Forgotten World (104): Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has the smallest population – only 5 million – of the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia. It is made up mainly of desert, but it possesses the world’s fifth largest reserves of natural gas and has substantial deposits of oil. Naturally, therefore, it is of strategic interest to both the Russians and the Americans.
However, since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan has remained largely closed to the outside world. It is effectively a one-party state, that party being the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan led by the late president Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in December 2006.
In contrast to other former Soviet republics,Turkmenistan has been largely free of inter-ethnic hostilities. This is probably because it is the most ethnically homogeneous of the Central Asian republics, the vast majority of its population consisting of Turkmens. According to a decree of the Peoples’ Council, electricity, natural gas, water and iodised salt will be provided free of charge to citizens up to 2030; however, shortages are frequent.