Turkmenistan is a country roughly the size of California, sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran. After gaining independence in 1991, the country has pursued isolationist policies that have effectively cut off much of its population from the rest of the world. An estimated 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line despite immense natural resources (mostly gas deposits) and an approximate 20 percent growth in the GDP in 2003. At one time the country was a leading producer of cotton, but poor agricultural policies have lead to a decline in the production of this crop.
Turkmenistan's heritage includes some of the greatest empires in history. Alexander the Great founded Merv around the Margiana Oasis, and the Parthian Empire (a rival to that of Rome) had a capital close to modern Ashgabat. Later the Seljuk Turks took control of Merv until the Mongols of Genghis Khan overran the area. In the mid to late eighteenth century the Russian Empire seized the territory now know as Turkmenistan and the Soviet Union, after inheriting Central Asia from the former of the Russian Empire, delineated its present day borders by making it the Turkmen SSR in 1924. As a result Turkmenistan never existed as a sovereign country until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Of all the leaders in Central Asia Saparmurad Niyazov is unique. Called Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) within the country, Niyazov has created a cult of personality similar to that developed by Stalin. He has renamed the days of the week as well as the months of the year. The new names of the day and year commemorate himself, the country, its famous leaders and poets and his mother. He has also authored a religious/philosophical book called the Ruhnama which has become a required text in the country's secondary school curricula.
Niyazov has gathered power about him and created a sense of nationalism. Unfortunately many of his policies deliberately isolate the country's people from the rest of the world. Turkman is the official language of the country. Only citizens of ethnic Turkman lineage may hold local government posts. He has reduced the length of secondary school to nine or ten years in length and recently, he revoked the recognition of academic degrees received outside of the country after 1993. All of these measures serve to isolate the nation's people from the international community both physically and intellectually. Despite many promises of goods and services to the populace, little progress has been made in this regard and the country has one of the highest poverty rates in the world.
Primary and Secondary Education
Primary and secondary grades are combined and now represent a total of nine years of education culminating in the State Examination for School Leaving Certificate, which is called the Certificate of Secondary Education. As noted, this represents a reduction of one year from the 10 years existing during the period prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vocational and academic options exist beyond the State Leaving Examination.
Students also have the ability to earn a Diploma of Specialized Secondary Education awarded by colleges as well as technical schools. The duration of these studies can last anywhere between 2-4 years and represent training for specialized fields.
The Bakalavr is presented to students after their successful completion of 4 years of post-secondary study.
Second and Third Cycle
The Kandidat Nauk is conferred after 3 years of studies and a defense of a thesis. Holders are qualified to teach at a higher education institution. Those who wish to further their studies can pursue a Doktor Nauk which is awarded after 2 years of research leading to a defense of a thesis that makes a significant contribution to their field of study.