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Culture & Identity of Turkmenistan

Introduction

The Turkmen way of life is quite definitively outlined thanks to a search trying to find the country's identity after years of Soviet rule. The people are, and always have been somewhat rural as towns and villages in the desert formed tight knit communities in years past. Soviet rule helped urbanize the people to a degree (about half the people live in urban areas today), but with the fall of the Soviet Union the country has gone on a massive search for who it is as a nation and as a people.

In the past, and today, the way of life in Turkmenistan is based on the land as nearly half the working population is employed in the agricultural sector. In this industry summer days are long and winter days are short, making the daily way of life very dependent on seasons. This culture also makes many people reliant on neighbors, family, and friends, particularly in small communities. The Soviets urbanized many people and also introduced new jobs, including many industrial jobs, which now gives many people a set schedule, working from about 9:00 am to about 6:00 pm. Likewise, nearly every child attends school today and schools run from about 8:00 am to about 4:00 pm.

Due to the changes in recent history the culture and way of life have significantly changed over time, or more accurately, have given new styles and routines to the people. However, the people have united as one people, as Turkmen, in recent years and this sense of nation and community is the center of the people and their way of life. Life revolves around family, friends, and neighbors. Today nearly 60% of the people are unemployed, but those with jobs use their earnings to support those without jobs. Even the government uses much of their money from oil and natural gas to provide numerous public services to the people.

Identity

The Turkmen people identify as such, but how this is defined is changed often based upon what the government sees fit. This term is both a political and an ethnic identity and the government has seemed to take a leading role in making sure the two are interwoven and forever the same. This identity is defined by a growing number of items, most of which are related to the culture, but at the core of the identity, it is arguably based on ethnicity, language, and being Muslim. Former president, Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as "Turkmenbashi") attached particular outfits to the identity, he defined the music Turkmen enjoy, he dictated the foods the people should eat, he proclaimed men should go without beards, and the list goes on. While many of his actions may seem ridiculous, what he accomplished was a unified people who are proud of being Turkmen; he also defined the Turkmen as open and accepting people so outsiders are generally welcomed with open arms.

This page was last updated: November, 2013