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Culture in Soviet period

In 1881, after conquering the Turkmen, the Russians created the Trans-Caspian oblast (province), which became part of the governorate-general of Turkistan in 1899. The Bolsheviks established control over the area in 1920. In October 1924, when Central Asia was divided into distinct political entities, the Transcaspian Territory and Turkmen Oblast of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic became the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. Owing to forced collectivization during the first decades of Soviet rule, the Turkmen were transformed from pastoral nomads into sedentary farmers. They cultivated cotton and bred horses, camels, and karakul sheep. In the oasis strip along the middle Amu Dar’ya, they raised silkworms and grew cotton.

The Communist authorities suppressed religious expression and education. They closed most religious schools and mosques and banned  religious observances. Some religious customs, such as Muslim burial and male circumcision, continued to be practiced throughout the Soviet period. Religious customs were preserved especially in rural areas.

Families continued to be close knit and often raised more than five children. It was common for married sons to remain with their parents,  living together in an extended one-story clay structure with a courtyard and garden plot. In both rural and urban areas, respect for elders was great; Turkmen still consider grandparents sources of wisdom and spirituality.

The Soviet period dampened but did not suppress the expression of all Turkmen cultural traditions. Turkmen continued to produce their famous carpets; men continued to wear the high sheepskin hats, while women adorned themselves with distinctive Turkmen fabrics and jewelry. Turkmen also maintained their rich musical heritage and oral literature.

Turkmen leaders declared Turkmenistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The new government has made efforts to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule. It has ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have financed the opening of religious schools and mosques as well as instruction in Arabic, the Qur’an, and Islamic history. Courses on edep, or proper moral conduct according to traditional Turkmen and Islamic values, have been introduced in the public schools, and efforts are being made to contact Turkmen living outside Turkmenistan.