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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Turkmenistan


Almost all of Turkmenistan's population is ethnically Turkmen, which is a Turkic ethnicity that originated in the area of Central Asia. The Turkmen are most closely related to the other Turkic people of Central Asia, including the Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, and Uzbeks. Among the very small number of minority groups in Turkmenistan, the largest are the Uzbeks and Russians, however neither makes up more than 5% of the population. The Russians primarily arrived to Turkmenistan during the Soviet era and most of the Uzbeks live close to the border with Uzbekistan.


Turkmen is the only official language of Turkmenistan as it is the native language of most ethnic Turkmen. Turkmen is a Turkic language written in the Latin script (formerly written in the Cyrillic script). Turkmen is a Turkic language with similarities to other Turkic languages, including Uzbek and Kazakh, but is more closely related to Turkish and Azerbaijani.

Few ethnic minorities natively speak Turkmen; most ethnic Uzbeks natively speak Uzbek, while most ethnic Russians grow up speaking Russian. Due to their past, Russian has been the language of communication between groups as most Turkmen speak the language to some degree. English and other popular world languages are slowly growing in popularity.


Nearly 90% of Turkmenistan's population is Muslim and the government strongly stresses this religion as a part of Turkmen identity. Of the remaining 10% most are ethnic Russians practicing Russian Orthodox.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Turkmenistan is very liberal in how they practice Islam as their former leader, Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi), has been incorporated into the religion to some degree.

Most Muslims are Sunni, which is the branch of Islam that closely follows the teachings of Muhammad and accepts Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (a ruler of an Islamic community); the Sunni Muslims are sometimes referred to Orthodox. Shia Muslims believe only God can chose who heads the Islamic community and believed it was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who was first chosen; Ali became the first Imam (according to Shia Muslims, this term only refers to the leaders of the faith, to Sunni Muslims Imam is often times used in reference to the prayer leader in mosques).

This page was last updated: May, 2014