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Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Ancient Writing in Annau
Topic: Turkmen History
In an unexpected benefit of the Cold War's end, Russian and American archaeologists say they have discovered an ancient civilization that thrived in Central Asia more than 4,000 years ago, before being lost in the sweep of history.

The people of this area, the archaeologists say, built oasis settlements with imposing mud-brick buildings and fortifications. They herded sheep and goats and grew wheat and barley in irrigated fields. They had bronze axes, fine ceramics, alabaster and bone carvings and jewelry of gold and semiprecious stones. They left luxury goods in the graves of an elite class.

The accomplishments of these unknown people in what are now the republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan began to emerge over several decades of excavations by archaeologists of the Soviet Union, who worked diligently but in academic silence behind closed borders.

The surprising scope of society suggested a stage of social and economic development generally regarded as civilization. All that seemed lacking was evidence of number or writing systems.

With the end of the Cold War, American archaeologists have joined the Russians in exploring the region, and now they are reporting that they have found inscriptions showing that these people may have indeed had writing, or at least were experimenting with a form of protowriting around 2300 B.C.

"We are rewriting all the history books about the ancient world because of the new political order in our own time," Fredrik Hiebert, a University of Pennsylvania archaeologist involved in the excavation, said in an interview last week.

In the most recent and provocative discovery, Mr. Hiebert uncovered a small stone object engraved with four or five red-colored symbols or letters that apparently bear no resemblance to any other writing system of the time.

Other scholars agreed that the symbols seemed to be unlike contemporary scripts in Mesopotamia, Iran or the Indus River Valley.

Mr. Hiebert made the discovery last summer in ruins at Annau, a site near the border with Iran and only 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.

He described the findings a week ago at a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania and on Saturday at a conference on language and archaeology at Harvard University.

"You can say we have discovered a new ancient civilization," Mr. Hiebert said.

At the same time, the pyramids of Egypt had been standing for three centuries, power in the Tigris and Euphrates valley was shifting from Sumer to Babylon, and the Chinese had yet to develop writing.

Victor Mair, a specialist in ancient Asian languages and cultures at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not on the research team, said of the inscription, "I definitely think that's writing."

Mr. Mair said that discovery of ruins of an advanced culture in a region "where there was thought to be just space and emptiness fills an enormous gap" in terms of trade and cultural exchange across Asia in antiquity.

It thus suggested that people in Asia more than 4,000 years ago were not as isolated as once supposed, he said, but probably had continentwide connections.

The dozens of settlement ruins of the newfound civilization stretch east from Annau across the Kara Kum desert into Uzbekistan and perhaps the northern part of Afghanistan.

It is an area 500 to 650 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide. Archaeologists have given the culture the prosaic name of the Bactria Margiana Archaeology Complex, or BMAC, after the ancient Greek names of two regions it encompasses.

Long after the ruins were buried in sand, the area was traversed by the legendary Silk Road, the caravan route linking China and the Mediterranean lands from the second century B.C. to 1700.

The oases that served as way stations for rest and resupply on the Silk Road also supported the BMAC civilization, which presumably was trading far and wide over some kind of ancestral Bronze Age Silk Road.

Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, a Harvard archaeologist, questioned whether the symbols on the artifact represented true writing. But he said that Mr. Hiebert's discovery "falls into place with other research showing that this culture was working out some sort of communication system, though it never reached the level of complexity in writing as its neighbors did."

Until the waning days of the Soviet Union, foreign scholars knew almost nothing of the nature and extent of the BMAC culture. Reports of findings were confined to Soviet journals.

In the post-Cold War openness, Russian archaeologists are eagerly sharing their knowledge and inviting collaboration with Westerners.

Victor Sarianidi, of the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow, found a distinctive architectural pattern in many of the ruins. The buildings at each site appeared to be erected in one burst of construction according to the design of a single architect.

The largest buildings were like large apartment complexes, divided into dozens and dozens of rooms.

They were surrounded by multiple mud-brick walls, some as much as 3 meters (10 feet) thick. Beyond lay traces of agricultural fields.

Mr. Hiebert plans to return to Annau, possibly next month, for further excavations to be financed in part by the National Geographic Society.


John Nobel Wilford

Source: The New York Times

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 5:51 PM
Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2005 5:56 PM
Treasures of City of Tsars and Gods
Topic: Turkmen History
A new book by well-known Russian archaeologist Victor Sarianidi about excavations in the ancient country of Margush is published in Turkmenistan

A colorful illustrated book, “Turkmenistan, Gonur-depe: the city of tsars and gods”, by a well-known archeologist, laureate of the International prize named after Makhtumkuli, doctor of history, professor Viictor Sarianidi was published in Ashgabat. The book is the sequel to the book “Turkmenistan, Margush: ancient eastern kingdom in the old delta of the Murgab river” published two years ago. The scientist who is at present at the excavation site in Karakum district of Mary region has told the following in the interview to the State News Services of Turkmenistan (Turkmendovlethabarlary):

- I am absolutely happy that the book I have worked on for two years, while continuing the excavations of Margush monuments, has been published.

Thanks to the patronage of the head of Turkmenistan, our excavations gave birth to scientific results presented in the book. There is no need to mention that local authorities rendered an invaluable assistance to our expedition at excavation sites all the time, meeting our every need and making it easy to fulfill our mission in the Karakum desert which is a difficult place to work. I started my excavations in Margush more than thirty years ago. We could not even dream about such great help from the Government during the first years of our mission.

Drastic changes in the Government’s attitude with regard to cultural, spiritual heritage that became a stronghold of a new statehood but was once out of the sight of the government is clear evidence of the remarkable nature of Saparmurat Niyazov as a politician with his foresight and ability to choose the right priority. S.Niyazov ordered to provide us with a powerful up-to-date technical means to remove thousands of cubic meters of soil out of the excavation sites that helped to speed up excavations and expand the territory. A helicopter was at our disposal to make aero pictures of excavated monuments. And of course, all the time we felt maximum help from the authorities of the State historical and cultural conservation area “Drevni Merv (Ancient Merv)”, Ministry of Culture and TV and Radio Broadcasting authorities of Turkmenistan in sorting out all arising problems. I am also grateful to the National Center for Cultural Heritage “Miras” for making it possible to publish the book.

I hope that readers would not be disappointed with scientific results published in the book. I would like to remind you that only after we discovered ruins of the monument with a large water pool in the center close to the palace of a ruler, it became clear, and there was no doubt about it, that it was a temple of water. This temple and the earlier discovered temple of fire – a part of the so-called public meals complex and temple of sacrifice – used to form a unified ensemble of buildings of religious nature that were grouped around the tsar’s residence in Gonur-depe.

We were lucky to open the tsar’s funeral complex where you can find not only the defunct but also symbols of statehood as well: stone scepters that were used as an attribute of power in ancient times; pictures of eagles in the golden cover, golden and silver vessels, traces of rich sacrifices, mosaic on walls and hearses that still has no analogy in Central Asia. Moreover, several true masterpieces of the ancient jewellery art feature among the masses of findings. First of all, it is a small sculpture of djeiran made of gold and a sculpture of a lion cub turned in turquoise. Their size is less than a centimeter but you can see all the details of the amazing works of ancient masters of Turkmenistan through magnifying lens. The works merit being included into the Guinness Book of Records. I hope that these masterpieces will be soon displayed in the new Museum of Fine Arts in Ashgabat for they represent the earliest pieces of the art of ancestors of the Turkmen people.

I am deeply convinced that a newly published book in Turkmen, Russian and English and a small contribution of our expedition to the cause of the further research of history and culture of Turkmenistan will not only enrich the treasure of cultural values created by Turkmen for centuries but also promote the international prestige of the country that I regard as my second home.

Turkmendovlethabarlary, May 16, 2005

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 4:09 PM
Updated: Thursday, 2 June 2005 9:47 AM
President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov
Topic: Turkmenistan Political
Saparmurat Niyazov was born on February 19, 1940, into a worker's family in Ashgabat. His father died in battle in World War II and the remaining members of his family perished in Ashgabat's massive earthquake of 1948. He was raised first in an orphanage and later in the home of his distant relatives.

Mr. Niyazov graduated from the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute in 1966 with a degree in power engineering and began work at the Bezmeinskaya Power Station near Ashgabat.

In 1962 Mr. Niyazov became a member of the Communist Party. In 1985 he was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Turkmenistan and was subsequently elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan, the highest state and party post. On January 13, 1990, Mr. Niyazov became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the supreme legislative body in the republic.

On October 27, 1990, Mr. Niyazov was elected the first president of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. Under his leadership, on October 27, 1991, Turkmenistan proclaimed its sovereignty from the Soviet Union. In a second presidential election held on June 21, 1991, which was necessitated by the adoption of the new constitution, Mr. Niyazov was elected President of Turkmenistan. Mr. Niyazov is also Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Chairman of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.

Mr. Niyazov's success as President of Turkmenistan has been attributed to his extensive and productive work in stabilizing the economic situation of the country. He has established Turkmenistan's international prestige and has displayed concern for the people's well-being. Following his election, one of the first resolutions to be adopted was a decree on the free use of water, gas and electricity by the people of Turkmenistan.

As founder and president of the Association of Turkmens of the World, Mr. Niyazov holds the official title of Turkmenbashi, Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens.

Mr. Niyazov was awarded the Magtymguly International Prize for achieving the aim of Magtymguly, the great Turkmen poet and philosopher: the establishment of an independent state of Turkmenistan.

Mr. Niyazov is married and has two children. He is interested in poetry,philosophy, history and music.

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 1:39 PM
Monday, 30 May 2005
Turkmenistan - Part of the Great Silk Road
Topic: Travel to Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan, located in the southern most part of the former Soviet Union, is rich in tradition, culture and natural beauty. A small country of five million people, Turkmenistan shares it's boarder with Iran in the south, Afghanistan to the east, Uzbekistan in the north and the Caspian Sea to the west. Hundreds of years ago the territory now known as Turkmenistan linked great civilizations together from the East and West along the great Silk Road. Today you can see much of the same people living here preserving their traditions, culture and heritage.

The great Silk Road not only carried silk along its path but also was a source of communication, religion, technology and travel since 500 B.C. The chief route for trade between China and Western Europe originated in Italy traversing through the deserts and mountains across Turkey and into Turkmenistan. As a natural "half-way" point you can still see the old oasis's where tired travelers took their rest before continuing on into Central Asia.

On their route the towns of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Merv and Kunya-Urgench played important stops for the caravans. Caravans from Merv started for Serags, Nishapur (Iran), Abiverd, Nissa, Dekhistan, then continued along the coast of the Caspian Sea heading towards Turkey. These towns are full of mystery and superstition. The ancient town of Kunya-Urgench is said to have been destroyed seven times, each time resurrecting itself like a phoenix out of ashes. In the middle of the XIV century Husein Sufi, a Turkmen from Kungrad, founded a dynasty here ruling up until the raids of Tamerlan's military.

Merv, located in the southeastern region of Turkmenistan, was one of the most important capitals of the Moslem world. Compared to Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad it's birth came from the Great Seldzuks and attracted scientists and merchants from all over the Moslem world. The Seldjuk Empire stretched from the Lower Amu-Darya to the Mediterranean Sea. One can still walk within its great walls and see the ancient mosques from a time long ago past.

The Turkmen people once known as some of the fiercest warriors, helping and aiding the likes of Kangus Kan and Alexander the Great, will only kill you with kindness. They are some of the friendliest people on the Silk Road with their diversity, humor and superstitions. As a visitor you'll be asked in their homes for tea, or even join in as a part of a family wedding. You'll share with them their holy shrines, and traditional "Tamdyr" bread, still made the same way as hundreds of years ago. Bargain with the colorfully dressed women at the bazaars while talking with "Yash-olies" or holy men at a horserace. Traditions like carpet making, weaving, embroidery and jewelry making still can be seen and observed all in a day.

Turkmenistan can also boast some of the most stunning natural beauty in Central Asia. It's deserts, steppes, canyons, mountains, oasis', and wildlife are some of the rarest in the world. Here one can ride on the beautiful Akhal Teke horse through and above magnificent gorges in the Kopetdag Mountains or gallop across the grasslands. Be a part of a camel caravan crossing through sand dunes sprinkled with wildflowers or swim off Turkmenistan's shores in the Caspian Sea with Caspian Seals.

Source: StanTours

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 1:20 PM
Some elaborate dishes of Turkmen national cuisine
Topic: Turkmen Traditions
One can talk about dishes of Turkmen cuisine for a long time and with pleasure. It is important not to indulge in doing so on an empty stomach, otherwise there is a danger to choke by slaver.

It’s not by chance that the oriental hospitality has turned into a legend, and the Turkmen one is not an exception. Any guest is welcomed kingly, and, while treating him, they will lay the richest table. There is also a notion of guest of honour in the everyday vocabulary. He may be a respectable yashuli, an elder, or a popular musician, bakhshi, whose attendance promises a magic evening in the waves of enchanting sounds of dutar, a two-string instrument. He may be a guest from the remote country who visits a Turkmen family for the first time, or just an old friend with whom one wasn’t in touch with for a long time. The guest of honour is served a special dish called “kelle-bashayak”, or sheep’s head.

Most of people I know, who turned up in the festive Turkmen repast for the first time, unwillingly felt uneasy when they saw a sheep’s head fragrantly flavored on the dish. The rituality of the situation makes it impossible to refuse it, for one can offend the host gravely. At the same time it poses the problem of how to deal with such an exotic delicatessen. It goes without saying that for the traditional European cuisine an animal’s head on the dish is quite unusual. And even if one overcomes all doubts regarding the palatability of skull looking at you with low-expressive glance, the genetic memory is still unable to suggest a slightest idea of how to start and what can be eaten.

From my long experience of enjoying the dainty I would definitely say that all of it can (and need to) be eaten. I do it every time I visit an old friend of mine. I would lie, though, if I told you that I was always entertained with sheep’s head. This food is not for every day. It requires much time to cook. They eat it piping hot leaving no remnants. (It would be an absolute absurd to assume that sheep&'s head can be put to fridge for tomorrow and eaten again after warming over).

Both hosts and guests should get ready to the ritual meal beforehand. The guest foretastes the forthcoming feast and eats nothing to maintain the appetite strong. The hosts’ concerns are much greater. The whole process of preparing “kelle-bashayak” takes five to six hours. By the way,ankly speaking, it is accuracy and duration of cooking this meal that make it possible to call it a dish for the guest of honour. In this situation, the host’s respect for the guest is shown not by the richness of the table, but by the diligence and patience in the process of its preparation.

Patience is a separate issue. As a rule, Turkmen men have always boasted the best skills in preparing food. During any crowded repast outside the house in the area where big cauldrons are boiling up and braziers are blazing from saxaul wood, an experienced cook rules. It is a restricted are for women. The best cooks enjoy the popular love. To invite such a cook to family feast is considered a good luck.

However, in contrast to most of holiday dishes, “kelle-bashayak” is best cooked by women. Probably, it is the result of the women’s natural ability to be patient. I would like to remind you that preparing a sheep’s head is a long story.

My friend’s wife, Mengli, is a busy woman. She heads the local administration of a small village on the suburb of Ashgabat. Moreover, she doesn’t like seeing someone pestering her eyes when she works in the kitchen. For the sake of the special occasion, we were lucky to persuade her to demonstrate her own way of preparing “kelle-bashayak”. Her grief was not long when she learned that her recipe would be published.

- If you want, you may write, she said. The main secret, however, is not only in how to cook and what procedure to follow. It is also important what to say and think of while doing it. Here, every hostess has her own method.

The most tedious part of preparatory work is cleaning the head. One should singe all hair by blow lamp, remove all soot and remaining hair by knife to make the skin soft and resilient. Ankle-bones of sheep legs, the indispensable ingredient of the dish, are subject to the same labor-intensive process. If everything is done hastily, one would likely spoil the food.

“Kelle-bashayak” should be prepared on the small fire for at least four hours. The saucepan must be deep and capacious so that the bouillon covers sheep’s head. Flavoring may be diverse but fresh tomatoes, onions and pepper are obligatory. Salt is added in the end of the long process.

Mengli’s know-how is making use of offal. Cleaning the sheep’s belly is a matter long and labor-intensive process. The final result is worth wasting so much time and efforts. She places both head and legs in the offal, sews it and puts the future dainty into the saucepan. In the process of work she hums all the time and whispers something. It is the realization of all those secrets that cannot be described in the recipe.

From now on, one would wait, taking off the scum and adding flavors. The condition of bouillon is definitely the indication its readiness. By the moment of readiness it looks like hot jelly (it is similar to Russian galantine, Armenian hash).

First, the guests are served the hot nourishing bouillon. While they melt from the pleasure of swallowing the hot broth in combination with the hot loaves of chorek, the head sewn in the offal must cool down a bit, otherwise you can burn the oral cavity. This anticipation is not tiring.

As soon as the plate with red and orange bouillon is empty, an obscure roll from offal is put on the table. The host cuts the thoroughly cooked offal with his sharp knife and distributes its pieces among the guests. There is no time to be carried away with the delicious preamble as the main “hero of occasion”, sheep’s head, appears out of the cut “roll”. The host easily cuts the pieces of meat off the bones by the same sharp knife.

For the one who is not used to seeing such exotic dishes would be advisable not to pay attention to the visual acceptability but to focus on how it tastes. The delicate well-cooked pieces melt in the mouth. Tongue is the most delicate part. It can be swallowed in the literary and figurative meaning of the word.

The look of the bald sheep skull cannot cause unfriendly associations any longer, since the state of fullness and hiccupping bliss come by this moment and the final part of meal, sheep brains, is perceived as a light dessert. Time has added its nuances to the centuries old process of eating the dish prepared for the guest of honour that, in my opinion, do not spoil traditions. I mean a weeping small glass of a crystal clear forty-degree alcohol international drink.

And now, one can relax, lean back on cushions scattered around dastarkhan, reflecting on what mysterious wonderful words said Mengli and what she thought about creating this culinary wonderwork.



Posted by countryturkmenistan at 12:47 PM
Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2005 3:58 PM

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