Despite the outside influences, water routes later dominated trade and the Silk
Road, hence the region of Turkmenistan, fell into the realm of the forgotten. The
people lived a quiet life as they were primarily settled farmers and city-dwellers
who lived off of the land and the animals that they raised.
In the late 1800s the Russians took most of the land and in the early 1900s the
Soviets took over. This takeover changed the people once again as religion was outlawed,
urbanization was essentially demanded, and industrial growth expanded dramatically.
The Soviets also limited free speech and access to information, leading to a lifestyle
not unlike that demanded by the Soviet government.
Since the fall of communism in 1991 the people of Turkmenistan have been re-thinking
their way of life and that began with their former president, Saparmurat Niyazov,
who named himself "Turkmenbashi," which means "Leader of the Turkmen."
As a country struggling to find their identity due to years of suppression and foreign
rule, Niyazov led the way in this fight, creating laws to define the way of life
or making not so subtle suggestions that the people felt compelled to follow.
Niyazov used his control over the press and the people's mentality of never
speaking out against the government in order to define their culture and he did
so until his death. He dictated how men and women should dress, how they should
act, and even what they should like. He made himself and Islam central to the culture,
but also preached openness, neutrality, and happiness as essential to being a Turkmen.
Despite Niyazov's death, the people still have a tendency to follow leadership
without question. The cultural norms Niyazov introduced are still followed for the
most part and today the culture is not unlike that which Niyazov defined.