Turkmenistan is a country that is located along the Caspian sea and is bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Approximately 70 percent of the land of Turkmenistan consists of the harsh arid environment of the Karakum Desert. The Karakum Desert, also known as the Black Sand Desert, is almost entirely uninhabited and only experiences precipitation once every ten years. Turkmenistan possesses some of the largest natural gas and oil reserves on the planet and produces an important export of electrical power to neighboring nations through the Hindukush Hydroelectric Station.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has been ruled by a single-party system that is not without its critics in the international community. Political gatherings are illegals in Turkmenistan, and the nation is regarded as having some of the most severe limits on free speech in modern society. However, following the death of President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, the leaders of Turkmenistan have gradually opened up the single-party system to allow citizens greater access, and the nation adopted a new constitution in 2008 that grants the nation's citizens greater protection for basic human rights. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan's human rights record remains relatively poor.
The capital of Turkmenistan is Ashgabat, a city of approximately one million people that is located between the Karakum Desert and the Kopet Dag mountains. The name of the city can be loosely translated from Persian as meaning "the city of love." Compared to other important cities in the region, Ashgabat is relatively young city, having been founded as recently as 1818. It is located along the ancient Silk Road and is home to a number of important cotton and metal working companies. In some areas of the city, it is still possible to finds signs of the massive earthquake that shook Ashgabat in 1948, taking the lives of some 100,000 people. Travelers to Ashgabat should be sure to visit the Tolkuchka Bazaar on Sundays, a weekly market that sprawls through the suburbs of Ashgabat and is the largest open air market in all of Central Asia. The Tolkuchka Bazaar is perhaps best known for the brilliant red Turkmen carpets are available, as well as its large camel market.
There are some 30 museums located throughout Turkmenistan that offer travelers the opportunity to learn all about the rich history of this country. The national Museum of Fine Arts is home to a number of important paintings from the Renaissance, as well as carpets and jewelry created by artisans of different Turkmen tribes. The Carpet Factory is open to the public and is a great opportunity to learn more about the Bukhara carpets that are so important to the cultural heritage of Turkmenistan. Off the beaten track, the Merv Oasis situated just north of Takhta Bazaar contain the ruins of a walled city that was an important location of the ancient Silk Road that connected Rome and Persia to China.
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