With some very early settlements, especially in the south and south-east of the country (see Oasenkultur, Jeitun, Namazgadape, Anau, Merw), most of today’s national territory remained inhabited by nomadic tribes until the 19th century. Time and again, the country fell into the (often peripheral) sphere of influence of various peoples and empires in the area and was at the same time a central transit region for intercultural exchange of goods and thoughts along the Silk Road. Essential turning points were the Islamic conquest, the immigration of the Oghusen, and the conquest by Amir Timur. With the Russian conquest the settling down of the nomads accelerated. Although they initially offered bitter resistance to the Russian conquerors, Turkmenistan remained one of the last areas of resistance against the Soviet government for a long time after 1917. In 1925 the borders of what is now Turkmenistan were defined. In 1991 the leadership of the then Turkmen Soviet Republic declared the country independent. The first president was the previous chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Saparmurat Niyazov. After his death in 2006, he was followed by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who is still ruling today.
Prehistory and early history
Since the late Stone Age, the scattered tribal associations in what is now Turkmenistan (hereinafter referred to as Turkmenistan) cultivated trade relationships that reached as far as southern Iran and the Afghan highlands. Although probably mostly inhabited by nomads, it is the sedentary population groups of which the richest evidence of this period has been left. Since people settled in the vicinity of desert and mountain oases, these sedentary groups are called oasis culture summarized, although they were probably not organized among each other or only in loose special-purpose associations. These sedentary groups were proficient in agriculture and simple irrigation techniques. Traces found in the vicinity of various settlement mounds (Tell) indicate widespread cultivation of wheat.
6th century to 330 BC Achaemenids
According to Rctoysadvice.com, the first incorporation of Turkmenistan into a great empire took place with the conquest by the Achaemenids under Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. No later empire and no other dynasty since the Achaemenids has succeeded in uniting the entire Middle East over a long period of time in a stable domain. Characteristic for the rule of the Achaemenids were great advances in art, science, economic management and, last but not least, legal, political and bureaucratic administration of a ruling system. Turkmenistan, however, remained a relatively insignificant fringe province until the fall of the empire, which, sparsely populated and inhabited by a largely nomadic population, brought in few taxes and accordingly received little attention. In contrast, the province administered by Samarkand to the northeast, with its fertile river oases along the Amu and Syr Darya, was much more important.
330 – about 320 The empire of Alexander the great
The Achaemenid era also ended in Turkmenistan with the conquest by Alexander the Great. In 330 BC During the persecution of Bessos from the northeast, he crossed the Amu-Darja and entered Turkmen territory. The already important trading town of Merw fell into his hands. Presumably the city was not conquered in battle but handed over without a fight (and thus avoiding destruction). It is still uncertain whether Alexander the Great ever entered the city. With the capture of Merw Alexander was able to secure power over the Persian satropy Sogdia in any case. The last province not yet conquered was that of Samarkand (then Marakanda)managed satropy. As a result, he left Turkmenistan again after a short time and crossed the Amu-Darja once more in the area of what is now Turkmenabad. After the conquest of Marakanda in 329 BC. The Persian Empire was completely conquered. Six years later Alexander the Great died, just a few years later his empire had completely collapsed.
In some remote mountain villages of Turkmenistan, a noticeable cluster of tall, blond people can be observed, which the local population traces back to Macedonian roots to this day.
3rd century BC – no later than 100 AD: The Parthian Empire
The resulting power vacuum was used by the growing Parthian people, who founded their first capital, Nisa, not far from today’s city of Ashgabat. For the first time, Turkmenistan became the heartland of a power structure. Although the Romans saw predominantly barbarians in the Parthians, there were intensive trade relations between the two rulers, as evidenced by numerous coin finds from Roman times. After long and sometimes very intense civil wars and defensive battles against Roman attempts at conquest from the west and invasions of the steppe peoples from the north the power of the Parthians began to wane in the 2nd century AD. While the Parthian Empire presumably still existed at least in parts until around 226, Turkmenistan had already fallen out of their sphere of influence in the late first century AD. The former capital Nissa had been abandoned for more than 200 years by this time.
350 – 651: The Sassasnid Empire
Reduced to their heartland, the Parthians were finally defeated by the rising Sassanids in 226. By 350 at the latest, parts of Turkmenistan fell into their sphere of influence. As the second Persian empire, the late ancient Sassanids succeeded not only in defending themselves (mostly) successfully against attempts at Roman conquest, but also in the permanent incursions of the steppe peoples from the area of today’s Kazakhstan as well as the looting by peoples from the area of today’s Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan fended off.
The Sassanids can be seen as the immediate successors of the Parthians in terms of their culture and the political realization of their great empire. At the same time they saw themselves in the tradition (which also legitimized them) of the Achaemenid empire, which was already mythologically transfigured at that time. Many of the places that were important for the Achaemenids were used by the Sassanids, and rock reliefs added by the Achaemenids were supplemented by their own reliefs (cf.Naqhs-i Rustam or Behistun) also showed certain continuities.
651: Turkmenistan falls under Arab rule
A major turning point therefore meant the end of the Sassanid Empire, which was already significantly weakened at that time: in 651, Turkmenistan fell under Arab rule in the course of Islamic expansion.
747 to the 11th century: The Abbasid Empire
In 747 or 748 the second empire was founded from Turkmen territory when Abu Muslim in Merw proclaimed the foundation of the Abbasid Caliphate. Subsequently, however, Turkmenistan no longer played a major role in this empire and again became the edge of a culturally highly developed empire. Because like all previous conquerors, the Abbasids also oriented themselves primarily to the southwest. From the newly founded capital Baghdad, the subjugation of the Umayads and subsequently almost the entire Middle East and large parts of North Africa succeeded.
Around 650 – 985: The Oghuz Confederation
With the south-west shift of the focus area of the Abbasids, a power vacuum again arose in Turkmenistan, which was filled by various Turkic tribes who, since the 7th century, immigrated from the region between the Altai and Lake Baikal on the one hand and from western Mongolia on the other to Central Asia and merged there.
These tribes retained their nomadic way of life and formed confederations, the most important representative of which was the Oghuz Confederation. So until now Turkmenistan has always been on the north-eastern edge of various great empires, but with the Oghuz, peoples dominating power politics came from the north and east for the first time. Even more important, however, was the cultural turning point that came with this conquest. For the first time, the largely nomadic population of the country was ruled by a people whose ideas of culture and governance were also nomadic.
Around 1050 the Oghuz tribes split up. A significant part migrated westward and penetrated into Azerbaijan and Turkey. This group was no longer of major importance for the further development of Turkmenistan. Another part of the Oghusen remained in the greater region around the Aral Sea. Some of these tribes migrated to southern Turkmenistan, where they gave up their nomadic way of life and slowly settled down. The most important representatives of this group are today’s Akhal-Tekke and Mary-Tekke. The greater part of the Oghusen followed the traditional nomadic rhythm of life into the late 19th and partly into the early 20th century. The remaining tribes of today’s Turkmenistan emerged from these nomadic groups.
The central Karakum desert was avoided by the nomadic tribes due to the high summer temperatures and the very few and mostly salty wells. As a result, the relative population distribution around 1100 already largely corresponded to that currently observed.
985 to 1223: The Seljuq Empire
With the simultaneous adoption of Persian culture and language, the founding of the Seljuk dynasty resulted in the first empire being founded by an originally nomadic people in Central Asia. Starting from the region of the Aral Sea, Turkmenistan also fell under the control of a tribe of this dynasty in 985. Once again a clear orientation towards the southwest can be observed, so that the Seljuks ruled larger parts of the Middle East at the height of their power, but showed no ambition to conquer the steppes and semi-desert regions north and northwest of their region of origin on the Aral Sea.
1223 – 1370: Mongol rule and the heyday of the Silk Road
In 1223 the rule of the Seljuks ended with the conquest by Genghis Khan. The only major city in Turkmenistan – Merw – was reduced to rubble. However, since this empire was also based on nomadic traditions, the conquest for Turkmenistan was much less drastic than for most of the regions conquered by the Mongols. The Pax Mongolicaalso brought with it a period of economic development and cultural prosperity for Turkmenistan. Since the fall of the Roman Empire and the Empire of the Parthians and the Sassanids, the previously flourishing trade had suffered from the very problematic conditions and the uncertain power relations in Central Asia. Only the stability of the Mongolian empire enabled the renewed boom in trade. The transfer of goods and slaves but also of culture, technology and philosophies reached previously unknown proportions. The Buddhism and Christianity spread equally along the Silk Roadlike the plague or the knowledge of stirrups, gunpowder and letterpress. And last but not least, the intensification of the exchange between cultures against the background of the Pax Mongolica also allowed travelers like Marco Polo or Wilhelm von Rubruk to go on extensive tours of discovery through Central Asia, which are invaluable for mutual cultural understanding. The Silk Road was not a fixed runway but a loose network of different routes that changed significantly according to the prevailing power-political circumstances and in the course of the seasons experience A constant within this network of change was the town of Merw, which was rebuilt in the same place after its destruction by the Mongols, as so often before, and reached its greatest boom from the early 13th to the late 14th century.
1370 – 1447: The Timurid Empire
This era came to an abrupt end with the conquest of Amir Timur (Timur the Great, also called Timurlenk – Timur the Lame) in 1370. His empire only lasted until 1447 and the Merw, which was destroyed by Timur, had already been repeatedly attacked. Nonetheless, the toll of the conquests of Timur, with 15 to 20 million dead, was so significant that the greater region needed centuries to recover from it. Grown economic systems collapsed, entire stretches of land remained depopulated for a long time and the destroyed trade relations were in some cases not resumed until the 19th century.
1447-1881: Uzbek Khanates, Persian Dynasties, and Decline
In the centuries that followed, Turkmenistan’s population, which was only growing again very slowly, fell under the changing influence of various Uzbek khanates and Persian dynasties, without any permanent establishment in the region being recognizable. In chronological order, the following Persian dynasties gained influence over Turkmenistan, at least temporarily:
- Safavids (1501–1765)
- Afsharids (1736-1796)
- Zand (1751-1794).
From 1722 to 1729 Turkmenistan was also partly under the influence of the Pashtun Hotaki.
Between 1794 and 1850, especially the turkmenischstämmige dynasty already gained centuries ago in Iran emigrated Qajar again influence over Turkmenistan. The Qajars belonged to the Bayat tribe and had fled to Iran from the Mongol conquerors in the 13th century. In the 16th and 17th centuries, some Qajars came to power and prosperity under the Safavids ruling at the time as advisers to the royal family. The later ruling dynasty of the Qajars came from the region of today’s city of Gorgan in Northern Iran. Up to the present day Gorgan lies in a regionwhose residents are to a large extent descendants of the Bayat tribe. Most of the Turkmen who fled to Iran during the 1920’s and 1930’s also settled in this region in northern Iran, which has been influenced by Turkmenistan for centuries. To this day, the largest number of Turkmen outside the state of Turkmenistan can be found here.
The Uzbek khanates of importance in relation to Turkmenistan were:
- Khant Chiwa (1512 – 1740 – influence over Turkmenistan from 1540 at the latest until 1700 at the latest)
- Khanate Kokand (1710 – 1876 – influence over Turkmenistan from 1720 at the latest until 1750 at the latest)
- Emirate of Bukhara (1785 – 1920, influence over Turkmenistan no earlier than 1790 to no later than 1860)
No government developed the power to bring Turkmenistan under their rule for long. For more than 500 years there were regular raids by Afghan tribes and countless small wars between the different tribes in the area of Turkmenistan. For their part, they were notorious for devastating raids in the neighboring regions. Economically and culturally, the period up to the 19th century was initially a phase of decline and later one of stagnation.
These effects were intensified by the collapse of the silk road trade as a result of political instability, but above all because of the sea route around Africa and India that has now been explored. This sea route was clearly superior to the previous land route in all respects. The sea route was faster, cheaper, and safer. And from the perspective of the growing European trading nations, it was also much easier to control from a single source than the daring relationships and transports through the Asian deserts and semi-desert regions that ran through numerous middlemen. This epoch ended with the renewed conquest by a northern great power: the Russian tsarist empire.