Turkmenistan History: from 1881 to 1991

History Overview

After thousands of years of foreign rule, Turkmenistan, which was dominated by nomads until the 20th century, gained state independence for the first time in 1991 within the borders drawn in 1925. The country has been ruled by President Berdimuhamedow since 2006.

Independence Day: 10/27/1991

Head of State and Head of Government: Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdymukhamedov

Political system: Presidential autocracy

Democracy Status Index (BTI): Rank 119 (out of 129) 2018

Corruption Index (CPI): Rank: 161/180; Points: 20/100 (2018)

1881 – 1917: Tsarist rule

As early as 1869, Russia succeeded in founding the city of Krasnovodsk (today Turkmenbashi) at the second attempt, but another 12 years passed before the conquest of Turkmenistan under Michael Skobelev’s leadership. It was not until 1881, after the bloody conquest of Gok Teppe, that the Turkmen resistance was finally broken. The Day of Conquest is now celebrated as a national day of remembrance and is a national holiday. While only about 290 Russians fell, the defending Akhal-Tekke tribe suffered about 6,000 victims. Another 8,000 Akhal-Tekke were killed in the subsequent retaliatory massacre for an earlier defeat of the Russian army (Peyrouse 2012). With reaching the Kuschkain 1885 the entire area of what is now Turkmenistan fell under Russian rule. Turkmenistan became part of the General Government of Turkestan. At the same time as the conquest of Turkmenistan, the infrastructural development of the region was advanced at great speed. The port of Krasnovodsk was expanded and the first phase of the Trans-Caspian Railway (northern border of Turkmenistan along the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk and from there in an easterly direction to Ashgabat) was completed in 1880. Merw was reached just five years later, today’s Turkmenabad only one year later and again two years later Bukhara.

Turkmenistan History 2

1917 – 1923: State of Transcaspia

After the revolution of 1917, Ashgabat became a center of anti-Bolshevik resistance. Under the leadership of Juanid Khan, after a victory over the Red Army soldiers, the independent state of Transcaspia was founded. It was not until 1923 that Soviet troops could finally break this resistance and claim sovereignty over Turkmenistan for themselves.

1923 – 1945: Soviet rule – until the end of World War II

According to Securitypology.com, the state and provincial borders of Turkmenistan that are still valid today were established in 1925. However, the sedentarisation pushed by the Soviet government met with considerable resistance. United in the fight against the Soviet occupiers, Turkmen tribes from the Karakum Desert waged an intensive and sometimes very successful guerrilla war until the late 1930’s. At the same time, more than a million Turkmen (around 40% of the population at the time) fled across the southern borders. This loss of people (and the animals that accompany them) especially in connection with the forced collectivization led to economic losses that the Turkmen Soviet Republic was only able to make up at least in part decades later. The immediate supply situation was exacerbated by the fact that many of the remaining Turkmens killed their animals rather than handing them over to the collective farms. It was not until the 1970’s that it was possible to at least reach the livestock levels of the 1920’s.

Due to serious bad planning during collectivization and not least because other regions of the Soviet Union were also affected by this form of resistance against collectivization, there were massive crop failures in theirs in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s (and especially in the winter of 1932/1933) As a result, food for the population could no longer be guaranteed for a long time. The exact number of people who died in Turkmenistan can no longer be reconstructed. For the entire Soviet Union, a number of around 12.5 million starvation deaths as a direct result of collectivization is largely certain.

The Russian-Soviet conquest can thus be seen as the fourth major turning point after the Arab conquest, the immigration of the Oghusian tribes and the Timurid campaign of annihilation. By investing heavily in the infrastructure of the desert settlements, the Soviet government tried to improve the quality of life in the desert regions, thereby reducing emigration and at the same time depriving the guerrilla fighters of their foundations. Water pipes, shops, schools and administration buildings, some of which have been used up to the present day, are evidence of this undertaking even in very remote desert villages.

1945 – 1991 The Turkmen Soviet Republic after World War II

After the Second World War, Turkmenistan remained one of the poorest Soviet republics despite initially making considerable investments in social infrastructure and transport routes. In the system of the transnational division of labor, the country was given the task of producing cotton. Oil and gas fields were also increasingly developed during the 1960’s. The entire transport infrastructure of the country was designed for the export of these raw materials to the northern republics. At the same time, the Turkmen Soviet Republic remained until 1991 a net recipient of services and thus a continuously loss-making region for the Soviet government despite cotton and gas imports. The corruption that was particularly pronounced in the Turkmen Soviet Republic proved to be a burden.

Contemporary articles provide insights into nationality politics in Central Asia at the end of the 1950’s and into everyday life in the Turkmen Soviet Republic at the beginning of the 1980’s.