FROM A NOMADIC PAST TO A MONUMENTAL FUTURE: ASHGABAT

A TURKMEN PROVERB GOES LIKE THIS: “WATER IS THE LIFE OF A TURKMEN; HORSE IS THE WINGS AND RUG IS THE SPIRIT…”

It is necessary to look at the rugs woven by a Turkmen who put his past and his heart to understand the Turkmen. Rug is the symbol of abundance and good fortune. The hands that tied the knots of a rug did not make any compromises, although the cities were conquered, burnt down and destroyed.

A red wine colored rug among more than two thousand antique rugs exhibited at the National (Turkmen) Rug Museum in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, draws attention not only with its outstanding hand workmanship but also with its title of Guiness World Records by being the “World’s Largest Hand Woven Rug” with its 300 sqm of magnificence. The museum that grabs attention with its architecture and illumination is the correct address to collect information on different rug weaving styles of five states of Turkmenistan.

A nomadic past
Old rugs are repaired as well at the museum, where this gigantic collection also exhibits saddlebags, which is used at homes of the Turkmen tribes and an indispensible piece of the nomadic life that is spent on horses and camels. Restoration of antique rugs requires more care than weaving new ones. If a rug, which is ten centimeter, were to be woven in two days, repairing it would take about ten days. It is possible to see over 300 rugs that are restored and exhibited at the museum.

Numerous lives of families in numerous villages of Turkmenistan depend on knots that make up those rugs. Village women usually hang their rugs on the walls of their homes. You will come across a rug at some point of all weddings or funerals. The wool used in making of the Turkmen rugs comes from the Karakul sheep and the rugs take their red color from pomegranate juice. The patterns give away the Turkmen tribe that originally made the rug. The past of Turkmen is full of poverty and famine. This is why the wish of abundance is used often in daily life, just like the tradition of rubbing banknotes to each other after selling produce at the market place.

Shopping at the desert
Women and young girls dream, weave, and hit the roads since there are rugs to sell; sheep to butcher; families to feed. For the last two centuries, the Turkmen women hurried to the Desert Market, where the heart of the commerce in Turkmenistan beats. In fact, this market that has been started to be set first in the 1800s, was open twice weekly and its working hours were determined by the surprises of the desert climate. Today, there is the Golden Century Eastern Market where you can find anything from handicrafts to electronics and from hand-made rugs to produce. It is about 20 km away from the capital. It is open every day of the week and it is a popular stop among the tourists as well as people who come from all over Central Asia. You can find all the unique colors and cultures of Central Asia in this market place. Cloth batches will be unrolled; silver goods will be shined; the Turkmen will get the worth of hard work. The market is also recognized with its architecture resembling an Ahal pattern, which is unique to a Turkmen rug, and the application made to the Guiness World Book of Records for being the “World’s Largest Open Market Place”.

After the earthquake
The foundations of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan where the heritage of a nomadic culture has been persistently preserved, were laid originally at the end of the 19th century by the Russians. It used to be a quiet and wealthy border town, populated mostly by the Russians, on the Trans-Caspian railway. However, the town was shaken by a magnitude nine earthquake on October 6, 1948 near 1 am and destroyed in less than one minute. 110 thousand people, which was the two third of the population then, lost their lives on that day. The town had been forbidden to foreigners for years after that. The Turkmen people who lost a large portion of the intelligentsia during this natural disaster still feel the lack.

Today, we are facing a modern city that was rebuilt in the Soviet style. The state buildings, monuments, and statues make one feel the struggle to create a spirit of national unity and identity. In fact, it is a surprisingly quiet city. After observing the city’s current structure with its restaurants and extraordinary locations for a few days, you might want to discover its past.

The promised new city
Ashgabat, which means the ‘city of love’ in Farsi, has become one of the outstanding cities of Central Asia with its marble palaces, magnificent domes, well maintained parks, and its recreation along with its liberation. As the change and transformation of the city that was established almost completely on the gas and oil profits of Turkmenistan continue at full speed, so does the rise of milky white marble structures day after day. Founding leader of Turkmenistan and late Chief of the State Saparmurat Türkmenbaşı Niyazov had kept his promise as he said, “I will build a white city for you,” and covered all corners of the city with structures built with white marbles. The white marble imported from Turkey and Italy has no veins. Since it is a natural gas rich country, they don’t worry about the color of the marble growing darker in time. It would be useful to add that smoking outdoors is prohibited.

A white monumental future
Monument of Neutrality is among the significant monuments of the city, symbolizing the liberty of the country. The monument that points the neutral state of Turkmenistan that was recognized before the United Nations on December 12, 1995 was inspired by the tripod furnace known as ‘tagan’ that represents durability to the Turkmens. The Museum of Neutrality and an observation terrace take place on top of the monument, which is 75 meters tall. The gold-plated bronze statue of Saparmurat Türkmenbaşı that is located on top of the monument rotates thanks to a special system, completing one tour around itself in 24 hours, and can be seen from all over the city. In addition, a 38-ton bronze bull statue that carries the world on his horns, which is located on top of the Earthquake Museum that was erected in the memory of those who died during the Ashgabat Earthquake in 1948, draws interest.

Dates and architecture
Another striking monument of the city is the Statue of Constitution that was designed for the 20th anniversary of the country’s liberation. The monument, which was established on 120 thousand sqm of land, can be reached through an entrance known as the Ceremonial Ground that is surrounded by green lawn and ponds. You come across 12-meter tall soldier statues in here. The measurements and numbers used around the structures also have meanings for Turkmenistan. The total height of the monument, which is 185 meter, points the 185 countries that recognized the neutral state of Turkmenistan. In addition, the body that consists of three layers of octagonal Turkmen stars that sums up to 27 meters in height and the 91-meter tall tower that settles on top of the body symbolize the date when the country gained its freedom: 27.10.1991; and the date when the constitution was adopted: 18.5.1992.

The country of legendary horses
Ahal Teke horses, which were seen for the first time in Turkmenistan and domesticated about three thousand years ago, are both the symbol and the national pride of the country. Not honoring these horses that were mythologized with the Epic of Manas and the Tales of Dede Korkut in the capital would be unimaginable. The 10th Year Horse that was constructed on the tenth year of the liberation of Turkmenistan is a memorial park. The monument, which is located at the center of the park, is climbed through the steps that represent the rise of Turkmenistan. The octagonal Turkmen star shaped ornamental fountain is topped by a monument that consists of ten Ahal Teke horses, each symbolizing one of the 10 years of the country’s liberation.

The largest mosque of Central Asia
The largest mosque of Central Asia takes place is Ashgabat. The mosque was built by the order of Saparmurat Türkmenbaşı in the memory of his mother Gurbansultan who died during the earthquake in 1948. It is located in his birthplace, the Kipczak Village. The Karakum Desert, among the largest and the hottest of the world, is located to the north of the village. The desert occupies about the 80 percent of land surface of Turkmenistan. Despite the desert, the mosque is surrounded by fountains, pools, special flowers brought from the shoulders of the Kopetdağ Mountains, bushes and exotic trees purchased from Italy and Spain. The mosque that is placed in an area about 17 thousand sqm has a capacity of 10 thousand. 91-meter height minarets symbolize the date when the declaration of independence was made in 1991. A material that changes color with the sunlight is used on top of the minarets and the dome. A gigantic octagonal Turkmen rug, which is 215 sqm, covers the floor of the mosque. Verses of the Quran and quotations from Ruhname, the spiritual guide that was written by Türkmenbaşı between the years of 1997 and 2001 and studied at schools and workplaces as a textbook, take place on the marble covered walls of the mosque. Next to the mosque, the graves of his mother who died at the earthquake and his two sisters take place in the area that was ordered to be prepared as the family cemetery of Türkmenbaşı. He was also laid to rest in this family cemetery after his death.

DID YOU KNOW?
Rice is holly for the Turkmens. They cook rice for the spirits of their deceased on Thursdays and Fridays.

CURIOSITY STOP
If you want to see the Ahal Teke horses, which is the pride of the Turkmens, stop by the Ashgabat Racetrack. The riders are also interesting to see in their traditional clothes.