Turkmenistan - Political background

Beginning in the sixth century, the Urguz group of Turkish peoples migrated into western Asia and the Middle East, settling in areas in modern Turkmenistan in the tenth century and establishing the Seljukid Empire in southern Turkmenistan. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Urguz Turkmen also established the Khorasan and Khorezm khanates, the root of the future Turkmen nation. In the thirteenth century, Mongols overran Central Asia including the area of modern Turkmenistan. In the fifteenth century, what is now southern Turkmenistan was divided between the Khivan and Bukharan khanates and Persia (now Iran). The Turkmen provided determined opposition to Russian Czarist forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, finally being annexed by the Czar in 1886 as part of what was called the Transcaspian Region.

After the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a period of political disorder occurred, but in 1920 the Red Army occupied what is now Turkmenistan. Turkmen in the Basmachi resistance movement fought on for several years against the Bolsheviks. In 1924, Stalin established the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. Forced collectivization in Turkmenistan in the late 1920s and early 1930s encountered massive resistance among the largely nomadic population and resulted in great loss of life.

Turkmenistan was long a relatively neglected republic of the Soviet Union; few investments in industry or other infrastructure developments were made. Turkmen were also underrepresented as members of the Soviet Communist Party and in the leading ranks of the party. In the late 1950s, some Turkmen leaders called for preference to be given to Turkmen in filling top posts in the republic; Moscow responded by purging the Turkmen Party. In 1969, conservative Muhamednazar Gapurov became Turkmen Party leader, remaining in power until late 1985, when he was ousted from his position as part of Gorbachev's purge of Central Asian leaders. Gapurov was replaced as Turkmen Party leader by Saparmurad Niyazov.

During the abortive Soviet coup attempt in August 1991, Niyazov did not issue a statement condemning the coup until it had unraveled. Upon Gorbachev's return to Moscow, Yeltsin and public opinion forced Gorbachev to resign as party leader. A staunch proponent of authoritarian political power, Niyazov did not follow Gorbachev's example, but did announce his resignation from the Soviet Communist Party Politburo; later he nationalized some Communist Party assets in Turkmenistan. Instead of abolishing the Turkmen Communist Party, he attempted to preserve it by orchestrating its "transformation," renaming it the Democratic Party in December 1991. He serves as the chairman of this "new" party. While this party proclaims that it stands for the rule of law, a mixed economy, and a multi-party system, it also operates much like the old Communist Party through its cells in the workplace and elsewhere.

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