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Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. The area was ruled in antiquity by various Persian empires, and was conquered by Alexander the Great, Muslim armies, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians. In medieval times, Merv (located in present-day Mary province) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmen territories later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik resistance in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. President for Life Saparmyrat NYYAZOW died in December 2006, and Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, a deputy chairman under NYYAZOW, emerged as the country’s new president. BERDIMUHAMEDOW won Turkmenistan’s first multi-candidate presidential election in February 2007, and again in 2012 and in 2017 with over 97% of the vote in both instances, in elections widely regarded as undemocratic.  In February 2022, BERDIMUHAMEDOW announced that he would step down from the presidency and called for an election to replace him. His son, Serdar BERDIMUHAMEDOW, won the ensuing election, held in March 2022, with 73% of the vote. Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, although no longer head of state, maintains an influential political position as head of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) and as National Leader of the Turkmen People, a title that provides additional privileges and immunity for him and his family. Since Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW stepped down from the presidency, state-controlled media upgraded his honorific from Arkadag (protector) to Hero-Arkadag, and incorporated his son into the personality cult by referring to Serdar BERDIMUHAMEDOW as Arkadagly Serder, which can be translated as “Serder who has a protector to support him.”

Turkmenistan has sought new export markets for its extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves, which have yet to be fully exploited. As of early 2022, Turkmenistan exported the majority of its gas to China and smaller levels of gas to Russia. Turkmenistan’s reliance on gas exports has made the economy vulnerable to fluctuations in the global energy market, and economic hardships since the drop in energy prices in 2014 have led many Turkmenistanis to emigrate, mostly to Turkey. Heavy restrictions placed by the government in 2020 on entry and exit into the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a steep drop in emigration, however.