture and traditions. Keimir-Ker, a Turkmen from the Tekke clan, led a rebellion of the Turkmen against the Persians, who were occupying most of Turkmenistan. Popular ballads and folk legends still recount the deeds of Keimir-Ker.

Russia began sending military expeditions into Turkmenistan in the second half of the 19th century. From 1863 through 1868, Russian armies defeated and annexed the khanates of Bukhara and Khiva. The people of western Turkmenistan, who were seeking independence from the khans, willingly joined the Russian Empire.

But the Turkmen of eastern and southern Turkmenistan fiercely resisted Russian annexation. In 1879, at Geok-Depe near Ashgabad (modern Ashgabat) Turkmen warriors of the Tekke den stopped a large Russian force. Two years later, the Russians besieged Geok-Depe, eventually capturing it as well as Ashgabad.

In the early 20th century, discontent with strict czarist rule spread among the people of the Russian Empire. At the same time, the empire was being drawn into a bloody international conflict. During World War I (1914-1918), the Turkmen and other peoples of central Asia moved to reclaim their homelands. A violent uprising broke out in 1916, when the Turkmen, led by Dzhunaid Khan, defeated the Russians at Khiva. The Turkmen established a national government that lasted until 1918.

In October 1917, the Communist leader Vladimir Ilich Lenin overthrew the Russian government. The Communists succeeded in taking control of Ashgabad in the summer of 1918. In response, Dzhunaid Khan and forces loyal to the old Russian regime joined together to drive out the Communists. In July of 1919, these anti-Communist allies established the independent state of Transcaspia.

In 1922, the Communists founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Two years later, they established the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) as a full member of the USSR.

Meanwhile, another international conflict was brewing in Europe. The western Soviet Union was devastated by World War II (1939-1945), when Germany invaded with a huge military force.

In the late 1980s, many Soviet republics attempted to gain their independence from Moscow. In 1990, the Turkmen SSR declared that it would take greater control over local politics and economic policy. The government established the office of president and named Saparmurat Niyazov to the post.

A new history of Turkmenistan is inseparably connected with the name of the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy. On October 27, 1991 Turkmenistan proclaimed its Independence. And on 12th of December, 1995 the Central Assembly of the United Nations by a unanimous vote of 185 states gave the status of Permanent Neutrality. 

 

 

Map of Turkmenistan