Prayer Profile
The Turkmen of Afghanistan

[IMAGE] More than a half million Turkmen inhabit the northern region of Afghanistan near the boarder of Turkmenistan. They live along the edges of the Kara Kum ("black sand") desert, east of the Caspian Sea. They are a tribal society, who lived for centuries as nomadic herdsmen. In more recent years, however, many have changed to a "semi-nomadic lifestyle," living in permanent homes as well as in tents. Today, most of them are farmers and cattle breeders.

In times past, 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. In the early 1880's the Russian empire succeeded in subduing the Turkmen. The Bolshevik Revolution was accompanied by a period of rebellion known as the Basmachi Revolt. Many Turkmen participated in this rebellion; but after the Soviet victory, many fled to Iran and Afghanistan.

What are their lives like?
The Kara Kum has often served as a place of refuge for the Turkmen during wartime. Since this area has very little rainfall in the winter and none in the summer, the Turkmen are forced to live near water sources.

Turkmen are generally tall and thin. They are physically strong and easily able to endure the harshness of the environment. Although characterized by hospitality, sincerity, and trustworthiness, 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.

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.

Turkmen are also well known for making beautiful carpets and rugs. Though this is usually considered to be women's work, the whole family will often share in the arduous task.

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. Their subordinate status is symbolized by many rules. The subordination of women is even greater, distinguishing them as second- class citizens.

The yurt, a velvet tent with wooden poles, is still a popular form of housing. However, in recent years, many Turkmen have turned to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Most families now live a part of the year farming settled areas and part of the year migrating from pasture to pasture with their livestock.

What are their beliefs?
Most Turkmen are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi branch. The Nestorian Christians penetrated Turkestan in the fourth century A.D.; but by the beginning of the fourteenth century, this had been totally replaced by Islam. This transition gradually came to influence the political, civil, and economic lives of the people.

Despite the outward conformity to Islam, mysticism and other past religious traditions are still prevalent.

What are their needs?
The people of Afghanistan form a conglomerate of various ethnic and linguistic groups. All of the people are experiencing the turmoil of a nation in civil war. With the destruction of towns and villages, many people have fled to Pakistan or Iran.

It is unclear how much the war has directly affected the lifestyle of the Turkmen; however, we do know that Afghanistan is one of the neediest nations in the world, both physically and spiritually. Although three missions agencies are currently targeting the Turkmen, there are no known believers among them. Both the New Testament and the Jesus film are available in their language; however, Christian radio and television broadcasts are also needed to effectively spread the Gospel among them.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Afghanistan and share Christ with the Turkmen.
  • Pray that the doors of Afghanistan will soon open to missionaries.
  • Ask God to create a spiritual hunger among the Turkmen.
  • Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with the Turkmen.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Turkmen toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will open the hearts of Afghanistan's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
  • Pray for the missions agencies who are targeting the Turkmen.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Turkmen of Afghanistan by the year 2000.

See Also:
The Turkmen of Central Asia (Cluster Profile);
The Turkmen of Iran; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; Uzbekistan.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Turkmen
  • Country: Afghanistan
  • Their language: Turkmence
  • Population: (1990) 378,600
    (1995) 506,800
    (2000) 671,300
  • Largest religion: Muslims (Hanafites) 100%
  • Christians: 0%
  • Church members: None
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 3
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 81,100 (16%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 0
    Those evangelized from the outside: 81,100 (16%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 425,700 (84%)
  • Country: Afghanistan
  • Population: (1990) 15,044,500
    (1995) 20,140,500
    (2000) 26,673,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Pathan 48.5%
    Afghani Tajik (17.9%
    Hazara 8.1%
    Southern Uzbek (8%)
    Persian (3.3%)
  • Major religions: Muslims 99.4%
    Hindus 0.4%
    Christians 0.1%
  • Number of denominations: 9

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.

[Home] [Calendar] [Country List]