Turkmenistan is the southernmost republic of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the loose federation created at the end of 1991 by most of the post-Soviet states. Its longest border is with the Caspian Sea (1,786 kilometers). The other borders are with Iran (to the south, 992 kilometers), Afghanistan (to the south, 744 kilometers), Uzbekistan (to the north and east, 1,621 kilometers) and Kazakstan (to the north, 379 kilometers). Turkmenistan is slightly larger than California in territory, occupying 488,100 square kilometers. That statistic ranks Turkmenistan fourth among the former Soviet republics. The country's greatest extent from west to east is 1,100 kilometers, and its greatest north-to-south distance is 650 kilometers.
Turkmenistan's average elevation is 100 to 220 meters above sea level, with its highest point being Mount Ayrybaba (3,137 meters) in the Kugitang Range of the Pamir-Alay chain in the far east, and its lowest point in the Transcaspian Depression (100 kilometers below sea level). Nearly 80 percent of the republic lies within the Turon Depression, which slopes from south to north and from east to west.
Turkmenistan's mountains include 600 kilometers of the northern reaches of the Kopetdag Range, which it shares with Iran. The Kopetdag Range is a region characterized by foothills, dry and sandy slopes, mountain plateaus, and steep ravines; Mount Shahshah (2,912 meters), southwest of Ashgabat, is the highest elevation of the range in Turkmenistan. The Kopetdag is undergoing tectonic transformation, meaning that the region is threatened by earthquakes such as the one that destroyed Ashgabat in 1948 and registered nine on the Richter Scale. The Krasnovodsk and Üstirt plateaus are the prominent topographical features of northwestern Turkmenistan.
A dominant feature of the republic's landscape is the Garagum Desert, which occupies about 350,000 square kilometers (see Environmental Issues, this ch.). Shifting winds create desert mountains that range from two to twenty meters in height and may be several kilometers in length. Chains of such structures are common, as are steep elevations and smooth, concrete-like clay deposits formed by the rapid evaporation of flood waters in the same area for a number of years. Large marshy salt flats, formed by capillary action in the soil, exist in many depressions, including the Kara Shor, which occupies 1,500 square kilometers in the northwest. The Sundukly Desert west of the Amu Darya is the southernmost extremity of the Qizilqum (Russian spelling Kyzyl Kum) Desert, most of which lies in Uzbekistan to the northeast.
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