Great Game: Borderlines
Jheri St. James
(Landscape with Kopet Dag Mountains)
is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas,
possessing the world’s fourth
largest reserves of natural gas. Most of the country
is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. Also
known as Turkmenia, Turkmenistan gained independence
from the Soviet Union 1991. Its borderlines are named
for the countries of Afghanistan southeast, Iran south
/ southwest, Kazakhstan north / northwest and the Caspian
Sea west. Turkmenistan contains one of the driest deserts
in the world, over 80 percent of the country covered
by the Karakum Desert. The climate is mostly arid subtropical
desert with little rainfall. Winters are mild and dry.
The Caspian Sea is entirely landlocked with no access
to the ocean.
“President for Life” Saparmurat
Niyazov (called “Turkmenbasy—leader of
the Turkmens”) died suddenly in December 2006
after 21 years in office, marked by publication of
his own religious text entitled “The Ruhnama.” His
regime required that the book be given equal status
with the Quran, and the book was heavily promoted as
part of the president’s personality cult. Knowledge
of the Ruhnama is required for obtaining a driver’s
license. He styled himself as a promoter of traditional
Muslim and Turkmen culture, but he became notorious
in the West for his dictatorial rule and extravagant
ego. Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov is currently president,
elected in 2007.
looks so ill at ease
So distrustful so displeased
Running down the table
I see a borderline
Like a barbed wire fence
Strung tight, strung tense
Prickling with pretense
The territory of Turkmenistan has a long,
checkered history, as armies from one empire after
another decamped there on their way to more prosperous
territories. Alexander the Great and troops from Persia
(Margiana, Kharezm and Parthian) were among the first
conquerors. Turkmenistan remained the territory of
the Persian empire for several centuries. Then Arabs
ruled, followed by Mongolian Genghis Khan and for the
next seven centuries, the Turkmen people lived under
various empires and fought constant inter-tribal wars;
Persian Shahs, Khivan Khans, Emirs of Buhkara and rulers
of Afghanistan fought over the borderlines of Turkmenistan.
This vast territory was largely unmapped and virtually
unknown to Europe and the Western world. Rivalry for
control of the area between the British Empire and
Tsarist Russia was characterized as The Great Game.
By 1894, Russia gained control of Turkmenistan and
incorporated it into its empire.
“Prior to the Russian conquest, the Turkmen
were known and feared for their involvement in the
Central Asian slave trade. The neighboring rural villages
of Persia and Afghanistan were the main victims of
Turkmen raids, in which groups of armed men on horseback
carried away captives to be sold in the slave markets
of Khiva, Bukhara, and Mari.” (Paul R. Spickard,
notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad, we think we know
As if thinking makes things so!
All convictions grow along a borderline
Smug in your jaded expertise
You scathe the wonder world
And you praise barbarity
In this illusionary place--
This scared hard-edged rat race
All liberty is laced with
Continuing human rights abuses have imposed
severe restrictions on foreign travel; discrimination
against ethnic minorities remains in practice; Turkmenistan
had the third worst press freedom conditions in the
world behind North Korea and Burma, and is one of the
10 most censored countries (Reporters Without Borders
2006 World Press Freedom Index).
* * *
Our soil collecting friends in Turkmenistan were Eleonora
Malashkevich and Vladimar Grigoryants on June 16, 2008.
Their collection came from the park in front of the
Ak Altyn Hotel and the Turkmen Circus in Ashgabat City,
the capital city. They captured this historic moment
in time and place in the photos below. Sincere thanks
for the time and effort they contributed to our project.
word for peace in Turkmenistan is "parahatgylyk."