|Flag of Turkmenistan|
Turkmenistan has long served as a thoroughfare for other nations and cultures. Merv is one of the oldest oasis-cities in Central Asia, and was once the biggest city in the world. It was also one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1925, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's fifth largest reserves of natural gas. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert. From 1993 to 2017, citizens received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
Turkmenistan is an observer state in the Organisation of Turkic States, the Türksoy community and a member of the United Nations. It is also the only permanent neutral country recognized by the UN General Assembly in Asia.
The country is widely criticized for its poor human rights, its treatment of minorities, press and religious freedoms. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan has been ruled by repressive totalitarian regimes: that of President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Türkmenbaşy or "Head of the Turkmens") until his death in 2006; Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who became president in 2007 after winning a non-democratic election (he had been vice-president and then acting president previously); and his son Serdar, who won a subsequent presidential election described by international observers as neither free nor fair.
The use of the death penalty in the country was suspended in 1999, before being formally abolished in 2008.
The name of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistan) can be divided into two components: the ethnonym Türkmen and the Persian suffix -stan meaning "place of" or "country". The name "Turkmen" comes from Turk, plus the Sogdian suffix -men, meaning "almost Turk", in reference to their status outside the Turkic dynastic mythological system. However, some scholars argue the suffix is an intensifier, changing the meaning of Türkmen to "pure Turks" or "the Turkish Turks."
Muslim chroniclers like Ibn Kathir suggested that the etymology of Turkmenistan came from the words Türk and Iman (إيمان, "faith, belief") in reference to a massive conversion to Islam of two hundred thousand households in the year 971.
Turkmenistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union after the independence referendum in 1991. As a result, the constitutional law was adopted on 27 October of that year and Article 1 established the new name of the state: Turkmenistan (Türkmenistan / Түркменистан).
A common name for the Turkmen SSR was Turkmenia (Туркмения, romanization: Turkmeniya), used in some reports of the country's independence.
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