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Monday, 5 June 2006
Homespun Silk

Every time she starts her work on the weaving loom Keyik Geldimuhamedova apeals to Goddess Ashe Patma, the saint patroness of female fancy-work. This is a request to bless her laborious work so that threads don't become entangled and the cloth doesn't get spoiled. Her mother, grandmother and great grandmother used to offer this prayer before the start of work. Being from the village of Sunche, a settlement famous for silk fabrics where silkworm breeding has been flourishing since the ancient times, Keyik dayza, the hereditary weaver by origin, has devoted over sixty years to making wonderful and unrepeatable fabric "keteni" having taken over the secrets of this old and uneasy trade from her mother in the childhood.

Turkmenistan is home to the homespun silk cloth "keteni". The weather conditions of the region have always promoted cultivating high grade mulberry plantations. From times immemorial, Turkmens have been successfully dealing with silkworm breeding. Owing to its durability, brightness and beauty of design, their homespun fabric was very valued and was in big demand not only among the local population.

One of the peculiarities of "keteni" cloth is its coloring that is determined by the quality of dyers. Using the ancient technology, fabric was dyed primarily with natural dyers distinguished by the intensity of tones, extreme durability and ecological purity. Producing natural and mineral paints is a complicated occupation requiring certain knowledge. While preparing the dyers, it is necessary to observe balance in weights strictly. For this purpose, Turkmens used special scales. As a result of dyeing, the cloth acquires not only new coloring but a particular strength.

Since times immemorial, the preference was given to the red color throughout Turkmenistan. According to local beliefs, the red color possesses magic qualities, protects from the evil forces. In addition, the Turkmen people have always identified the red color with something beautiful and joyous. Red color was especially popular among girls and children. In general, the clothes of youth were bright, whereas older people wore rather modestly colored clothes.

Madder is one of the sources of the red color for Turkmen masters. This plant has been cultivated since the old times. It gives good yields on salty soil where other plants don't grow. To get blue and light-blue colorings the Indian blue nil is used. In the dyeing production the pomegranate peels, onion peel and tea are also applied. The color range of keteni cloth turned out by Turkmen weavers is very diverse. Master Keyik Geldimuhamedova's palette alone includes 18 colors.

To fasten the cloth women used alum and to whiten it potash and coal ash that gave the fabric unusual whiteness. Starch boiled from wheat flour was also used in the textile production. Specially treated, starched and glossed, "keteni" produces charming impression of the divine fabric, radiates luster and wealth. One feels indescribable trepidation emanating from it. Even smell and rustling of the cloth cast a spell.

Both Turkmen men and women have been wearing keteni garments since ancient times. If men's fashion was limited to shirts only, women found broader application of the homespun silk cloth making the whole wardrobe of dresses and headscarves of it. Coverlets, turbans and child-wear were also spun from the yarn. Keteni dresses still make up a bride's traditional attire and continue to fulfill the primary role to make a young lady irresistibly beautiful and, thus, happy.

As was mentioned, the silk cloth "keteni" has always been popular and fashionable among people. Nowadays, it literary experiences the second birth. The boom of this fabric is observed in the Turkmen fashion industry. Shops that any recognized center of world fashion could envy are being opened in Ashgabat. Wonderful dresses in various styles, beautiful shawls with hand-made embroidery, woven lady handbags, bags for cosmetics, headscarves and kerchiefs are of perfect quality, thought-out to details and can satisfy the taste of the most demanding fashionable woman.

Today, like in old times, making "keteni" cloth remains mostly a home-made trade. This work, like any manual labor, is extremely laborious and labor intensive. Turkmen women still use the old spinning looms "tara" that have been preserved since ancient times and produce high quality articles striking by their perfection of decoration. It is enough to look at "duypli gynach", a triangular shawl reaching 3 meters at the base and sewn from woven stripes of different colorings of the red color in combination with white, blue and green colors. The external side of the shawl has a multilayer woven ornament also made at "tara" looms. Technically, ornamental weaving is much more complex than embroidery. It requires accuracy and knack, because the ornament is facing ground when being woven. Adapting to such conditions, women use a mirror during the work to see that the symmetry of the classical ornament is not broken.

Women fancy-work has been the most important part of the Turkmen people's daily life. Nowadays, the Turkmen women carefully preserve and creatively develop the local traditions of weaving. Keyik Geldimuhamedova's five daughters followed their mother's track and are occupied with sewing articles from "keteni".

Ajap BAIRIEVA, Ethnographer, Doctor of History

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 4:53 PM
The Charm of Repetek
Topic: Environment & ecology

The Karakum desert may seem lifeless and dismal only to a man who has never been there. It is felt particularly strongly in Repetek, one of the most interesting and life-rich areas of the Karakum desert. The diversity of vegetation and animal life, magnificence of Repetek landscapes captivates even the experienced traveler. Not surprisingly, it is here that the first reserve in Turkmenistan was established almost eight decades ago. In 1979, on UNESCO's decision, the Repetek Reserve gained the status of the biosphere preserve and thereby was included in the list of the internationally recognized models of natural ecosystems.

The unique nature of this region attracts many scientists' attention. Such eminent specialists as geneticist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov and founder of the contemporary soil science Vasiliy Vasilyevich Dokuchaev used to work in the Reserve. A Russian scientist and fiction writer, Vladimir Afanasyevich Obruchev, famous for his novels "The land of Sannikov" and "Plutonia" was here, and dozens of other outstanding scientists and men of arts stayed in the Reserve. Early last century, the famous geographer and traveler Pyotr Petrovich Semenov Tyan-Shanskiy was charmed by these places.

It can't be otherwise. Repetek is a place where on the relatively small territory one can see practically all forms of the Karakum's sandy landscape which, by the way, are natural to other big and small deserts of the world. It turns out that the sandy landscape can be dune-like, ridge-like and hilly. It is impossible to enumerate all possible variations. Part of the reserve carrying clear and resembling name "Repetek Sahara" is particularly striking. Once you are there, you lose the feeling of reality. It is so eye-catching. Dunes rise around in quaintly stark waves with their tops crowned by the thinnest yellow muslin - thousands of grains of sand disturbed by a blow of wind and stylishly lightened by bright sun rays. One can roam for hours in this fantastic realm of sand as if painted by an impressionist artist. No matter how big the dunes are, but this is exactly the way the restless wind moves them from one place to the other at its whim, sorting out these sand hills by each grain of sand. So, coming back to this place later, one may not recognize a seemingly well known landscape.

It is truly amazing that connoisseurs can find their way out in this vast desert, not only among moving sands, but in the wide-spread saxaul forests. The grove "Yaman tokay" located not far from "Sahara" is one of them. Like in other groves, ordinary trees, large enough and not so high, with branchy tops grow here. However, under the canopy of these crowns you will not find a habitual forest shade. Instead of leaves, saxaul has delicate green twigs. Thanks to them, the tree can easily stand the heat of summer, which sometimes warms the sandy surface up to 80 degrees Celsius. It is nothing else but a natural stove. It is not by chance that Repetek is ranked among the hottest parts of the planet and called a "pole of heat". In the summer, it is a scorching heat here!

Spring is quite different. It is a time when the desert gets rid of the winter numbness and takes on the splendid emerald clothing. It doesn't look like a desert at this time of the year. It is more like a blossoming garden. Bright red poppies, yellow flowers of gipecuum are scattered, as if by one's generous hand, in great number on the green carpet of sandy sedge, ilaka, under the canopy of transparent saxaul forest. Tidy bushes of astragalus seem violet due to the abundance of flowers emitting unrepeatable fragrance. Delicate rosettes of fresh ferule, as if created by skilful hands of lace-makers, are all around. The bushes of kandym, full of yellow flowers that by the summer turn to the bright fluffy balls, the plant's fruits, grow here as well. Like many other desert plants, kandym has no leaves. Instead, it has green twigs. The local rhubarb is quite a different plant. Its leaves sometimes grow to big sizes, up to a meter and a half. Another amazing tree of the desert is sandy silvery acacia, a slender 6-7 m high tree reminiscent of a weeping willow, but not a green one. It dares to grow among free-flowing dunes and is not afraid of being buried under the thickness of sand.

Scientists found out that the Karakum is the most reproductive desert of our planet. Interestingly, the higher the temperature is, as high as 50-60 degrees Celsius, the more effective is the functioning of its ecosystem. The fact that almost four hundred species of mushrooms, the lower and higher plants, more than half of the Karakum desert vegetation, grow here attests to the richness of flora of the Repetek Reserve.

The animal life of Repetek is also rich and diverse. There are almost 1.5 thousand species of invertebrates - beetles, butterflies, spiders and other small creatures. Among them are the ones that became of invaluable use for science. For instance, one of local darkling beetles was lucky to take part in ... the space travel. The astronaut beetle stood the test of flight, provided scientists with valuable information necessary for assessing the possibilities of long interplanetary expeditions. Poisonous insects of Repetek deserve special attention. A small and seemingly ordinary spider, karakurt, with venom 8-10 times stronger than that of cobra, turns out to be the most dangerous insect as compared to menacing scorpion, phalanx and tarantula.

Repetek is home to over 90 per cent of species of birds, reptiles and mammals, over 250 species of vertebrate animals, inhabiting the Karakum desert. Among reptiles one can come across a tortoise, a living fortress, a sandy and big-eared toad agama and a gecko, a fan of night adventures. There is also an opportunity to get acquainted with a dozen of snake species, almost half of the number of species inhabiting Turkmenistan. A pride of the reserve, Central Asian cobra, a beautiful and noble snake always warning a careless traveler of its presence, is also among them.

When facing a cobra as well as a phoorsa it is necessary to be careful and observe the "rules of etiquette", for they are poisonous. Repetek is also home to such an "imposing" reptile as a grey giant lizard. By the way, it is the biggest lizard in the country. Taking into consideration its menacing appearance, it is deservingly called a "crocodile of the desert".

Over 200 species of birds can come across in the very heart of the burning Karakum. A surprising fact is that among them are waterfowl attracted by reservoirs formed in the sandy quarries in the outskirts of Repetek. Such birds as saxaul jay, which is ideally adapted to the conditions of dry climate, cannot do without the desert. However, the birds of prey are rightfully considered the most imposing and famous birds of Repetek. A golden eagle, one of the largest eagles in the country, has become the decoration of the Reserve. A saker falcon and long-legged buzzard also impress with their menacing appearance. Watching a pigeon-size kestrel, a small but very deft hunter, is also interesting. A long-eared owl and a horned owl become the masters of skies at night.

Gnawing animals as cheek-weeds, gophers, jerboas are the most numerous among the mammals in Repetek. It is they that leave flowery patterns-rebuses on the sand restlessly unraveled by environmental specialists.

A tolai hare, one of the typical inhabitants of the desert, is frequently come across. There are also predators as a sand cat and a fox - a character of fairy tales. A rare desert predator, caracal (lynx), lives in the reserve too. It is an intelligent and reticent animal. To see it in the desert is a great luck. Gazelles, slender and long legged antelopes and a real decoration of the fauna of the country, are one the rarest and beautiful inhabitants of Repetek. In 2001, a special farm was set up to breed and rear the gazelles in the reserve.

The Repetek Reserve of the Ministry of Nature Protection of Turkmenistan is one of the numerous astonishing and wonderful natural corners of the Karakum, a land of bright sun, "golden" dunes and saxaul forests. This world-second desert has preserved its exceptional individuality and originality till nowadays, in many respects due to the centuries-old ability of the Turkmen people to live in harmony with the nature of the native land.
Today that traditions are being revived and environmental scientists are concerned with preserving the virgin beauty of Repetek, we would like to believe that decades and hundreds of years later the journey to the fairytale Turkmen desert will still be a real discovery for everyone.

Viktor OLGIN
Turkmenistan Analytic Magazine

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 4:50 PM
Sunday, 8 January 2006
The History Captured in Stone
Topic: Environment & ecology
The palaeontological finds, footsteps of dinosaurs (aged 140 million years) and petrified footsteps of camels and other animals (aged 2.5 million years), teeth and bones of elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses and other animals as well as the shell of ostrich’s eggs found between Hazar (Cheleken) and Koytendag and dating 60-80 million years ago attest that the territory of Turkmenistan mainly occupied by the desert was a blooming oasis in the ancient times.

One of the most ancient sites in the territory of Asia is located in the upper reaches of the Amu Darya River in the Kuldere Ravine the age of which is 800,000 years. The ancient tools aged 1 mln –800,000 years were discovered in the Western Kopetdag in the Sumbar and the Chandyr Valley.

Southern Turkmenistan was included into the most ancient area of people’s settling in Asia. This territory is also a habitat of the Bactrian camel. The animal’s bones were uncovered in the Anau Northern mound in the cultural strata (V millennium B.C.) and the terracotta figurines of camel in the archaeological complexes dating back to the 3rd – 2nd millennia B.C. Thus, Turkmenistan was one of the ancient centres of domestication of this animal that can be proved by the archaeological finds of the wild camel’s footsteps discovered in the geological strata in the Western Kopetdag aged 2.5 million years.

The science hasn’t found the actual proofs of the time when the people domesticated the camel. The ancient farmers of Southern Turkmenistan used camels and horses as draft animals even in the 4th – 3rd millennia B.C. that can proved by the archaeological materials. The finds of the remains of camels in the Tummekkichijik and the Dashlyburun burial grounds (Northern Turkmenistan) dating back to IV millennium B.C. attest that the people used camels as draft animals throughout the area.

Camels posses such valuable qualities as high carrying capacity and endurance, the animal adapts itself to the severe desert conditions. Its wool is used for making national cloth and its meat is a foodstuff. Selecting the new varieties depends on the animal’s role in the human economic activities. But the Bactrian camel is incomparable with no other animal in its endurance and speed as well as beauty.

The footsteps of vertebrate animals were discovered in some areas within the Western Kopetdag Mountains of the Neogene Age (about 2.5 million years ago). A sandstone lump weighing about 70-100 tons that was discovered in the Gyavurli settlement is one of the most important ancient natural monuments imprinting the camels’ footsteps.

These footsteps have no analogues in the world and are the property of the world historical science. The activities on research in and protection of the unique natural monuments and organisation of the tours to the area are stipulated by the National Environmental Action Plan of Turkmenistan (NEAP). 245 monuments under protection are inscribed in the list of the natural monuments in Turkmenistan.

Archaeologist, Doctor of History

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 12:21 PM
Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006 12:23 PM
Successors of the Ancient Ages
Topic: Environment & ecology
Much interesting is known about the unusual natural phenomena, volcanoes, famous for their spectacular and amazing power. Millions of years ago the fire-spitting mountains located in the Badkhyz erupted. There are miniature volcanoes in Turkmenistan that erupt hot water containing various chemical elements including iodine and bromine.

The west of Turkmenistan is well-known as the land of mud volcanoes, they number dozens there. They are quite ancient formations aged many thousands and even millions of years. The mud volcanoes like an open letter for geologists in which they can read the ancient history of the Turkmen land. According to the research the hydrocarbon deposits accompany volcanoes.

The Akpatlavuk Volcano is one of the most interesting ones in western Turkmenistan. Its peak is crowned with a round crater looking like a miniature lake filled with mud. Usually the volcano welcomes the guests rather friendly but during the stormy eruption the mud column can be up to 10 metres high.

Even only the Akpatlavuk Volcano deserves the title of one of the most interesting sights of the region. But there are many other volcanoes; some of them are active ones, others are extinct, but each has its own history. They are the Geokpatlavuk, Boiling Hillock, Chekishlar and many others and each of them is wonderful and interesting in its own way.

Photo by Yu. SHKURIN

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 12:18 PM
Friday, 18 November 2005
Turkmen Cold Steel Arms
Topic: Turkmen Traditions

Collectors and mere antiquaries of cold steel arms rarities always regard Turkmen arms with special tremble and respect. It is connected with the limited number of samples available in the private collections, as well as quick mentioning in literature. It left a particular print of mystique on Turkmen cold steel weapons. As it is known, the first appearance of sabre was directly linked with the formation of stirrups and hard saddle, the combination of which allowed only firm saddling but also striking chops. These changes activated some processes of development of arms, aimed at close fighting, which resulted in appearance of broadsword and later of sabre. The stable position on horseback gave a warrior a wide range of actions. The horsemen had an opportunity not only to lift on stirrups and sabre with stay, but also to lean back holding the rear arch or to release hands and ride using legs only.

The loss of weight of the sabre as compared to the heavy sword, which was attained at the expense of constriction of bar and elimination of the second blade, provided with wide possibilities for performing a wider variety of manoeuvres in close-in fighting.

Turkmen sabres are similar to each other. The blade of sabres are made of steel, they are forged, one-bladed, triangle in profile, and straight from the heel to one-third of their length, bending at razor-edge. It does not have refined cutting edges and dolls. The decorative design of the blade is practically absent. The sabre’s handle is formed by two steel bars, fastened at both sides with a wooden or bone hasp covered with leather and iron clinch. The teel caps of handles with clinches are located athwart towards the vertical arbour of handle. The reticles and crosses are straight and made of steel. The helves of blades are fixed with paste and passed with silver rope at the cross point. The length of blade of standard sabre in scabbard makes up 93-95 cm, the length of blade 76.5-83 cm, curvature 9.1-12 cm.

The Turkmen widely used sabres of local production in their military campaigns. I.V. Vitkevich, who traveled to Bukhara in 1830s, telling about the armament of Khiva warriors in his “Memoirs about the Bukhara Khanate”, notes: “Every soldier had a Turkmen or homemade sabre…”. The German researcher V.Konig writes in his monograph about the Ahal Turkmen of the Teke tribe, that local metalwork mainly consisted of making the simplest farming implements and cold steel arms, namely pikes, sabres and knifes. Many scholars denied the fact that Turkmen had self-made weapons. It should be mentioned, that along with domestic ones the Turkmen also used imported or captured cold steel arms. Nevertheless, sabres of local production had to meet the requirements to cold steel arms. Another important thing is that the elements of decorative design on Turkmen sabres and scabbards had its ethnic characteristics.

Cavalry swords and slightly crooked sabres, equally effective while striking stab cuts were not widely spread among the Turkmen. The sharp crook of the Turkmen sabre’s blade allows to consider it to be intended for cutting on horseback. The Turkmen arms are always objects of pride for its owner. The scabbard for cold steel arms may be considered and studied as a subject of independent decorative art. Their splendor and diversity amazes at first sight.

Sabres’ scabbards can be wooden, covered with dyed leather, the lower part of its cover is fastened with a piece of leather, sewed on the backside, on the edges of scabbard, there is leather fringe. There are two metal girdles, to which brown leather shoulder belts are fastened. Scabbards are spirally twisted with the leather belt.

The Turkmen used to carry arms on the left side. The shoulder belts were crossed and fixed with a silver plaque or weaved. Such a belt was bestridden over the right shoulder, connected on the breast with a decorative bronze foundry clasp and two receivers made of analogous material. Moreover, one end of clasp was fixed, while another remained loose. The end of the clasp was made in the shape of bird’s head. As General N.I. Grodekov noted: “The Turkmen determine the origin of this or that individual to one or another tribe by the intangible differences in the way of fastening up a sabre…”

The belonging of a man to this or that social group may be judged from his arms, whose decorative design reflected the mightiness of its owner and his gentility. One should mention an unimpeachable taste, even delicacy of ancient masters while decorating Turkmen sabres, making each of them a unique piece of art.

The decorative design of Turkmen sabres can be conditionally divided into 4 categories.

The first category comprises applied silver stamped spearheads, decorating handles and scabbards as well as shoulder belts. Applied silver elements on the shoulder belts also belong to this group. Two types of applied plaques, round and heart-shaped, can be distinguished. According to the relief of its surface, the first type is subdivided into two variants – with the smooth face side and another side divided into bulbous sectors. The plates are presented with one type of rectangular shape.

The second category comprises ornaments of three types: stamped floral on one of the girdles, carved geometrical with the gilded background on one of the head-ends of the shoulder belt and S-shaped clasps as well as gilded floral ornament on the sabre’s handle.

The third group consists of embedding, decorating the head-end of the shoulder belt (red cornelian, turquoise) and S-shaped clasp of the shoulder belt (red glass).

The fourth group comprises the parts of sabres of decorative-and-practical purpose. In this case, fringe on the edges of the scabbard, as well as silver wire winding on the handles of sabres also belong to this category.

Aleksander KOSTENOK,

Photos from

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 4:28 PM
Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005 4:31 PM

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