The Turkmen of Central Asia
A cluster of 7 Turkmen groups in 7 countries.
The main homeland of the Turkmen is the central Asian region, formerly known as Turkestan. It has long served as a meeting place for various peoples and cultures, as well as a fierce battleground for many of the great Asian conquerors including Emir, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane.
Long ago, the Turkmen developed a strong ethnic identity as "children of the desert" because they would plunder rich caravans of Persian traders. Eventually, they became involved in slave trading as well. For centuries the Turkmen lived as nomadic herdsmen. In more recent years, many have changed to a semi-nomadic lifestyle, living in permanent homes as well as in tents.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Today, this division still exists, and the rural population is divided into two groups. The first group consists of the sedentary farmers, who settle mainly in the oases, river valleys, and on the mountain slopes. The other group consists of the nomadic herdsmen, who wander over the plains seeking fertile pastures for their herds. Clashes between the two have been common over the years, especially as the sedentary farmers' herds increased and required more pasture land.
The Kara Kum ("Black Sand") Desert lies in the center of Turkestan, and has often served as a place of refuge for the Turkmen during wartime. Many of the Turkmen live along the desert's edges and raise cattle, sheep, cotton, wheat, and barley. Since this area has very little rainfall in the winter and none in the summer, they are forced to stay close to water sources.
The Turkmen are basically organized into tribal confederations each with its own territory. The largest descent group is the tribe, then the clan, then the family. Members of a tribe are bound by a strong sense of family loyalty. Tribal identity is reinforced by the fact that the Turkmen will only marry within their tribes. Arranged marriages are common, and families often intermarry to preserve wealth. Each tribe speaks its own dialect of the Turkmen language.
Their society has never been marked by strong political leaders or tribal chiefs. It is male-dominated, with senior members of the family holding considerable authority. Within each family, sons must be obedient and respectful to their fathers. The subordination of women is even greater, distinguishing them as second-class citizens.
The Turkmen are generally tall and thin. They are physically strong and easily able to endure the harshness of the environment. Although they are characterized by their hospitality, trustworthiness, and sincerity, they are also known as being hot-headed and revengeful.
Men usually wear baggy trousers, coarse shirts, boots, and shaggy wool hats. Women love wearing jewelry, especially anklets and bracelets. They cover their heads in fine cotton cloths (like turbans) that are also adorned with jewelry.
Very little industry has been developed in the Turkestan region, and what does exist primarily employs the Slavic people. The Turkmen are especially known for their brisk trade in the bazaars, where many samples of their handicrafts can be found. Some of these include metal and wooden household utensils, tools, and furniture. Many Turkmen have also supplemented their income by producing intricately designed carpets. Though this is usually considered to be women's work, the whole family will often share in the arduous task.
The Turkmen love to play "Buzjashi," a wild polo-like game played by two teams on horseback. The game, which uses the headless carcass of a goat or calf as the "ball," can be very violent and go on for two or three days.
What Are Their Beliefs?
What Are Their Needs?
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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