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ETHNONYMS: Turcomans (from the Persian usage), Türkmens


Identification. The Turkmens are one of the major ethnic groups of Central Asia, where they had their own Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), also referred to as Turkmenia or Turkmenistan. The majority of Turkmens of the former USSR live within the present-day republic of Turkmenistan, although some communities are found in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In addition, large numbers of Turkmens reside outside the former Soviet Union, in northeastern Iran, northwestern Afghanistan, northern Iraq, and eastern Turkey.

Location. Turkmenistan is the southernmost republic of the former Soviet Union. It is bounded on the west by the Caspian Sea, on the south by Iran and Afghanistan, on the northwest by Kazakhstan, and on the north and east by Uzbekistan. The Amu Darya forms much of the border with Uzbekistan. The dominant geographic feature of the republic is the largely uninhabited Kara Kum (lit., "Black Sand") Desert, which occupies almost 90 percent of Turkmenistan. Human habitation is concentrated on the fringes of the Kara Kum, especially along the southern border of the republic, in the foothills of the Kopet Dagh, and in the oases of the Murgab and Tejen rivers, as well as along the Amu Darya in the east, the Caspian shore in the west, and the western border of Khorezm in the north.

Turkmenistan tends to have hot, dry summers; mild winters; short, humid springs; and dry autumns. Temperatures range from an average high of 2° C in January to 30° C in July, with highs near 50° C recorded in the Kara Kum Desert. Precipitation averages only 20 to 30 centimeters annually. Both temperature and precipitation vary considerably within the republic.

Demography. The Turkmen population of the Soviet Union as of the 1989 census was 2,718,297, an increase of 34 percent over the 1979 population of 2,027,913, and 78 percent over the 1970 population of 1,525,284. The Turkmens are therefore one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups of Central Asia, largely owing to very high birthrates; they presently average over five children per family. The increase among the Turkmens contrasts with a declining Slavic population in Turkmenistan. In 1979 Slavs accounted for 13.9 percent of the republic's overall population, in 1989 only 10.5 percent. With well over 50 percent of the population residing outside of urban areas, the Turkmens are among the most rural inhabitants of the former Soviet Union.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Turkmens speak a language belonging to the Oghuz or Southwest Branch of the Turkic Language Group. Thus, they are closer linguistically to the Azerbaijanis and the Turks of Turkey than to the neighboring Turkic peoples of Central Asia, such as the Uzbeks and Kazakhs. Distinct tribal dialects exist among the Turkmens. Elements of an emerging Turkmen literary language can be found as early as the eighteenth century in the common Turkic (or Chagatay) literature of Central Asia. The modern literary Turkmen language is a relatively new creation, however, developed in the 1920s under Soviet supervision and based on the Yomut and Teke dialects. Initially the Soviets opted for modifying the traditional Arabic script of the Turkmens, but in the late 1920s a shift was made to the Latin alphabet and, after 1939, to the modified Cyrillic alphabet. Recently there have been calls to return to the Arabic script, which Turkmens living outside the former Soviet Union have continued to use.

History and Cultural Relations

The Oghuz Turkic ancestors of the Turkmens first appeared in the area of Turkmenistan in the eighth to tenth centuries a.d. The name "Turkmen" first appears in eleventh-century sources. Initially it seems to have referred to certain groups from among the Oghuz that had converted to Islam. During the thirteenth-century Mongol invasion into the heart of Central Asia, the Turkmens fled to more remote regions close to the Caspian shore. Thus, unlike many other peoples of Central Asia, they were little influenced by Mongol rule and, therefore, Mongol political tradition. In the sixteenth century the Turkmens once again began to migrate throughout the region of modern Turkmenistan, gradually occupying the agricultural oases. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the majority of Turkmens had become sedentary or seminomadic agriculturalists, although a significant portion remained exclusively nomadic stockbreeders.

From the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries the Turkmens repeatedly clashed with neighboring sedentary states, especially the rulers of Iran and the khanate of Khiva. Divided into more than twenty tribes and lacking any semblance of political unity, the Turkmens managed, however, to remain relatively independent throughout this period. By the early nineteenth century the dominant tribes were the Teke in the south, the Yomut in the southwest and in the north around Khorezm, and the Ersari in the east, near the Amu Darya. These three tribes constituted over one-half the total Turkmen population at that time.

In the early 1880s the Russian Empire succeeded in subjugating the Turkmens, but only after overcoming fiercer resistance from most Turkmens than from other conquered groups of Central Asia. At first the traditional society of the Turkmens was relatively unaffected by czarist rule, but the building of the Transcaspian Railroad and the expansion of oil production on the Caspian shore both led to a large influx of Russian colonists. The czarist administrators encouraged the cultivation of cotton as a cash crop on a large scale.

The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was accompanied by a period of rebellion in Central Asia known as the Basmachi Revolt. Many Turkmens participated in this rebellion, and, after the victory of the Soviets, many of these Turkmens fled to Iran and Afghanistan. In 1924 the Soviet government established modern Turkmenistan. In the early years of Soviet rule, the government tried to break the power of the tribes by confiscating tribally held lands in the 1920s and introducing forced collectivization in the 1930s. Although pan-Turkmen identity was certainly strengthened under Soviet rule, the Turkmens of the former Soviet Union retain their sense of tribal consciousness to a great extent. The seventy years of Soviet rule have seen the elimination of nomadism as a way of life and the beginnings of a small but influential educated urban elite. This period also witnessed the firm establishment of the supremacy of the Communist party. Indeed, as reformist and nationalist movements swept the Soviet Union in recent years, Turkmenistan remained a bastion of conservatism, displaying very few signs of joining in the process of perestroika .


Turkmens traditionally lived a seminomadic life, with the summer encampment considered to be the "homeland." The encampments were contractual in nature, although they almost always were composed primarily of close relatives. The basic settlement was the oba (Russian: aul ), which consisted of a group of households associated with a definite territory that they held in common. The traditional dwelling of the Turkmens was the round, collapsible tent (oy), consisting of a wooden frame with felt and sometimes reed coverings that could be erected or dismantled in about an hour. The Turkmens retained this dwelling even after becoming completely sedenterized. To this day these yurts, now serving as summer quarters or guest rooms, can be seen alongside modern brick homes.

Collectivization has replaced the oba with the kolkhoz, yet the basic family and tribal structure is intact. Movement to urban areas naturally weakens these traditional settlement patterns. The cities, however, are still primarily non-Turkmen; for example, Ashkhabad, the capital and largest city of the republic, is only 41 percent Turkmen.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Traditional Turkmen society was characterized by a distinctive division along economic lines between pastoralists (charwa ) and agriculturalists (chomur ). This division was found within almost every tribe and settlement and even within families. Individuals constantly alternated between these two life-styles, although the pastoralism was somewhat preferred. The traditional stock animal was the dromedary camel, well-suited to the climatic conditions of Turkmenistan. Only in the nineteenth century, with increased sedenterization, did sheep become the main animal in the Turkmen herds.

In the twentieth century Soviet planners have dictated the cultivation of cotton to the virtual exclusion of most other crops in Turkmenistan. The serious ecological repercussions of this cotton "monoculture," in terms of soil exhaustion and excessive water usage, have only recently been acknowledged. For example, the Kara Kum Canal, a Stalinist-era project to convey water for irrigation from the Amu Darya to the Turkmen Desert, has been shown to lose up to 50 percent of its water in transit (through seepage and evaporation) and to have significantly contributed to the dessication of the Aral Sea, formerly the world's second-largest inland sea, which is now rapidly disappearing. Very little industry has been developed in Turkmenistan and what does exist mainly employs ethnic Slavs.

A brisk trade is carried on in the bazaars of the republic, where many products not easily found in state stores, including fruits and vegetables from private plots and meat from privately held livestock, are readily available, although at much higher prices.

Industrial Arts. Many samples of Turkmen craft work can be found, especially in the bazaars. These include metal and wood household utensils, tools, and furniture. In modern times the traditional Turkmen practice of hand-weaving beautiful carpets has been transformed into a state industry with factories mass-producing carpets.

Trade. Since Turkmenistan is heavily oriented toward agriculture, the republic relies on other regions of the former Soviet Union for imports of most finished goods. In return, the republic exports virtually all of its raw materials, especially cotton and natural gas, to other former Soviet republics.

Division of Labor. Turkmen men and boys were traditionally responsible for tending the herds and performing heavy agricultural work, whereas women managed domestic affairs. Women and girls contributed to the household economy through weaving carpets. In modern times, men generally drive the machinery on the kolkhozy and manage the transport and sale of goods in the bazaar. Women and children represent the backbone of cotton harvesting, which is still mainly done by hand.

Land Tenure. Historically, pastures and natural water sources were held in common by the oba, whereas plowed fields and dug wells were considered private property. After sedentarizing, some Turkmen tribes developed a system of land tenure known as sanashik, in which there existed an equal division of land and water between tribes and tribal subdivisions. This system included an annual redistribution between all eligible landholders (i.e., married males) in the tribe. During the Soviet period, land was declared the property of the state and collectivized.


Kinship Groups and Descent. The Turkmens are organized into a segmentary system of territorial descent groups. The largest descent groups are usually referred to as tribes. Each tribe is further subdivided into increasingly smaller and more closely related descent groups. Descent is traced patrilineally to a common ancestor, Oghuz Khan. The Turkmens preserve knowledge of their descent group and its relation to other groups in oral genealogies. Individual Turkmens know their recent genealogyat least five to seven generationsvery well, although they often conceal knowledge of the fifth and sixth generations to avoid becoming embroiled in more distant blood fueds. When two strangers first meet, they inquire about each others' descent group to establish their relationship to each other. When households that are not closely related camp together in the same oba, a tenuous kinship tie is often discovered. Marriage does not serve an important function in linking Turkmen descent groups. Although agnatic ties are very close and require political, social, and economic cooperation, uterine and affinal ties seldom go beyond limited economic assistance.

Among the Turkmens five sacred lineages exist, which trace their descent not to Oghuz Khan but to the first four caliphs in Islamic history. These groups, known as Owlad tribes, are strictly endogamous, rarely intermarrying with other Turkmens, although they live interspersed among all Turkmen tribes. The Owlad are especially revered by the Turkmens and carry out important religious and social functions in the communities where they live.

Kinship Terminology. Turkmen kinship terminology is highly specific and serves to indicate the important distinctions in Turkmen society. For example, separate terms differentiate agnatic and nonagnatic relationships, as well as the important societal distinction of senior and junior positions between and within generations. Affinal and uterine relations are often addressed with broad classificatory terms.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Turkmens are generally endogamous, choosing spouses from within their own tribe. This contrasts with the strict exogamy of other Central Asian peoples such as the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. Marriage ceremonies are conducted according to Islamic rites, although this practice was often discouraged by Soviet authorities. Women traditionally marry very young (in their early teens), but their spouses can be much older. This is because of the practice, which continues to this day, of asking relatively high bride-prices for daughters. This forces men to wait until they can earn enough to afford to marry. The high bride-price historically also served as a means of leveling income by redistributing wealth. Traditionally, newlyweds would not actually live together until two or three years after the wedding, when the bride would come to live with her husband and his family. Polygamy, though allowed under Islamic law, has always been rare among the Turkmens. Modern Soviet life weakenedbut did not eliminatemany of the traditional marriage practices of the Turkmens. To this day Turkmens almost never marry non-Turkmens, especially Russians or other Slavs.

Domestic Unit. The Turkmens maintain a traditional extended family with the fathers accorded formal authority within the home, although wives and elder sons may exert considerable informal influence. As sons marry and establish their own households, they continue to live in close proximity to their father and practice economic cooperation. Soviet housing shortages and internal passport laws to some extent strengthened rather than weakened the traditional Turkmen extended family.

Inheritance. The Turkmens follow traditional custom rather than strict Islamic law regarding inheritance. Each son receives his portion of inheritance after he marries and forms a separate household with his own children, usually sometime between ages 30 and 40. The youngest son remains with his father until the latter's death and then receives all remaining property. Naturally, the Soviet legal system provided other possibilities in determining inheritance.

Socialization. In accordance with the value system of Turkmen society, men are expected to show great respect and deference to their elders, especially their father, grandfather, and even elder brothers. Women are expected to show even greater subordination, traditionally covering their mouths with their headcloth in the presence of male guests or even their own in-laws. Turkmen women, however, have never worn veils as was common in neighboring Islamic societies. Historically, women would sit in less honorable places within the yurt. Even in modern times, Turkmen women often remain in separate parts of the home when the husband is entertaining guests.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Historically, Turkmen society has been highly egalitarian, with little notion of class distinctions. Unlike other Turkic groups of Central Asia, Turkmens had no traditional aristocracy. There are very few examples in Turkmen history of exceptionally rich individuals, and the Turkmen custom of aiding relatives in times of economic need ensured that few people remained impoverished for long. There did exist a differentiation between people of pure Turkmen origin (igh ) and those of slave (qul ) or mixed (yarim ) origins. Practically speaking, however, this distinction meant very little except for purposes of social ceremony. As elsewhere in Soviet Central Asia, a kind of "Soviet aristocracy" developed, consisting of families of famous writers, artists, and other members of the urban intelligentsia, as well as leading members of the Communist party.

Political Organization. Turkmen society has never been marked by strong political leaders or tribal chiefs. Men gained influence through such personal qualities as military valor, but their authority was limited to their ability to persuade others to join them and was seldom of long duration or conferred to their descendants. Under Soviet rule, the Communist party became the dominant political organization. At the same time, however, tribal loyalties continued to play important roles in granting positions within the party and government. For example, the Teke tribe long dominated the upper echelons of the Turkmen party apparatus, as well as appointments at the state university.

Social Control. Turkmen society is strongly influenced by the desire to maintain tradition (adat ). Historically, tribal elders made decisions in councils that were designed to achieve consensus within the entire community. This practice is often employed in Turkmenistan even today.

Conflict. The Turkmens were renowned throughout their history for their warlike tendencies and their devastating raids (alamans ) against sedentary neighbors, especially Iran. Within Turkmen society, there is an important responsibility for close agnates to come to the defense of each other in any conflict. The Owlad tribes have an equally important responsibility to serve as neutral mediators between potential Turkmen combatants.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Turkmens are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi branch. Despite the claims of some observers that their nomadic heritage created a certain laxness or heterodoxy in their religious practice, Turkmens are devout. The incorrect perception stems in part from the fact that in the past few mosques were found among the Turkmens, a phenomenon not uncommon among traditionally nomadic societies, where religious practice is centered more in the movable home than in a stationary mosque. The Turkmens saw themselves as resolute defenders of Sunni orthodoxy against the Shiism prevalent among their southern neighbors in Iran.

During the Soviet period the authorities repeatedly tried to eradicate religious belief, without success. Among the most persistent traditions has been that of ziyarat, or pilgrimage to the tombs of Muslim saints, a practice that was always strong among the Turkmens and that increased in popularity because of the difficulty for Soviet Muslims of performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. Later Soviet policies allowed for more openness in religious practice and permitted the opening of several new mosques.

Religious Practitioners. Turkmens respect the mullahs, who teach and lead the faithful in their religious life. In the past, these mullahs received their training in the urban centers of Khiva and Bukhara. For much of the Soviet period mullahs and their activities were strictly controlled by the authorities, a policy that increased the influence of the more secretive leaders (ishans ) of mystical Sufi orders. These latter, who are often closely tied to the sacred Owlad tribes, have traditionally played a significant role in the spiritual life of the Turkmens and have functioned as unofficial preservers of the Turkmens' Islamic heritage during the more oppressive periods of Soviet rule.

Ceremonies. The Turkmens keep all the major ceremonies of the Islamic calendar, with the feast of Kurban Bairam perhaps the most important for them. This has been true despite strong official disapproval in years past.

Arts. The Turkmens have a rich oral epic tradition held in common with other Oghuz Turks, including the epic of Dede Korkut (Gorkut Ata in Turkmen). They also have produced numerous poets renowned for their eloquence, the most famous being Maqtum Quli (eighteenth century). Their weavings, which include everything from large floor rugs to saddle bags, purses, and other domestic utilitarian items, are considered to be among the finest examples of decorative art in the world. Many scholars see the preservation of tribal markings and religious symbols in the designs found in Turkmen weavings.

Medicine. Only late in the Soviet era did authorities admit the poor state of medical care in Turkmenistan. For example, the infant mortality rate in the republic, which is estimated to be between 60 and 100 per thousand, is the highest of the former Soviet republics and among the highest in the world. Perhaps for this reason amulets to protect children from evil spirits and other folk medical practices have remained common, despite the advent of modern medical treatment.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals among the Turkmens are performed according to Islamic rites, even by avowedly atheistic party members. Special feasts and remembrances are held forty days and one year after a death. Turkmens usually bury their dead in cemeteries built up around the tomb of an Islamic saint or an Owlad tribesmen, who serves as a guide and helper in the afterlife for those buried near him.

See also Kazaks; Uzbeks


Barthold, V. V. (1962/1929). "A History of the Turkman People." In Four Studies of the History of Central Asia, by V. V. Barthold. Translated by V. and T. Minorsky. Vol. 3. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Irons, William (1975). The Yomut Turkmen: A Study of Social Organization among a Central Asian Turkic Speaking Population. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Paper no. 58. Ann Arbor.

Saray, Mehmet (1989). The Turkmens in the Age of imperialism: A Study of the Turkmen People and Their Incorporation into the Russian Empire. Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Printing House.


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LOCATION: Turkmenistan; northern Iran; northwestern Afghanistan

POPULATION: 5 million

LANGUAGES: Turkmen; Russian; Persian

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)


The ethnic origins of the Turkmens are generally traced to the Oghuz, a loose alliance of Turkic tribes in what is now Mongolia in the seventh and eighth centuries ad. By the twelfth century, Turkmen tribes had migrated into what are now Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and other parts of the Middle East. They established dynasties and played an important role in political life. However, in present-day Turkmenistan, they never united into one political force.

In the 1880s, after bitter fighting, Russia conquered the region. In 1924, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic became one of the fifteen republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Under Soviet rule, property was taken over by the government, traditional social structures were attacked, and the traditional nomadic way of life ceased to exist. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Turkmenistan gained its independence. However, since most political, social, and economic institutions are Soviet holdovers, genuine change has been slow.

There are more than two dozen tribal groupings among the Turkmens today, the largest of which are Teke, Yomut, and Ersari.


Turkmenistan has an area of 188,450 square miles (488,100 square kilometers). Most of Turkmenistan is a vast, arid desert. In fact, Central Asia's two largest desertsthe Garagum and the Gyzylgummake up almost 90 percent of Turkmenistan's territory. To the south are the Balkan and Kopet Dag mountains. Other geographical features are the Caspian Sea in the west, and the Amu Darya River in the east.

An estimated 3 million Turkmens live in Turkmenistan. Some 2 million more live in northern Iran and northwestern Afghanistan.


Turkmen is part of the Oghuz group of Turkic languages. Linguistically, it is close to Azeri (Azerbaijani), Turkish, and Uzbek. It contains many Turkic, Persian, and Arabic elements. The Turkmen language used in Turkmenistan borrows many words from Russian.


Like other Central Asian peoples, the Turkmens have a rich folklore tradition of epic stories, tales, and lyric poems. Turkmens maintain a theory of common origin from a mythical ancestor, Oghuz Khan. The original Oghuz tribesthe core of the early Turkmensare supposed to have descended from this ancestor.

A popular legend says that when Allah (God) made the world, the Turkmens were the first to get a land filled with sunshine, but the last to get any water. The Turkmen folklore tradition also includes various superstitions. Knowledge of and belief in charms, omens, lucky and unlucky days of the week, and the evil eye are common to almost every Turkmen.

Each Turkmen tribe and clan has it own series of legends and tales that define tribal genesis and trace genealogy.


All Turkmen are Sunni Muslim, and almost every tribe or clan has a legend or account of how it became Muslim. Because they still adhere to some pre-Islamic religious practices, the Turkmens have often been described as "half" Muslims. However, conversion to Islam is often the defining moment in a tribe's or clan's history. Each tribe or clan has its own cemetery and saint's shrine. Members may conduct pilgrimages there when the need arises. At the shrine, a pilgrim may appeal to the saint for good fortune, the safety of a loved one, a cure for an illness, or the birth of a child. Hundreds of such shrines dot the Turkmen landscape.


The most important religious holidays are Islamic holy days celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Gurban bairamy commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. The Oraz bairamy is celebrated at the end of the month of fasting (Ramadan). Nowruz (New Year's Day) is an ancient holiday celebrated on March 21. It marks the beginning of spring and the planting season. All of these holidays are marked with family gatherings and feasts. National holidays include Independence Day (October 27) and a series of memorial days. These commemorate Turkmen veterans; victims of the 1948 earthquake in the capital city, Ashgabat; and the end of World War II (193945).


As Muslims, all Turkmen males are circumcised (usually between the ages of three and seven). Through this ceremony they become members of the male community and genuine Muslims. After circumcision, a boy no longer sleeps with his mother, and he spends more time with adult males. Girls make a less dramatic passage into adult womanhood by wearing head scarves, having their ears pierced, and spending more time with women.

Weddings are celebrated with a great deal of festivity and lavish expenditure.

Although funerals are important events, most mourning rituals take place at a later time. On the third, seventh, and fortieth day after a loved one's death, there are large gatherings dedicated to the deceased's memory. These often continue on a yearly basis as well.


Turkmens follow three codes of conduct: Adat (Turkmen customary law), Sherigat (Islamic law), and Edep (rules of proper etiquette and behavior). Much of Turkmen behavior and etiquette come out of these codes. Some aspects of these traditions were lost in the Soviet period (192490). However, they still continue to shape social behavior on a daily basis. The essence of these traditions is often referred to as turkmenchilik, meaning "Turkmenness." The codes include elaborate and exact modes of greeting based on age and gender, hospitality toward guests, respect toward elders, and a clear sense of tribal identity.


The traditional Turkmen dwelling is a felt tent called a gara oy (black house). It is often called a "yurt" in Western literature. The felt covering is attached to a wooden frame. The tent may be assembled or taken down within an hour. In Turkmenistan it is no longer a primary residence. Instead it is used in summer pasture areas or constructed for recreation or holidays. In rural Turkmenistan, most people live in one-story homes made from clay and straw. Often these homes are located within a walled courtyard which also contains an agricultural plot and livestock. In the cities of Turkmenistan, high-rise apartment dwellings are also common.


Most Turkmen live in extended families, and elders live with their adult children. Nursing homes are extremely rare. The youngest son bears the primary responsibility for his parents' welfare. Turkmen families are usually large. Families with six or more children are the norm in rural areas. Siblings and close relatives are expected to assist each other in times of need.

Many marriages are arranged, and virtually all must be blessed by the parents. Western-style dating is rare. A suitable match is based on age, social status, education level, tribal affiliation, and other factors. In most cases, the couple know each other. One common element in the process is the paying of the galyng (bride price). This consists of a transfer of either money or goods from the groom's family to the bride's family.


The most prominent feature of traditional Turkmen male clothing is the telpek, a high sheepskin hat. It may be brown, black, or white and is typically very shaggy. Men who wear the telpek usually wear a skullcap beneath it and shave their heads. Long, deep-red robes with wide sleeves are also common in traditional settings. In the cities, the clothing of the Turkmen male differs little from that of men in the West. A suit jacket (without a tie) and pants are the norm, and no hat is worn.

Turkmen women, both urban and rural, typically wear more traditional clothing than men do. The main features are a long dress, a long head scarf, and a cloak-type red robe called a kurte. Western-style clothing is considered too immodest by most Turkmen women. Turkmen women also sew a special type of embroidery called keshde, which adorns the collars and fringes of their clothing.


Milk products from camels, cows, goats, and sheep are made into a variety of butters, creams, and yogurts. The meat of these animals is used in the bulk of Turkmen dishes. Most meat dishes are baked (in dough) or boiled. Soups and meat pie-type dishes make up the bulk of the dinner fare.

One favorite Turkmen dish is dograma, a thick soup made with diced bread, lamb, onions, tomatoes, and spices. Hot green tea is part of every meal, even on the hottest days. Round flatbread is a staple throughout Central Asia.

When relatives or guests visit, the food is spread out on plates and dishes on a large cloth on the floor. Guests and family members sit and have their meal around this cloth covered with food (called a sachak ). A typical Turkmen sachak will include a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, sweets, tea and other beverages, and bread, as well as butters and creamsall this before the main meal.


All children must attend school and receive at least a high school education. Institutes, trade schools, colleges, and a university train those willing and able to continue their education. The economic crisis since Turkmenistan's independence has led to many problems in education. Low teacher pay, lack of funding, and run-down facilities have resulted in serious problems, especially in rural areas.


The most prominent figure in Turkmen cultural history is the eighteenth-century poet, Magtymguly. Virtually all Turkmens know his poetry by heart. The Turkmens also have a unique musical culture that is tied into the oral literary tradition. Turkmen music features the two-stringed dutar and the gyjak (a violin-like instrument), accompanied by singing.


In rural areas of Turkmenistan, virtually all work is centered around agricultural and livestock production. The state owns almost all the land and administers all the farms. Pagta (cotton) is Turkmenistan's chief crop. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are also grown throughout the country. Hailed as the "second Kuwait" because of its oil and gas reserves, Turkmenistan has pinned its hopes on oil and gas production and their export to countries outside the former Soviet Union.


Soccer (called futbal ) is perhaps the most popular sport among young men. Horse racing has become the most celebrated sport in Turkmenistan since independence. The horse has long symbolized the Turkmen spirit and occupies the most prominent spot on the state seal.


Visiting friends and relatives is a favorite pastime among Turkmens. Visits usually involve large meals, some sort of entertainment (such as music), and overnight stays. Many urban Turkmens own summer houses and gardens on the outskirts of town where they spend vacation time. Turkmens also enjoy the theater, movies, musical concerts, and television.


Turkmen carpets are prized as among the world's best by collectors and experts. Some carpets have up to 37,000 knots per square foot (400,000 knots per square meter). They are often known as Bukharan or "Oriental" carpets. Many Turkmen tribes have a distinct, identifying carpet ornamentation. Almost all of the labor connected with carpet weaving and production is carried out by women. Aside from carpets, women also weave a variety of items connected with the nomadic lifestyle. Adornments for the felt tent, such as storage bags and door coverings, as well as items used for horses and camels, are the most common.


Turkmenistan has experienced severe economic problems since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Poverty, crime, and unemployment have risen sharply. Drug abuse is increasing among young male Turkmens. Turkmenistan's low industrial and manufacturing production has led to a high reliance on imported foodstuffs and consumer goods.


Clark, Larry, Mike Thurman, and David Tyson. Turkmenistan: A Country Study. Lanham, Md.: Federal Research Division, United States Library of Congress, forthcoming.

Maslow, Jonathan Evan. Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy. New York: Random House, 1994.

Turkmenistan, Then and Now. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1993.


Embassy of Turkmenistan, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Turkmenistan. [Online] Available, 1998.

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The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.