History Files


Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia




Verkâna (Hyrcania) & Mergu (Margiana)

The Persian satrapy of Verkâna was mangled into Hyrcania by the Greeks. The satrapy of Mergu became Margiana in Latin via Greek, although this was only a region within Chorasmia while under Persian administration. This ancient region was part of a wider home in Transoxiana to one of the oldest series of states in Central Asia, the indigenous Oxus Civilisation into which Indo-European people integrated. The satrapy of Hyrcania was situated along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, and stretching deep into the territory to the east of that, abutting Ariana and then Bactria, and was bordered by Margiana to the north. Margiana itself was bordered further north by a reduced Chorasmia which lay on the southern shores of the Aral Sea, largely in what now forms eastern Turkmenistan.

(Additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

330 - ? BC


Greek-appointed native satrap of Tapouria.

323 - 320? BC


Greek satrap of Parthia & Hyrcania.

320s BC

At this time the Indo-Scythians appear to reside midway between modern Iran and India, or at least the Amyrgian subset or tribe does. Achaemenid records identify two main divisions of 'Sakas' (an altered form of 'Scythians', these being the Saka Haumavarga and Saka Tigraxauda, with the latter inhabiting territory between Hyrcania and Chorasmia in modern Turkmenistan.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Sakas (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Indo-Scythians) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

314 - 311 BC

The Third War of the Diadochi results because the Empire of Antigonus has grown too powerful in the eyes of the other Greek generals, so Antigonus is attacked by Ptolemy (Egypt), Lysimachus (Thrace), Cassander (Macedonia), and Seleucus (Babylonia). The latter re-secures Babylon itself and the others conclude peace terms with Antigonus in 311 BC.

308 -301 BC

The Fourth War of the Diadochi soon breaks out. In 306 BC Antigonus proclaims himself king, so the following year the other generals do the same in their domains. Polyperchon, otherwise quiet in his stronghold in the Peloponnese, dies in 303 BC and Cassander of Macedonia claims his territory. The war ends in the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards, turning Alexander the Great's eastern empire into the Seleucid empire, which includes Hyrcania.

212 - 209 BC

Having defeated his rebellious cousin in Anatolia, Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC, while in 209 BC Antiochus invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace.

1918 - 1921

A reorganisation of Central Asian Soviet-controlled states along ethnic lines means the end of the khanate of Khiva, the Turkestan Krai, and the emirate of Bukhara (the latter being ousted by the Tashkent Soviet in 1920). They are merged into the newly-formed 'Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic', which is formed as a self-governing entity of the early Soviet Union. However, in the same year, the Islamic Council and the Council of Intelligentsia declare the rival 'Turkestan Autonomous Republic', and set about fighting against the Bolshevik forces who start closing down mosques and persecuting Muslim clergy as part of their secularisation campaign.

1921 - 1924

The Turkestan Autonomous Republic has gradually lost ground to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks themselves have been divided into two groups over the region's future, but the idea of a pan-Turkic state is jettisoned in place of several smaller states. In 1924 the Turkestan ASSR is divided into the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (Kyrgyzstan), and the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (modern Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan). Initially, the Tajik ASSR is also adjoined to the Uzbek state.

Modern Turkmenistan
AD 1924 - Present Day

Modern Turkmenistan is made up mainly of desert, and has the smallest population of the five Central Asian ex-Soviet republics. Its western border lies on the Caspian Sea. To the north it almost reaches the Aral Sea and is mainly bordered by Uzbekistan, with a divide formed by the River Amu Darya, while Iran and Afghanistan fill its southern and south-eastern borders.

The Black Desert region, or Karakum, was for a while home to Indo-European tribes from further north in Central Asia in the third millennium BC. Living here in vast mud-brick fortress citadels, herding cattle, and worshiping fire in rituals controlled by an early form of Brahmin, they also domesticated and worshipped the horse. Eventually they were forced southwards by climate change between about 2000-1500 BC. The bulk of them seemingly re-emerged in India as the Aryans who created the first documented states there, while some may have formed the proto-Persians and doubtless many others remained where they were to form part of the populations of later states in the region - albeit subsumed within the later-arriving Turkic population.

South-western Turkmenistan lies largely within the former Persian satrapy of Verkâna (Greek Hyrcania) while the eastern section lay partly within Bactria and much more so within Margu. This area was invaded by Alexander the Great's Greek empire, and Bactria became independent in 256 BC. Following that, the region was occupied by Indo-Scythians and Tocharians, and was controlled by the Kushans and then the Persian Sassanids. With the collapse of the Samanids in the ninth century AD the region became a battleground for vying factions of Turkic tribes, and it was the Turkic-speaking Oghuz who settled Turkmenistan and who today form much of its population. From the end of the tenth century AD the region was largely part of the emirate of Khwarazm, before being divided between the Mongol Il-Khanate and Mughulistan. Timurid Transoxiana claimed it next, and then it formed part of the region of Turkestan which was ruled by the Shaibanid empire in the sixteenth century. This in turn was displaced by the khanate of Khiva and then the Russian empire.

Turkmenistan in the modern sense was formed in 1924, when its Soviet masters divided Khiva and its short-lived successor, the Tashkent ASSR, The Turkmen SSR survived in that form until the collapse of the Soviet empire. In 1991 Turkmenistan became fully independent, with its capital at Ashgabat. Like the Soviet Union in the years before Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan now live under regimes that resolutely and brutally resist change. The capital, Ashgabat, soon lost its Soviet appearance, and began to resemble more and more a rather bizarre Las Vegas, with a giant star on top of a Palace of Happiness, and a wedding palace that changes colour. Rich in natural resources, with the world's fourth-largest gas reserves, Turkmenistan can afford this and much more extravagance.

(Additional information from Modern Times, H Kahler, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Lonely Planet, and The New York Times, and from the NOAA.)

1934 - 1939

Undaunted by his failures to date, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin directs a massive purge of the Bolshevik party, the armed forces (decimating the officer class), government and intelligentsia. Millions of people, labelled enemies of the state, are killed or imprisoned, with the notoriously harsh gulags in Siberia being used to deposit many thousands of his victims.

By the end of this decade another casualty of Soviet rule is the former pastoral nomadic existence of the Turkmen, now that a sedentary life is the only way to survive. Ethnic Russians are moved into the region, along with other groups from around the Soviet Union, serving to alter Turkmen social and cultural strands. Religious beliefs are attacked and mosques are closed down, but the country is generally peaceful, with many Turkmen continuing to live isolated agrarian lives that are less affected by Soviet oppression.


A magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes Ashgabat in south-western Turkmenistan - formerly an important location for the Blue Horde and White Horde. It makes an orphan of one Saparmyrat Niyazov, future president of Turkmenistan. Reporting of the disaster is strictly limited by the Soviet authorities, perhaps reluctant to admit to any kind of failing. Admiral Ellis Zacharias, former US deputy chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence, claims more than once that the earthquake is the result of the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test.

1950 - 1953

An over-ambitious canal-building programme is launched with the aim of connecting the Aral Sea to the Karakum Desert in order to irrigate it and make its soil productive. With Stalin's death in 1953 it is abandoned in an unfinished state, but work on the equally ambitious Qaraqum Canal begins the following year. In time this effectively drains the Amu Darya and severely diminishes the Aral Sea.

Turkmen canal
Soviet canal work was generally over-ambitious in scale and highly damaging to the surrounding ecology, especially in this case to the Aral Sea and the River Amu Darya


The turnover in general secretaries of a more senior level of experience in the Soviet Union now leaves an opening for younger, more reform-minded individual to make a mark on the Soviet Union. One of Mikhail Gorbachev's first actions is to remove from office Muhammetnazar Gapurow, first secretary of the Communist party in the Turkmen SSR. Unfortunately this leaves an opening for Saparmyrat Niyazov, who becomes a life-long 'dictator of Turkmenistan'.

1985 - 2006

Saparmyrat Niyazov

Dictator. 'Turkmenbashi' ('leader of the Turkmen'). Died.


Turkmen SSR achieves independence as the Soviet empire collapses. As with neighbouring Uzbekistan's own Communist leader, Turkmenistan's Saparmyrat (or Saparmurat) Niyazov is ready. He hails from Kipchak (or Gypjak), just outside Ashgabat. He makes a smooth transition from Communist Party first secretary to president, keeping a tight lid on his country of 5.1 million while cultivating a bizarre cult of personality.


Saparmyrat Niyazov has covered his desert republic with golden statues of himself, and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his 'golden age'. He has also ordered the construction of his own mausoleum, next to a giant mosque, before his death in 2006. Today it is guarded by strictly regimented soldiers similar to those who keep watch over Lenin's tomb on Red Square in Moscow. Acting President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyıewiç Berdymukhamedov (or Berdimuhamedow) formally succeeds in office after 'winning' the election in 2007 with a largely unopposed majority. This is despite the constitution stipulating that an acting president cannot stand for election. That inconvenient rule is swiftly cancelled by the 'People's Council in time for the elections.

2006 - Present

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Dictator. 'Arkadag' ('protector').


The Turkmen fascination with specially dedicated grandiose monuments has not ended with the death of Saparmyrat Niyazov. In May 2015 a gold-leaf statue of a mounted President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov perched on top of a vast 'cliff' of rock is unveiled in the capital. However, the new president has cut back the cult of personality, and restored many of Niyazov's more arbitrary cuts. The regime is more open than previously, even though it is still strictly authoritarian.