Turkmenistan Culture and Language

The Turkmen people have traditionally been nomads and horsemen, and even today after the fall of the USSR attempts to urbanize but the Turkmens have not been very successful. They never really formed a coherent nation or ethnic group until they were forged into one by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Rather they are divided into clans, and each clan has its own dialect and style of dress. Turkmens are famous for making gillams, mistakenly called Bukhara rugs in the West. These are elaborate and colorful rugs, and these too help indicate the distinction between the various Turkmen clans.

The Turkmens are Sunni Muslims but they, like most of the region's nomads, adhere to Islam rather loosely and combine Islam with pre-Islamic animist spirituality. The Turkmens do indeed tend to be spiritual but are by no means militantly religious.

A Turkmen can be identified anywhere by the traditional "telpek" hats, which are large black sheepskin hats that resemble afros. The national dress: men wear high, shaggy sheepskin hats and red robes over white shirts. Women wear long sack-dresses over narrow trousers (the pants are trimmed with a band of embroidery at the ankle). Female headdresses usually consist of silver jewellery. Bracelets and brooches are set with semi-precious stones...

In language, Turkmens speak Turkmen, related most closely to Turkish and Azerbaijani. Virtually everyone, however, even in the remote desert regions, speaks Russian.

The culture the Turkmen is slightly different from the cultural traditions of the neighboring Muslim states of Central Asia. The reason to this is that the ancestors of the Turkmen were nomadic tribes whereas the lands of modern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were populated by settled tribes of farmers. This particular fact reflected on such aspect as cultural development of the Turkmen people. The basic cultural milestones of Turkmenistan are related to the traditions of Turkic-speaking oguzs. The latter go back to the pre-Islamic period. The oguzs' traditions found their reflection in literature, music, folklore of the Turkmen.

The most known source of that period is the national oguz epos "Oguz-nameh" also belonging to the cultural legacy of the Turkmen, Azerbaijanis and Turks. It was passed orally from generation to generation and was written down in the mid-16th century. Another epic monument is the poem "Kitabi Dede Korkud" which reflected pre-Islamic tribal culture of the oguzs and the influence of Islam in the 11th - 12th centuries. Epic poems were performed by national singers-storytellers.

Along with the introduction of Islam Arabian writing spread in Central Asia. However Turkmen poetry used chagatai language (very similar to Persian) widely accepted in Central Asia. It was the chagatai language that was used by Turkmen literature. This language was also used by great Turkmen poets of the 18th century.

One of the greatest national poets of Turkmenistan was Makhtumkuli (1730-1880s). Before Makhtum kuli Turkmen poetry was very similar to Persian that is in the form of Sufi philosophical treatises in poetic form. Makhtumkuli and his followers started creating their works going beyond the narrow limits of the conventions characteristic to Persian poetry. While doing this the widely used the motives of Turkmen national poetry and its epic traditions. Seitnazar Seyidi (1775-1836) and Kurbandurdy Zelili (1780-1836) are considered Makhtumkuli's successors.

… From the mid -19th century the influence of Sufism which had been prevailing in Turkmen literature faded noticeably. The works of Turkmen poets acquired a political character. After annexation of Turkmenistan to Russian Empire in 1870-1890s the leading place in the national poetry was taken by social and political satire.


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