October 27 – Independence Day in Turkmenistan

Posted on October 27, 2015

You may not know much about Turkmenistan, but it was at the crossroads of civilizations for hundreds of years. It was located on the Silk Road. Caravans traveling between the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, on the one hand, and China, on the other, often stopped in towns and cities in what is now Turkmenistan for supplies and rest.

Ashgabat is the current capital.

Ancient Merv was an important stop on
"the Silk Road."
Of course, any region with that kind of important location is enticing to empire-builders. From the Seljuk Empire to the Mongols to the Russian Empire and eventually Soviet Union, many different groups ruled over Turkmenistan. On this date in 1991, it declared independence from the U.S.S.R., which was in a process of dissolving.

Now that it is free from outside rulers, is Turkmenistan full of freedom and liberty for all? No...sadly, it is one of the most repressive countries in the world, with a bad human-rights record. Words like “President for Life” and “election” are used in the same sentence – which seems weird to me – and descriptions like “draconian restrictions” and “unlimited power” make it clear that there are no checks and balances, no independent press, no power of the people.

By the way, I am often disappointed by how often “mainstream” media in the U.S. covers news – but looking at the World Press Freedom Index and map created by “Reporters Without Borders” makes me realize that we in the U.S. could do better, but we enjoy far more freedom than many! And anyone who has unfettered access to the internet can dig for unbiased information. 

I don't suggest touring Turkmenistan – who wants to travel to a nation that treats even its own people badly? – but someday, if it ever becomes stable, here are some of the beauties we might enjoy:

Door to Hell

This part of a natural gas field probably should not have been drilled – because it collapsed into an underground cavern in 1971. 

Of course, that's a problem – a crater filled with deadly methane gas? What could go wrong?

So geologists set it on fire. I read that they expected the excess gas to burn off in just a couple of days.

But it has been burning continuously ever since!

Yep, for 44 year the fire has been burning! Looking at the photos, I see why it is called the Door to Hell. (Some call it the Gate to Hell, and one source called it the Mouth of Hell! It's also called, very appropriately, the Crater of Fire.)

Oh, and despite the fact that Turkmenistan doesn't seem to me to be exactly a tourists' paradise, more than 50 thousand visitors have visited the Door to Hell in the last five years alone!

One guy even went down into the pit! If you want to find out how (and why!), check out this well-photographed article


This ancient city was probably the largest in the world for a short time, waaaaaayyy back in the 1100s.

Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you like ancient ruins (and I do!), you'd love this place.

The Great Icehouse, outside (above),
and inside (below).

The Karakum Desert

Gorgeous Landscapes...and Architecture...and People...

Also on this date:

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

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