Topic: Turkmen History
The Turkmen made the transition to an agricultural lifestyle fairly recently and their cultural characteristics are unique in many ways.
The origins of Turkmen is fairly well understood. The term Turkmen is not so clear. The first part of the word is clear, the name Turkic people gave themselves; but the second half is not so clear. Linguistically it is clear: Turk-men means "I am a Turk". Another explanation made in the 17th c by Abul-gazi was that it comes from the Persian "turk-manend" - like Turk, a type of Turk. There is also the idea that it basically has two etymologies - turk-koman (kumany-kipchaki or polovets (tribe)).
For the first time, the name "turkmen" appeared at the end of the 10th century in Arabic literature: it was a name of a part of the Turkic tribes (oguz, karluk, etc.) which lived on the border of the agricultural area of Central Asia, or in its heart among the Iranian-speaking agricultural population. According to records of Marvazi (the 12th century writer), 'Turkmen' was given to the part of oguz population which accepted Islam. One can suppose that it was a name of Turkic-language tribes from the Aral-Caspian steppe and partially from Semirechye, in contrast to Turkic-language tribes of Central Asia.
Since the 11-12th centuries the term 'turkmen' was more widespread, and gradually became the name of a nationality formed in the western part of Central Asia. Besides that, many cattle-breeding tribes of oguz origin were called Turkmen. Since the 11th century they have settled in Asia Minor, Azerbaijan and northern Iraq, and later they became a part of Azerbaijanian and Turkish nations.
Over the centuries the Turkmen have been keeping the clan-tribe social organization. The location of the tribes has repeatedly changed because of various political and economical circumstances. In the 19th century (starting from its middle till the last decades) the major Turkmen tribes were located on the territory of current Turkmenistan in the following way: Yomuts occupied more of less a solid territory eastwards of the Caspian Sea.
The border of this territory is a line stretching from the southwest towards the northeast: Atrek river - Kyzyl-Arvat town - Kunya-Urgench town. Turkmen occupied the basins of Murgab and Tedjen rivers, and the foothill oases along northern slopes of Kopet-Dag towards Kyzyl-Arvata in the west; to the north of their pasturable territories were Zaunguzsk Karakums. Ersari were located along the left and partially on the right banks of the Amudarya, between Kelif and Chardjou cities; the Solars occupied the middle of Chardjou oblast and the Serah district; the Saryks were placed in the basin of the Murgab (Yolotan and Tahta-Bazar rayons); as for goklens, they occupied territories mainly along the rivers Sumbar and Cahdyr (Kara-Kalin district); the Choudors placed themselves within Horezm oasis; the Ali-ilis (Alilis) - in the foothills of eastern Kopet-Dag; the Karadashlis and Yemrelis - in the western part of Khorezm oasis, and small groups of them occupied the south of Turkmenistan, and so on. The Yomuts, Goklens, Yemrals, Alilis, Saryks, Salyrs settled in Iran; the Ersars, Alilis and Saryks in Afghanistan.
The Turkmen tribes lived a secluded life and had poor economic connections with the outside world and their neighbors who were separated by territories difficult to trespass. Therefore, the Turkmen lived in isolation.
This isolation was a reason for the difference between the biggest Turkmen tribes in their histories and ways of life.
Cattle breeding used to be the main occupation of the major northern tribes. Turkmen were breeding fat-tail sheep, camels and horses. Herding by the yomuds still survived till recently on the steppes. Each tribe had chomurs or charvadars. This type of management died out slowly: herding was less viable and settled agricultural work became the norm. Sometimes, however, settled farmers turned to herding.
At the same time, all Turkmen tribes were dealing with agriculture. Their farming was similar to the traditions elsewhere in Central Asia. They used irrigation via canals. The Murgab river does not flow into a lake; it is diverted into canals. The same is the case for the Tedjen. Turkmen who lived in the neighborhood of Sarykamysh Lake, namely the adakly-hyzyr tribe, created a complicated system of artificial irrigation, which helped to develop about 50 hectare of land. Turkmen primitive agriculture was also found in the western part of Khorezm oasis. Southern Turkmen tribes had an ancient and advanced agricultural economy (yazrs - from the 12th c), though cattle raising was also important. It was of the least importance for the Mangyshlak peninsula and Big Balhans, but even there small springs were used for field irrigation.
In the 16th c, a majority of Turkmen tribes had a typical combination of irrigated agriculture with nomadic or distant-pasture cattle-raising. Respectively, they had a partly nomadic way of life, where a part of one and the same ethnic group (charva) were moving with herds, and the other part (chomrs) were settled and busy with agriculture. In "The Turks' genealogical tree" Abul'-Gazi wrote about the half-nomadic way of life of Turkmen, saying that a nomadic type of life was specific to those parts who owned cattle, i.e., who were richer.
The process of forming the Turkmen nation was stretched out and continued to our times. Now they are one, but till the 1920s, they were composed of various tribes. This tribal custom was more pronounced than with other peoples of Central Asia.