Eastern Turkmenistan for
centuries formed part of the Persian province of Khurasan; in medieval
times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the
Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia
between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan
became a Soviet republic in 1924. It achieved independence upon the
dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The country has extensive
hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves. The Turkmenistan Government is
actively seeking to develop alternative petroleum transportation routes
to break Russia's pipeline monopoly. President for Life Saparmurat
Nyyazow died in December 2006, and Turkmenistan held its first
multi-candidate presidential electoral process in February 2007.
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, a former Nyyazow aide, emerged as the
country's new president. Turkmen is the primary language; Russian and
Uzbek are also spoken.