Turkmen people

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This article is about the Central Asian ethnic group. For other related groups, see Turkmen.
Türkmenler / Түркменлер
100 manat. Türkmenistan, 2009 a.jpg
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Total population
8 million (est.)
Regions with significant populations
Turkmenistan Turkmenistan 4,248,000[1]
Iraq Iraq 1,500,000 (est.)[2]
Iran Iran 1,328,585[2]
Afghanistan Afghanistan 960,000[3]
Russia Russia 36,885[4]
Ukraine Ukraine 3,709[5]
Predominately Sunni Islam with animistic influences
Related ethnic groups
Salar, other Turkic peoples

The Turkmens (Turkmen: Türkmen/Түркмен, plural Türkmenler/Түркменлер) are a Turkic people located primarily in Central Asia, in the states of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Northern Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and North Caucasus (Stavropol Krai). They speak the Turkmen language, which is classified as a part of the Western (Oghuz) branch of the Turkic languages family together with Turkish, Azerbaijani, Qashqai, Gagauz and Salar.[6] Nevertheless, Turkmen people of Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries (Western Turkmens) are closely related to Turkish and Azerbaijani people rather than Turkmens of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran and other parts of Central Asia (Eastern Turkmens).


Originally, all Turkic tribes that were not part of the Turkic dynastic mythological system (for example, Uigurs, Karluks, Ethans and a number of other tribes) were designated "Turkmens". Only later did this word come to refer to a specific ethnonym. The etymology of the term derives from Türk plus the Sogdian affix of similarity -myn, -men, and means "resembling a Türk" or "co-Türk".[7] A prominent Turkic scholar, Mahmud Kashgari, also mentions the etymology Türk manand (like Turks). The language and ethnicity of the Turkmen were much influenced by their migration to the west. Kashgari calls the Karluks Turkmen as well, but the first time the etymology Turkmen was used was by Makdisi in the second half of the 10th century AD. Like Kashgari, he wrote that the Karluks and Oghuz Turks were called Turkmen. Some modern scholars have proposed that the element -man/-men acts as an intensifier, and have translated the word as "pure Turk" or "most Turk-like of the Turks".[8] Among Muslim chroniclers such as Ibn Kathir, the etymology was attributed to the mass conversion of two hundred thousand households in 971 AD, causing them to be named Turk Iman, which is a combination of "Turk" and "Iman" إيمان (faith, belief), meaning "believing Turks", with the term later dropping the hard-to-pronounce hamza.[9]

Historically, all of the Western or Oghuz Turks have been called Türkmen or Turkoman;[10] however, today the terms are usually restricted to two Turkic groups: the Turkmen people of Turkmenistan and adjacent parts of Central Asia, and the Turkomans of Iraq and Syria.

During the Ottoman period these nomads were known by the names of Türkmen and Yörük or Yürük (Türkic "Nomad", other phonetic variations include Iirk, Iyierk, Hiirk, Hirkan, Hircanae, Hyrkan, Hyrcanae, the last four known from the Greek annals).[11] These names were generally used to describe their nomadic way of life, rather than their ethnic origins. However, these terms were often used interchangeably by foreigners. At the same time, various other exoethnonym words were used for these nomads, such as 'Konar-göçer', 'Göçebe', 'Göçer-yörük', 'Göçerler', and 'Göçer-evliler'. The most common one among these was 'Konar-göçer' - nomadic Turcoman Turks. All of these words are found in Ottoman archival documents and carry only the meaning of 'nomad'.

The modern Turkmen people descend, at least in part, from the Oghuz Turks of Transoxiana, the western portion of Turkestan, a region that largely corresponds to much of Central Asia as far east as Xinjiang. Oghuz tribes had moved westward from the Altay mountains in the 7th century AD, through the Siberian steppes, and settled in this region. They also penetrated as far west as the Volga basin and the Balkans. These early Turkmens are believed to have mixed with native Sogdian peoples and lived as pastoral nomads until the Russian conquest of the 19th century.[12]


Major Ethnic Groups of Iran

Signs of advanced settlements have been found throughout Turkmenistan including the Djeitun settlement where neolithic buildings have been excavated and dated to the 7th millennium BCE.[13] By 2000 BCE, various Ancient Iranian peoples began to settle throughout the region as indicated by the finds at the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. Notable early tribes included the nomadic Massagatae and Scythians. The Achaemenid Empire annexed the area by the 4th century BCE and then lost control of the region following the invasion of Alexander the Great, whose Hellenistic influence had an impact upon the area and some remnants have survived in the form of a planned city which was discovered following excavations at Antiocheia (Merv). The Parni invaded the region as the Parthian Empire was established until it too fractured as a result of tribal invasions stemming from the north. Ephthalites, Huns, and Göktürks came in a long parade of invasions. Finally, the Sassanid Empire based in Persia ruled the area prior to the coming of the Muslim Arabs during the Umayyad Caliphate by 716 CE. The majority of the inhabitants were converted to Islam as the region grew in prominence. Next came the Oghuz Turks, who imparted their language upon the local population. A tribe of the Oghuz, the Seljuks, established a Turko-Iranian culture that culminated in the Khwarezmid Empire by the 12th century. Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan conquered the area between 1219 to 1221 and devastated many of the cities which led to a rapid decline of the remaining Iranian urban population.

The Turkmen largely survived the Mongol period due to their semi-nomadic lifestyle and became traders along the Caspian, which led to contacts with Eastern Europe. Following the decline of the Mongols, Tamerlane conquered the area and his Timurid Empire would rule, until it too fractured, as the Safavids, Uzbeks, and Khanate of Khiva all contested the area. The expanding Russian Empire took notice of Turkmenistan's extensive cotton industry, during the reign of Peter the Great, and invaded the area. Following the decisive Battle of Geok Tepe in January 1881, Turkmenistan became a part of the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution, Soviet control was established by 1921 as Turkmenistan was transformed from a medieval Islamic region to a largely secularized republic within a totalitarian state. By 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan achieved independence as well, but remained dominated by a one-party system of government led by the authoritarian regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in December 2006.


Main article: Turkmen language

Turkmen (Latin: Türkmençe, Cyrillic: Түркменче) is the name of the language of the titular nation of Turkmenistan. It is spoken by over 5,200,000 people in Turkmenistan, and by roughly 3,000,000 people in other countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia.[14] Up to 50% of native speakers in Turkmenistan also claim a good knowledge of Russian, a legacy of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

Turkmen is not a literary language in Iran and Afghanistan, where many Turkmen tend towards bilingualism, usually conversant in the local dialects of Persian. Variations of the Persian alphabet are, however, used in Iran.

Turkic and Iranian origin[edit]

A Turkmen man of Turkmenistan in traditional clothes by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, around 1910.[15][16][17]

Genetic studies on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction polymorphism confirmed that Turkmen were characterized by the presence of local Iranian mtDNA lineages, similar to the Eastern Iranian populations, but high male Mongoloid genetic component observed in Turkmens populations with the frequencies of about 20%.[18] This most likely indicates an ancestral combination of Turkic and Iranian groups that the modern Turkmen have inherited and which appears to correspond to the historical record which indicates that various Iranian tribes existed in the region prior to the migration of Turkic tribes who are believed to have merged with the local population and imparted their language.


Culture and society[edit]

Nomadic heritage[edit]

Turkmen Ersari main carpet, mid-19th century

The Turkmen were mainly a nomadic people for most of their history and most of them were not settled in cities and towns until the advent of the Soviet system of government, which severely restricted freedom of movement and collectivized nomadic herdsmen by the 1930s. Many pre-Soviet cultural traits have survived in Turkmen society however and have recently undergone a kind of revival.

Turkmen lifestyle was heavily invested in horsemanship and as a prominent horse culture, Turkmen horse-breeding was an ages old tradition. In spite of changes prompted by the Soviet period, a tribe in southern Turkmenistan has remained very well known for their horses, the Akhal-Teke desert horse - and the horse breeding tradition has returned to its previous prominence in recent years.[19]

Many tribal customs still survive among modern Turkmen. Unique to Turkmen culture is kalim which is a groom's "dowry", that can be quite expensive and often results in the widely practiced tradition of bridal kidnapping.[20] In something of a modern parallel, President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced a state enforced "kalim", wherein all foreigners are required to pay a sum of no less than $50,000 to marry a Turkmen woman.

Other customs include the consultation of tribal elders, whose advice is often eagerly sought and respected. Many Turkmen still live in extended families where various generations can be found under the same roof, especially in rural areas.[20]

The music of the nomadic and rural Turkmen people reflects rich oral traditions, where epics such as Koroglu are usually sung by itinerant bards. These itinerant singers are called bakshy and sing either a cappella or with instruments such as the two-stringed lute called dutar.

Society today[edit]

Since Turkmenistan's independence in 1991, a cultural revival has taken place with the return of a moderate form of Islam and celebration of Novruz (an Iranian[21] tradition) or New Year's Day.

Turkmen can be divided into various social classes including the urban intelligentsia and workers whose role in society is different from that of the rural peasantry. Secularism and atheism remain prominent for many Turkmen intellectuals who favor moderate social changes and often view extreme religiousity and cultural revival with some measure of distrust.[22]

Self-proclaimed President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov was largely responsible for many of the changes that have taken place in modern Turkmen society. Mimicking the Turkish reformist policies of Atatürk in Turkey, Niyazov made nationalism an important element in Turkmenistan, while contacts with Turkmen in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan have increased. Significant changes to the names of the cities as well as calendar reform were introduced by President Niyazov as well. The calendar reform resulted in renaming months and days of the week from Persian or European-derived words into purely Turkmen ones, some of them eponymously related to the president or his family. The policy was reversed in 2008.[23]

The five traditional carpet designs that form motifs in the country's state emblem and flag represent the five major Turkmen tribes.

Iranian Turkmen from Ashuradeh

Turkmen in Iran and Afghanistan[edit]

Turkmen in Iran and Afghanistan remain very conservative in comparison to their brethren in Turkmenistan. Islam plays a much more prominent role in Iran and Afghanistan where Turkmen follow many traditional Islamic practices that many Turkmen in Turkmenistan have abandoned as a result of decades of Soviet rule. In addition, many Turkmen in Iran and Afghanistan have remained at least semi-nomadic and traditionally work in agriculture/animal husbandry and the production of carpets.[24][25]

Turkmen of Stavropol Region of Russia[edit]

In the Stavropol Region of southern Russia, there is a long established colony of Turkmen. They are often referred to as Trukhmen by the local ethnic Russian population, and sometimes use the self-designation Turkpen.[26] According to the 2010 Census of Russia, they numbered 15,048, and accounted for 0.5% of the total population of Stavropol Region.

The Trukhmens are said to have migrated into the Caucasus in the 17th century, in particular in the Mangyshlak region. These migrants belonged mainly to the Chaudorov (Chavodur), Sonchadj and Ikdir tribes. The early settlers were nomadic but over time a process of sedentarization took place. In their cultural life the Trukhmens of today differ very little from their neighbours and are now settled farmers and stockbreeders.[26]

Although the Trukhmen language belongs to the Oguz group of Turkic languages, in Stavropol it has been strongly influenced by the Nogai language, which belongs to the Kipchak group. The phonetic system, grammatical structure and to some extent also the vocabulary, have been somewhat influenced.[27]

Demographics and population distribution[edit]

A Turkmen girl and baby from Afghanistan

The Turkmen people of Central Asia live in:

  • Turkmenistan, where some 85% of the population of 5,042,920 people (July 2006 est.), are ethnic Turkmen. In addition, an estimated 1,200 Turkmen refugees from northern Afghanistan currently reside in Turkmenistan due to the ravages of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and factional fighting in Afghanistan which saw the rise and fall of the Taliban.[28]
Main article: Turkmen in Pakistan
  • Pakistan As of 2005, as per the official Pakistani census and UN estimates, there remain approximately 60,000 Turkmen refugees in Pakistan, largely in the North-West Frontier Province, Balochistan and in the country's urban centres of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. The actual numbers could be up to 250,000 as many have avoided being counted for fear of being deported and have intermixed into Pakistan's cosmopolitan social dynamic. A few hundred Turkmen and Kyrgyz refugee families living in Pakistan were given asylum in Turkey in the 1980s. Apart from these, Karlugh Turks also reside in Pakistan who came with Timur in 1472 AD and formed a Turki Shahi dynasty that ruled the state of Hazara (NWFP) as Pakhli Sarkar for more than 200 years (1472–1703); currently these Karlugh Turks reside mainly in three districts of Hazara, Mansehra (Jabori, Pakhli), Abbottabad (Banda Phagwarian), Haripur (Mankeria, Pharhari, Nartopa). These Karlugh Turks are mingled with locals and are Pakistani nationals, however they maintained their identity as Turk Rajputs. Raja Amanullah Khan Turk (deceased) of Haripur Mankerai was speaker of the NWFP assembly from March 1985 to 1988.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The World Factbook". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "The World Factbook". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Kallie Szczepanski. "Afghanistan Country Facts and History". About.com Education. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  4. ^ 2002 Russian census
  5. ^ "About number and composition population of Ukraine by data All-Ukrainian census of the population 2001". Ukraine Census 2001. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "UCLA Language Materials Project: Main". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Yu. Zuev, "Early Türks: Essays on history and ideology", Almaty, Daik-Press, 2002, p. 157, ISBN 9985-4-4152-9
  8. ^ "Turkmenistan : Country Studies - Federal Research Division, Library of Congress". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "البداية والنهاية/الجزء الحادي عشر". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Glenn E. Curtis, ed. "Origins and Early History", Turkmenistan: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996. pg. 13
  11. ^ M.Zakiev, "Origin of Türks and Tatars", p.474 on, Moscow, "Insan", 2002, ISBN 5-85840-317-4 (Russian)
  12. ^ "Amazon.com: Central Asians under Russian Rule: A Study in Culture Change (Cornell Paperbacks) (9780801492112): Elizabeth E. Bacon, Michael M. J. Fischer: Books". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  13. ^ "Cambridge Journals Online - Antiquity". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "Turkmen". Ethnologue. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "Turkmen Camel Driver by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "Turkmen Man Posing with Camel Loaded with Sacks, Probably of Grain or Cotton, Central Asia". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Prokudin-Gorskii. "Prokudin-Gorsky, other". Šechtl & Voseček. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  18. ^ 1 Russian Journal of Genetics, Mitochondrial DNA Polymorphism in Populations of the Caspian Region and Southeastern Europe
  19. ^ Embassy of Turkmenistan-History & Culture, The Akhalteke Horse of Turkmenistan
  20. ^ a b Turkmen Society
  21. ^ Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach, "Medieval Islamic Civilization: L-Z, index ", Taylor & Francis, 2006. pp 605: "Buyid rulers such as Azud al-Dawla resusciated a number of pre-islamic Iranian practices, most notably the titular of shahanshah (king of kings) and the celebration of the Persian New Year
  22. ^ "US Library of Congress Country Studies-Turkmenistan: Social Structure". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "BBC NEWS - Asia-Pacific - Turkmen go back to old calendar". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "US Library of Congress Country Studies-Iran: Other Groups". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  25. ^ "US Library of Congress Country Studies-Afghanistan: Turkmen". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  26. ^ a b The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire. Eki.ee. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  27. ^ http://www2.lingfil.uu.se/afro/turkiskasprak/IP2007/Johanson2006Cauc.pdf
  28. ^ UNHCR Begins Compiling Database of Refugees in Turkmenistan


External links[edit]