March 19, 2004 - April 03,2004

Day 02   Saturday March 20, 2004
City tour of   Ashkabad, Turkmenistan
Submitted by Bob & Carol Okano 


      Independence Park of  Turkmenistan                                  Visiting a painter family's work shop                   The Biggest Mosque of Turkmenistan

Three members of the group and Meli arrived from Istanbul and we started touring as a group.  The last member would join us a week later in Uzebekistan.  This was to be the rainiest day of the entire tour!
The Carpet Museum contained an impressive array of old and new carpets and exhibits of all aspects of carpet-making.    Virtually all the carpets were of Turkmen design.  Carpets are so important to the Turkmen that the basic designs representing the five regions of Turkmenistan are on its national flag.  During the days of the Silk Road, Turkmen carpets were sold in Bukhara so they were known as “Bukhara” carpets.  Turkmen carpets are typically dark red with repeating variations of the regional patterns in darker colors.  The border is usually comprised of several succeeding patterns of varying widths.  There could be many interpretations to the designs of a carpet.  There is a saying that goes, “Spread the carpet and I’ll read your soul” as the carpet-maker has woven his or her soul into the design. 

Turkmen Carpets are made in different regions of  this country

The following are observations of types of carpets on display.  Old carpets as well as replicas of old designs.  Carpets woven for horses and camels.  Carpets for everyday uses such as bags for kitchen dishes and spindles.  Carpets for shepards.  Carpets for men.  Carpets in a U-shape to be placed over the doorway of a house or yurt.  When a girl is eight or nine she makes a carpet envelope into which she accumulates dowry items.  Holy carpet that is not put on the floor.  Funeral carpet for burial.  Prayer rugs that are put down so their heads are facing Mecca.  Kilim carpets that are woven and without pile.  Carpet design of four sections to represent child, youth, middle age and old age or the four seasons.  Two-sided carpet that is woven on each side alternately row-by-row to produce the desired effect.  The only tools used by the carpetmaker are the comb, knife and scissors.  The natural dyes for the yarns come from nuts, parts of plants and insects. 

Two of the largest carpets ever made were on display.  One is approximately 35 x 59 feet, weighs almost a ton, is made up of 49,000,000 knots and was worked on by 40 people.

We had lunch at a Turkish restaurant.  We had spring salad, a combination of corn, shredded carrots, red and green cabbage, lettuce and tomato with a light dressing, potatoes, grilled sturgeon from the Caspian Sea and fruit for dessert.

We visited the Suleyman Demirel Mosque that was a gift from Turkey to Turkmenistan.  Suleyman Demirel was president of Turkey from 1993 to 2000.  It is modeled after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and has the scaled-down characteristics of a central dome, several cupolas and four minarets.  There was no activity in the mosque at that time so we took photos of the interior.  The floor was covered with an expanse of carpet in the design of individual prayer rugs.  There were beautiful stained glass windows and quotes of the Koran in Arabic script, but missing the beautiful blue tiles of the original.

We were given a tour of the city from the bus.  Musa gave us a brief political history of the country.  In 1917 after the Russian Revolution, the Bolshivicks were in charge.  For a while Turkmenistan was known as the Trans Caspian Autonomous Republic.  In 1924 it became the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic.  Turkmenistan was under the Soviets for seventy years.  Russian was the official language so all official business was carried out in Russian and it was taught in school.  The culture of the Turkmen was severely damaged during that period by discouraging the language and native traditions.  The forty mosques in the city were reduced to four practicing mosques.  The country declared its independence in 1991.  Since then great efforts are being made to raise awareness of the Turkmen culture.  It is now the official language of the country.  School is taught in Turkmen, English is the second language studied and Russian the third.

On Oct. 6, 1948 an earthquake that measured 9 on the Richter scale leveled the city.  About two-thirds of the population of 170,000 perished and only three or four buildings remained.  Most of the homes were and still are constructed of mud brick.  The rebuilt city is laid out in a precise grid of wide streets and avenues.  The focus of the city is the vast campus of parliament, congress, government administration buildings and the presidential palace.  The buildings are immense imposing structures faced with white marble.  The single attraction of the city is the 250-foot high Arch of Neutrality topped with a gilded statue of President Niyazov.  Turkmenistan declared its neutral status in 1995 and the arch was constructed a few years later.  Near the Arch of Neutrality is a monument to the victims of the earthquake in the form of a very large bull with a globe resting on its shoulders.  Another monument in the park is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War II.  At one end are statues of soldiers and a figure with outstretched arms under a large arch and at the other end is a group of four very tall spires suggesting flower petals.  Everything in the park is built on a large scale.

In a newly developed area in the south side of the city is the very large Independence Park that commemorates the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  The park features statues of many symbolic figures representing the country and hundreds of fountains, all on a grand scale.  Near the entrance is a gilded statue of the president surrounded by a fountain.  Another fountain included five eagles representing the five regions of Turkmenistan, snakes with two heads and Ahal Teke horses.  There were also many large statues representing Turkmen as heroic figures.  We would have found this park more appealing had it not been pouring—there was water everywhere. 

We passed by the 29,000-seat stadium that is the largest in Central Asia.

We visited the studio of the artist couple, Solgun and Annoguli Hojakulieva, who are native Turkmen.  They received their art training in Moscow.  She was originally known for her embroidery work, but now concentrates on painting.  She has developed her own distinctive “naïve” style of painting that she uses to depict everyday life of Turkmen people. She is from a village in the desert so is knowledgeable about old traditions.  Her work has been featured in books and magazines.

We had dinner in a restaurant in one of the towers in or near Independence Park.

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