Mary is the capital city of Mary Province in Turkmenistan. Former names include Merv, Meru and Margiana. The city is an oasis in the Karakum Desert, located on the Murghab river. In 2009, Mary had a population of 123,000, up from 92,000 in the 1989 census. In Kerait tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus was buried here.
The ancient city of Merv was an oasis city on the Silk Road. It was occupied by Imperial Russia in 1884, triggering the Panjdeh Incident between Afghan forces and the Imperial Russian Army. The modern settlement was founded later that year as a Russian military and administrative post.
A force of the British Indian Army consisting of a machine gun detachment comprising 40 Punjabi troops and a British officer resisted the Bolsheviks near Merv in August 1918 in what was the first direct confrontation between British and Russian troops since the Crimean War.
Mary was developed by the Soviet Union as a center for cotton production through the use of extensive irrigation. In 1968, huge reserves of natural gas were discovered 20 kilometers west of the city
Mary is known for its Regional Museum. The city lies near the remains of the ancient city of Merv, which in corrupted form gives its name to the modern town.