Introduction / History
More than four million Turkmen live in Turkmenistan, which is located in south Central Asia along the Caspian Sea. Many others live in the surrounding Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Their culture has been strongly influenced in the past by both Turkic conquerors, who imposed their language on them, and Arabs, who forced them to convert to Islam. Long ago, they developed a strong ethnic identity as "children of the desert" because they would plunder rich caravans of Persian traders.
In the 17th century, the Turkmen, or Trukhmens as they were called in Russia, migrated into the Caucasus. Turkmen use Russian as their literary language.
What are their lives like?
For centuries the Turkmen lived as nomadic herdsmen. Their society was characterized by a distinct economic division between the cattlemen and farmers. This division was present in almost every tribe, settlement, and family. However, the past seventy years of Soviet rule has virtually eliminated their nomadic life-style. The socialization of farmland has changed their traditional settlement patterns, and movement into the cities has naturally weakened their customs and traditions.
Tribal loyalties continue to have a strong influence over the people. The largest descent group is the tribe, then the clan, then the family. Members of a tribe are bound by a strong sense of family loyalty. Tribal loyalty is reinforced by the fact that the Turkmen will only marry within their tribes. Arranged marriages are common, and families often intermarry to preserve wealth. Although there have been political and economic changes through the years, less changes have occurred in the areas of family life and religion.
The Turkmen are especially known for their brisk trade in the bazaars, where many samples of their handicrafts can be found. Some of these include metal and wooden household utensils, tools, and furniture. Many have also supplemented their income by producing intricately designed carpets. Oil and gas production are the major sources of wealth.
Turkmen tend to be physically strong and easily able to endure the harshness of the environment. They are characterized by their hospitality, sincerity, and trustworthiness; however, they are also known as being hot-headed and revengeful.
Men usually wear baggy trousers, coarse shirts, boots, and wool hats. Women love wearing jewelry, especially anklet and bracelets. They cover their heads with cloth, like turbans that are also adorned with jewelry.
What are their beliefs?
Nestorian Christians entered Turkmenistan in the fourth century A.D.; by the beginning of the fourteenth century, though, any lingering trace of Christianity had been totally replaced by Islam. This transition gradually came to influence the political, civil, and economic lives of the people.
In 1928, the Soviet authorities launched an anti-religious campaign aimed at the complete destruction of Islam among the Turkmen. The campaign was the harshest and most violent of all anti-Islamic attacks in Central Asia. Today, despite the outward conformity to Islam, mysticism and other past religious traditions are still prevalent.
What are their needs?
There is little awareness of Christianity among the Turkmen, and very few are believers. Christian churches have been closed, and members told they cannot meet. Believers face scrutiny from the government. Hostility to evangelistic activities has increased since 1997.
Although there is only a small population of Turkmen who have crossed the northwestern border of Turkmenistan and are living in Kazakhstan, the Bible League is using Project Philip there and training church planters effectively.
Laborers and evangelistic tools are desperately needed for the Turkmen.
A Gospel witness to Turkmen will be most effective coming from other Turkmen who are culturally sensitive. Turkmen pastors face great hardship and persecution. Some have been fined, beaten and put in jail. Their sacrifice will be the seeds of the Kingdom sown into Turkmen lives.
* Pray that God would raise up strong, bold Turkmen believers who will preach the Gospel without fearing for their lives.
* Pray that persecution will bring unity and stronger faith to Turkmen Christians.
* Ask the Lord to anoint His Word to Turkmen believers.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to live among Turkmen and share with them the love of Christ.
* Pray that Christian radio broadcasts and literature will be made available to the Turkmen.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Turkmen believers.
* Pray that they will have opportunities to share the Gospel with their own people.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will soften the hearts of Turkmen towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Turkmen.