Turkmens - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Traditional Turkmen society was characterized by a distinctive division along economic lines between pastoralists ( charwa ) and agriculturalists ( chomur ). This division was found within almost every tribe and settlement and even within families. Individuals constantly alternated between these two life-styles, although the pastoralism was somewhat preferred. The traditional stock animal was the dromedary camel, well-suited to the climatic conditions of Turkmenistan. Only in the nineteenth century, with increased sedenterization, did sheep become the main animal in the Turkmen herds.

In the twentieth century Soviet planners have dictated the cultivation of cotton to the virtual exclusion of most other crops in Turkmenistan. The serious ecological repercussions of this cotton "monoculture," in terms of soil exhaustion and excessive water usage, have only recently been acknowledged. For example, the Kara Kum Canal, a Stalinist-era project to convey water for irrigation from the Amu Darya to the Turkmen Desert, has been shown to lose up to 50 percent of its water in transit (through seepage and evaporation) and to have significantly contributed to the dessication of the Aral Sea, formerly the world's second-largest inland sea, which is now rapidly disappearing. Very little industry has been developed in Turkmenistan and what does exist mainly employs ethnic Slavs.

A brisk trade is carried on in the bazaars of the republic, where many products not easily found in state stores, including fruits and vegetables from private plots and meat from privately held livestock, are readily available, although at much higher prices.

Industrial Arts. Many samples of Turkmen craft work can be found, especially in the bazaars. These include metal and wood household utensils, tools, and furniture. In modern times the traditional Turkmen practice of hand-weaving beautiful carpets has been transformed into a state industry with factories mass-producing carpets.

Trade. Since Turkmenistan is heavily oriented toward agriculture, the republic relies on other regions of the former Soviet Union for imports of most finished goods. In return, the republic exports virtually all of its raw materials, especially cotton and natural gas, to other former Soviet republics.

Division of Labor. Turkmen men and boys were traditionally responsible for tending the herds and performing heavy agricultural work, whereas women managed domestic affairs. Women and girls contributed to the household economy through weaving carpets. In modern times, men generally drive the machinery on the kolkhozy and manage the transport and sale of goods in the bazaar. Women and children represent the backbone of cotton harvesting, which is still mainly done by hand.

Land Tenure. Historically, pastures and natural water sources were held in common by the oba, whereas plowed fields and dug wells were considered private property. After sedentarizing, some Turkmen tribes developed a system of land tenure known as sanashik, in which there existed an equal division of land and water between tribes and tribal subdivisions. This system included an annual redistribution between all eligible landholders (i.e., married males) in the tribe. During the Soviet period, land was declared the property of the state and collectivized.

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