The Turkmen were mainly a nomadic people for most of their history and they were not settled in cities and towns until the advent of the Soviet system of government, which severely restricted freedom of movement and collectivized nomadic herdsmen by the 1930s. Many pre-Soviet cultural traits have survived in Turkmen society however and have recently undergone a kind of revival.
Turkmen lifestyle was heavily invested in horsemanship and as a prominent horse culture, Turkmen horse-breeding was an ages old tradition. In spite of changes prompted by the Soviet period, a tribe in southern Turkmenistan has remained very well known for their horses, the Akhal-Teke desert horse - and the horse breeding tradition has returned to its previous prominence in recent years.
Many tribal customs still survive among modern Turkmen. Unique to Turkmen culture is kalim which is a groom's "dowry", that can be quite expensive and often results in the widely practiced tradition of bridal kidnapping. In something of a modern parallel, President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced a state enforced "kalim", wherein all foreigners are required to pay a sum of no less than $50,000 to marry a Turkmen woman.
Other customs include the consultation of tribal elders, whose advice is often eagerly sought and respected. Many Turkmen still live in extended families where various generations can be found under the same roof, especially in rural areas.
The music of the nomadic and rural Turkmen people reflects rich oral traditions, where epics such as Koroglu are usually sung by itinerant bards. These itinerant singers are called bakshy; they also act as healers and magicians and sing either a cappella or with instruments such as the two-stringed lute called dutar.
Turkmen hospitality is a distinguishing feature of these friendly people. Turkmen often judge a person by the way he treats his guests. A guest is greeted by phrase "Khosh geldiniz!" and besides that such ritual phrases as: How happy we are to see you! What an honor you have rendered to us!" are a must.
The cloth with food on it is considered sacred and it is a sin to step on them. Before eating everyone according to tradition should praise the Lord. They say in the Orient: "Every guest is sent by the Allah!”. It means that hospitality is not only the host's duty but also his sanctity. This tradition was born in the ancient times and has rooted in modern Turkmen lifestyle. In those days it was a simple form of security. People could not survive the hardships experienced in the desert without each other's support. Therefore, if somebody had been inhospitable to a traveler, even the relatives of such a person would have despised him. Turkmen have always considered bread and salt sacred. Stepping on them was a sign of misfortune.
The respectful attitude toward seniors is also based on ancient traditions. It is considered as acceptable not to help them, to argue with them, to look at them frowningly or to show discontent, to wait for their gratitude for the rendered service or to remind of it. The customs demand honoring parents and seniors. Turkmen saying runs: "Gold and silver do not grow old, the father and mother are priceless". The father as the family head has the right to evaluate his children's behavior and is obliged to protect them. Children should worship their mothers and respect them. The slightest display of disrespect or inattention to mother is not only denounced by people but also should be stopped on the spot.
Turkmen are highly moral people. In the attitude toward life they cultivate hospitality, honoring of seniors, modesty, nobleness, truthfulness, honesty, boldness, sincere generosity. They say "Only a noble person can keep his word".
Turkmen highly value the idea of honor. "My honor is the honor of my family, my nation, my people", - they like to repeat now and then. Turkmen possess a strongly developed spirit of kinship.
Turkmen have always appreciated sincerity. "Tell the truth even if it is against thee". Duty and obligation are honored, light-mindedness and garrulity are denounced.
Turkmen society has always negatively treated malignant gossip, saying that “the one who gossips with thee, can gossip about thee too". And such unworthy features as cowardice and ingratitude were also despised.
Turkmen value friendship and love, maintain friendly relations with neighbors. There is a number of national by-words about this: " Before building a home find out who your neighbor is", "If your neighbor is happy you will be happy too", "First of all take care of your neighbor", "A neighbor next door is better than a brother far way".
Turkmen Weddings have always been accompanied by numerous customs and ceremonials. One of the leading roles in them was played by clothes. It was thought that they even possess magic properties of protection and purification.
Bui the major impression the visitor will take away from Turkmenistan is of the Turkmen people. Of ladies wearing elegant velvet dresses, with intricate embroidered trims. Of white-bearded elders sporting apparently oversized woollen hats - tepeks throughout the height of summer. Of small children, whose initial shyness when confronted by foreigners soon gives way to a barrage of questions about the mysteries of life in far-off countries. This is a people proud of its traditions: the magnificent Ahal Tekke horses; the burgundy-toned Turkmen carpets; the brides bedecked in heavy silver jewellery who are the bashful centres of attention in lavish and noisy wedding celebrations. Turkmenistan may not be an easy destination for the tourist, but for those who come here the rewards are great.
Below is more detailed information on Turkmen traditions & customs: