Prayer Profile
The Turkmen of Iran

[IMAGE] Nearly two million Turkmen can be found living along the northern edges of Iran, just south of the Turkmenistan border. Millions of others live scattered across central Asia. Over the centuries, the Turkmen culture has been influenced by both Turkic conquerors, who imposed their language on them, and Arabs, who forced them to convert to Islam.

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.

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. Since this area has very little rainfall in the winter and none in the summer, the Turkmen are forced to live near water sources.

What are their lives like?
For centuries the Turkmen lived 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.

The Turkmen society is definitely male-dominated. Women are restricted and often treated as second-class citizens. They are slow to speak and reserved while in the presence of men. Arranged marriages are still very common and families often inter-marry to preserve wealth. Ordinarily, a man does not separate from his father's household until he is between the ages of 30 and 40. By this time, he has been married for 10 to 20 years and has children old enough to be economically productive. Once a man has established a household of his own, he arranges the marriages of his own daughters according to their birth order.

The Turkmen are generally tall and thin. They are physically strong and easily able to endure the harshness of the environment. Although Turkmen are characterized by their hospitality, trustworthiness, and sincerity, they are also known as being hot-headed and revengeful.

Men usually wear baggy trousers, course 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.

What are their beliefs?
The Iranian Turkmen are mostly Hanafi Sunni Muslims, with many Shias. Although some are devout Muslims, many others only observe Islamic rituals on ceremonial occasions such as births, marriages, or deaths. They say the Islamic prayers, but are not genuinely enthusiastic about religion. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they have been politically exploited and taxed by religion in the past.

Only about half of the adults in Iran are literate. Communication levels are low with only one telephone for every 26-30 people. Even radios are scarce, with only one for every five people. There is little awareness of Christianity among the Iranian Turkmen. They are a people who have no church, and there are less than 10 known Turkmen believers.

The Turkmen are a people who urgently need to hear the glorious Gospel of Christ! Presently, Christian missionary activity is restricted by the Iranian government. However, with modern technology there may be some inroads possible through satellite television and radio.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to raise up missionaries to go to Iran and share Christ with the Turkmen.
  • Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the small number of Iranian believers.
  • 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 God to raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the Bible into Turkmen.
  • Pray that laws in Iran which restrict the preaching of the Gospel will be changed.
  • Ask God to raise up a strong local church among the Turkmen by the year 2000.
  • Pray that Christian television and radio broadcasts will soon be made available in Iran.

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

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Turkmen
  • Country: Iran
  • Their language: Turkmen
  • Population: (1990) 1,532,600
    (1995) 1,749,400
    (2000) 1,940,700
  • Largest religion: Muslims (Hanafites) 70%
    Muslims (Ithna-Asharis) 30%
  • Christians: 0%
  • Church members: None
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 314,900 (18%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 0%
    Those evangelized from the outside: 314,900 (18%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 1,434,500 (82%)
  • Country: Iran
  • Population: (1990) 58,946,300
    (1995) 67,283,200
    (2000) 74,643,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Persian 35.7%
    Azerbaijani 15.6%
    Luri 7.1%
    Iranian Kurd 6%
    Southern Kurd 4.5%
  • Major religions: Muslims 98.7%
    Bahai's 0.6%
    Christians 0.5%
  • Number of denominations: 26

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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