Fast Facts

Ashgabat; 574,000
488,100 square kilometers (188,456 square miles)
Turkmen, Russian, Uzbek
Muslim, Eastern Orthodox
Turkmen manat
Life Expectancy:
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $6,700
Literacy Percent:
Flag: Turkmenistan
Map: Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan, a desert nation, has the second lowest population density (after Kazakhstan) in former Soviet Central Asia. Nomadic herdsmen for centuries, Turkmen were subdued by Russia during the late 19th century, gaining independence in 1991. Begun in the 1950s, the Garagum Canal, one of the world's longest, drained water away from the Amu Darya River to southern Turkmenistan—but the old canal leaks and creates salt deserts. Also, by diverting water from the Amu Darya, the canal contributed greatly to the drying up of the Aral Sea.

Turkmenistan's hope lies in its sector of the Caspian Sea, where oil and natural gas fields are concentrated. The country's natural gas reserves rank fifth in the world—but development of gas exports is hampered by a lack of gas-pipeline routes out of landlocked Turkmenistan. Russia controls most of the pipelines and has refused to export Turkmen natural gas to hard-currency markets. A gas pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan gained approval in 2002, but the security situation in Afghanistan remains an obstacle. Disputes between Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan over Caspian Sea seabed and maritime boundaries limits international investment in new gas fields and pipelines. Revenue from oil and gas production benefits few because of an authoritarian and corrupt government.


  • Industry: Natural gas, oil, petroleum products, textiles
  • Agriculture: Cotton, grain; livestock
  • Exports: Gas, oil, cotton fiber, textiles

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

Related Features

  • <p>Photo: Desert ecolodge</p>

    50 Top Ecolodges: Deserts

    Preserving the last big empties—Adventure magazine presents the best places to stay and play without leaving a footprint.

  • <p>Photo: Close view of military sand dragon on red sand desert</p>

    Photo Gallery: Desert Wildlife

    See which creatures have adapted to living in one of Earth’s harshest environments, from a group of meerkats scanning the Kalahari to a caravan of camels crossing the Sahara.

  • <p>Photo: Large waves characterize the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica</p>

    Habitats Quiz

    Earth's surface is made up of thousands of different habitats and ecosystems, all with unique characteristics. Can you tell the difference between a desert and a tundra?

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

  • Picture of a volcano on Reunion Island

    Who Will Win?

    Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Get Social With Nat Geo Travel