By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asias "stans", Turkmenistan became famous for the truly bizarre dictatorship of Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as Turkmenbashi (leader of the Turkmen) until his death in 2006. Niyazov covered this little-known desert republic with golden statues of himself and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his golden age. But the least-visited of Central Asias countries is far more than the totalitarian theme park it is often portrayed as being, it is an ancient land of great spirituality, tradition and natural beauty. The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient Silk Road, while the haunting beauty of the Karakum Desert and other quirky natural phenomena are less expected but equally mesmerising. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating Turkmen people themselves, whose hospitality is the stuff of legend.
Republic of Turkmenistan
Unitary presidential republic
Most of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kurds, Armenians, Azeris, Balochs and Pashtuns.
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, although Russian still is widely spoken in cities as a language of inter-ethnic communication.
Muslims constitute 89% of the population while 9% of the population are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 2% religion is reported as non-religious.