About Sifting the Karakum
The Karakum, or "black sand" desert, covers 70 percent of Turkmenistan’s surface. Population is sparse there, with only one person per 2.5 miles. Rain might come once in a decade. Underneath this austere territory lies the ancient city of Merv, near today's Mary, whose ruins are still studied by scholars around the world, as well as a great deal of oil and gas, making Turkmenistan's reserves among the largest in the world.
Little of the country’s closed political system has changed since President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov succeeded long-time dictator Saparmurat Niyazov – the Turkmenbashi, or “father of all Turkmen” – in 2006. Civic activists continue to be harassed, detained, or forced to leave the country. All lines of power lead to the president, who maintains a harsh top-down management of subordinate officials who are constantly reprimanded, shuffled around, or dismissed for "shortcomings" and "negligence."
With so much of what happens in Turkmenistan hidden or deliberately suppressed, it is our hope to sift through what stories do emerge in domestic and international media, and attempt to see the true dimensions of a country whose impoverished people rarely see the benefits of their nation's tremendous wealth.
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