History of Turkmenistan

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While the ancient history of Turkmenistan is largely shrouded in mystery, its past since the arrival of Indo-European Iranian tribes around 2000 BC is often the starting point of the area's discernible history. Early tribes were nomadic or semi-nomadic due to the arid conditions of the region as the steppe culture in Central Asia was an extension of a larger Eurasian series of horse cultures which spanned the entire spectrum of language families including the Proto-Indo-Europeans and Altaic groups. Some of the known early Iranian tribes included the Massagatae, Scythians/Sakas, and early Soghdians (most likely precursors of the Khwarezmians). Turkmenistan was a passing point for numerous migrations and invasions by tribes which gravitated towards the settled regions of the south including ancient Mesopotamia, Elam, and the Indus Valley Civilization.

The region's written history begins with the region's conquest by the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Iran, as the region was divided between the satrapys of Margiana, Chorasmia and Parthia. Later conquerors included Alexander the Great, the Parni, Ephthalites, Huns, Göktürks, Sarmatians, and Sassanid Iranians. During this early phase of history, the majority of Turkmenistan's inhabitants were either adherents of Zoroastrianism or Buddhism and the region was largely dominated by Iranian peoples. However, these incursions and epochs, though pivotal, did not shape the region's history as the invasions of two later invading groups: Muslim Arabs and the Oghuz Turks. The vast majority of inhabitants were converted to the Sunni variant of Islam, while the Oghuz brought the Turkic Turkmen language that came to dominate the area. The Turkic period was a time of cultural fusion as Islamic traditions brought by the Arabs merged with local Iranian cultures and then were further altered by Turkic invaders and rulers such as the Seljuks. Genghis Khan and Mongol invasions devastated the region during the late Middle Ages, but their hold upon the area was transitional as later Timur Leng and Uzbeks contested the land.

Modern Turkmenistan was radically transformed by the invasion of the Russian Empire, which conquered the region in the late 19th century. Later, the Russian Revolution of 1917 would ultimately transform Turkmenistan from an Islamic tribal society to a totalitarian Leninist one during the Soviet era. Independence came in 1991, as Saparmurat Niyazov, a former local communist party boss, declared himself absolute ruler for life as Turkmenbashi or Leader of the Turkmen and transitioned the newly independent Turkmenistan into an authoritarian state under his absolute control and has thus far resisted the democratization that has influenced many of the other former Soviet Republics. Niyazov ruled until his death on December 21, 2006.

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