Originally a part of the kingdom of ancient Persia, Turkmenistan was conquered in 330 B.C. by Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death the area became part of Parthia, which fell in 224 A.D. to the Sassanid Persians. In the 8th cent. Turkmenistan passed under the domination of the Arabs, who brought Islam to the region. In the 11th cent., it was ruled by the Seljuk Turks (see Khwarazm), whose empire collapsed in 1157. Jenghiz Khan conquered the region in the 13th cent., as did Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th cent. After the breakup (late 15th cent.) of the empire of Timur's successors, the Timurids, Turkmenistan came under Uzbek control in the north and Persian rule in the south. After a period of decline (14th–17th cent.), Turkmen culture underwent a revival in the 18th cent. In the early 19th cent., the Turkmens became subject to the khanate of Khiva. Russian military forces founded Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) in 1869 and began to conquer the Turkmens, whose fierce resistance to Russian encroachment was broken in 1881 with the conquest of the Dengil-Tepe fortress. The Russians then established the Transcaspian Region, which in 1899 became part of the governate general of Russian Turkistan.
Harsh Russian administration provoked revolts by the Turkmens. During the Russian civil war sporadic fighting flared between the Transcaspian provincial government and Bolshevik troops. The Red Army took Ashgabat in July, 1919, and Krasnovodsk in Feb., 1920. The Transcaspian Region was renamed Turkmen Region in 1921; the following year, it became part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which in 1924 incorporated the Turkmen districts of the former Bukhara and Khorezm republics. Turkmenistan formally became a constituent Soviet republic in 1925. Large numbers of Turkmens still live in Iran and Afghanistan.
A referendum for independence from the Soviet Union was passed in Oct., 1991, and Turkmenistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Dec., 1991. Saparmurat Niyazov (elected Oct., 1990) became president; he also gradually became the object of a pervasive personality cult. He was reelected unopposed in 1992 and in 1994 won a referendum extending his term until 2002. The former Communist party retained much of its hold on power, and opposition leaders were restricted and harassed. There was, however, some movement toward privatizing the economy and progress in attracting foreign investment. In 1994, Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian republic to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program; the following year, the country signed a package of 23 bilateral agreements with Russia.
In Dec., 1999, Niyazov was voted president for life by the legislature. Niyazov was uninjured in an attempted assassination in 2002. Subsequently his despotic government imposed increasing restrictions on personal as well political freedoms. Turkmenistan changed the status of its membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States to that of an associate member in 2005. The death of Ogulsapar Muradova, a journalist, while in government custody provoked new condemnation of the government in 2006; human rights groups believed that she had died during interrogation.
In Dec., 2006, Niyazov died suddenly. Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was named acting president; Parliament Speaker Ovezgeldy Atayev, who should have succeeded Niyazov under the constitution, was charged with abuse of power and other crimes and removed from office after the president died. Berdymukhamedov subsequently was nominated for president by the People's Council (a former supreme legislative body that was abolished in 2008), which also amended the constitution so that the acting president could run. Five other, relatively unknown candidates were nominated as well, but no exiled opposition leaders were permitted to run in the Feb., 2007, presidential election, which was won by Berdymukhamedov.
The new president subsequently consolidated his hold over the government and national politics, and in 2008 a new constitution was adopted; a personality cult also subsequently developed around Berdymukhamedov. In Sept., 2008, there were clashes in the capital between the security forces and what were reported to be armed rebels, although the government said it was a drug gang. Elections for the National Assembly in Dec., 2008, were criticized by many international observers for being overwhelming dominated by candidates from the ruling party and groups aligned with it.
An Apr. 2009, gas pipeline explosion explosion cut Turkmenistan's natural gas exports to Russia's energy company Gazprom. The government blamed Gazprom for the explosion, which Gazprom denied; Gazprom subsequently sought a price reduction from Turkmenistan and did not resume importing gas until Jan., 2010, when it began accepting significantly less gas at a reduced price. The events, which resulted in a large income loss for Turkmenistan, strained relations with Russia. Meanwhile, in 2009, Turkmenistan began exporting gas to China by pipeline, and by the end of 2010 its gas exports to China exceeded those to Russia. The president was reelected in Feb., 2012, in an election that largely mirrored that of 2007.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.