In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Turkmenistan, formerly known as Turkmenia, an independent nation in Central Asia. Bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west, Turkmenistan forms part of the historic Silk Road between East and West.
Today, it has a population of around 5.5 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics. With around 490,000 square km or 190,000 square miles of territory, Turkmenistan is the world’s 52nd-largest country, making it slightly smaller than Spain and somewhat larger than the US state of California.
Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, it later became a part of the USSR, gaining independence again in 1991. Dominated by plains and deserts, temperatures here are extreme to say the least. The height of summer can see highs of 50 degrees celsius (120 fahrenheit) which is the highest temperature ever recorded in the whole former Soviet Union, while in winter, temperatures plunge below freezing in many places. Although it’s a very dry country, Turkmenistan is rich in natural resources- beneath the Kara Kum desert, which dominates the middle of the country, lie massive deposits of oil, natural gss and coal. This is the only place we’ve talked about that has a flag with a carpet on it.
Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)
Above is the location of Turkmenistan.
Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:
- An extensive resource for early history in this region can be found here at weavingartmuseum.org.
- The Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great completed his conquest of Darius III’s Persian Empire is extensively explained on Brittanica here.
- More information on the earthquake that destroyed Nisa can be found here.
- Joe’s excellent quote from Abu Muslim on the unrighteosness of making war on fellow Muslims was sourced from here.
- The ruined city of Merv is profiled in this Guardian article, which we quoted in this episode.
- The ‘blood of the mighty’ quote on the sack of Merv comes from this book.
- The Russian conquest of this region, the key engagement of which was the Battle of Geok Tepe, is explained in detail by RadioFreeEurope here.
- Extensive information on the Trans-Caspian railway can be found at Railway Wonders of the World.
- The Diplomat has an excellent in-depth article on the Panjdeh Incident between the British and Russians that almost led to war in 1885.
- Further reading on the Central Asian revolt of 1916, also known as the Urkun, can be found here or here.
- More info on the ‘Malleson Mission’ and the topic of British military involvement in Transcaspia can be found in this Conflict Studies Research Centre report.
- Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan by Adrienne Lynn Edgar, which was quoted in the episode, can be found online here.
- Some additional information on the Turkestan Legion, which fought with the Wehrmacht during WWII can be found on Wikipedia.
- The country profile from the U.S. Library of Congress, which Joe mentioned during this episode, can be found here.
- TIME magazine has a short section on the devastating and earthquake that hit Ashgabat in 1948 in its ‘Top 10 Deadliest Earthquakes’ article.
- The Evolution of Authoritarianism in Turkmenistan by Kareem Al-Bassam profiles much of the misdeeds of Saparmurad Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi.
- Below is a short video of the Darvaza gas crater or ‘Gates to Hell’, that has become a strange Turkmenistan tourist attraction.
- The many varied flags of Turkmenistan throughout history can be seen here and here.
- Some further reading on the choice of script in modern Turkmenistan is available here.
- The music from this episode was sourced from here.
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