Historical background

The Turkmen trace their ancestry to the legendary figure of Oguz-Khan, who in the distant past migrated from Lake Issyk-Kul, located far off to the east in what is now Kyrgyzstan. In fact, today's Turkmen are partly descended from mainly Persian local populations that were absorbed by the original Turkmen.

In the 11th century, the Turkmen founded the Seljuk Empire at the oasis of Merv (now Mary). From the 14th century, following the Mongol conquest, Turkmen lands came under the control of the non-Turkmen Khivan Khanate. The Turkmen nobility entered into the khans' military service.


The Western Turkmen, who opposed the Khivan Khanate, first sought Russian protection in the mid-18th century, but only in the late 19th century did Russia conquer the area, taking Khiva in 1873 and finally defeating the Turkmen in 1881 with the storming of the great fortress at Geok-Tepe (near Ashgabat).

In 1916, the Turkmen rose in revolt against an attempt to conscript them to fight in World War One.

Turkmen SSR established in 1924

Under the leadership of Junayd Khan, the Turkmen expelled the Bolsheviks from Ashgabat and took over the Khivan Khanate during the weak early years of Soviet Russia. The Turkmen were independent—for the first time in several hundred years—from 1918 until 1920, when the Red Army retook Khiva. The Turkmen SSR was established in 1924.

The nomadic way of life

When the Turkmen were forced to give up the nomadic way of life and join collective farms, there was widespread resistance. Many continued to fight the Soviet regime into the 1930s.

Industrial and cultural development

Industrial and cultural development during the Soviet period was limited in Turkmenia (as it was then called). The country remained impoverished, backward, and dependent—a condition aggravated by imposition of the cotton monoculture.


Independence came to Turkmenistan not through the action of any local political movement, but resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party, renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT), remained in place, and the Communist Party First Secretary, Saparmurat Niyazov, became president of the new state in 1992.