Introduction / History
While the majority of Turkmen live in Turkmenistan, a significant group also lives in the southwestern region of Tajikistan. This area of Central Asia is bordered on the south by Afghanistan and on the east by China.
The main homeland of the Turkmen is the central Asian region, formerly known as Turkestan. It has long served as a meeting place for various peoples and cultures, as well as a fierce battleground for many of the great Asian conquerors including Emir, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane.
For centuries the Turkmen lived as nomadic herdsmen. However, the seventy years of Soviet rule has virtually eliminated their nomadic lifestyle. The socialization of farmland has changed their traditional settlement patterns, and movement into the cities has naturally weakened their customs and traditions. Today most are farmers and cattle raisers.
What are their lives like?
Traditional Turkmen society was characterized by a distinct economic division between cattlemen and farmers. This division was present in almost every tribe, settlement, and family. Today, mainly due to the domination by the Russians, many Turkmen live settled lives, working in the urban areas.
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 weaving carpets.
The Turkmen society is definitely male-dominated. Women are restricted and often treated as second-class citizens. They are slow to speak and reserved while in the presence of men. Arranged marriages are still very common and families often inter-marry to preserve wealth. Ordinarily, a man does not separate from his father's household until he is between the ages of 30 and 40. By this time, he has been married for 10 to 20 years and has children old enough to be economically productive. Once a man has established a household of his own, he arranges the marriages of his own daughters according to their birth order.
Men usually wear baggy trousers, coarse shirts, boots, and shaggy wool hats. Women love wearing jewelry, especially anklets and bracelets. They cover their heads in fine cotton cloths (like turbans) that are also adorned with jewelry.
The Turkmen are generally tall and thin. They are physically strong and easily able to endure the harshness of the environment. Although Turkmen are characterized by their hospitality, trustworthiness, and sincerity, they are also known as being hot-headed and revengeful.
The Turkmen love to play Buzjashi, a wild polo-like game played by two teams on horseback. The game, which uses the headless carcass of a goat or calf as the "ball," can be very violent and go on for two or three days.
What are their beliefs?
The vast majority of the Turkmen in Tajikistan are Muslims of the Hanafite branch. Nestorian Christians entered Turkestan in the fourth century A.D.; but by the beginning of the fourteenth century, this had been totally replaced by Islam. This transition gradually came to influence the political, civil, and economic lives of the people.
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 of Tajikistan. They urgently need to hear the glorious Gospel of Christ!
Missions agencies currently focusing on them have made very little progress. More laborers and evangelistic tools are desperately needed. With modern technology, there may be some inroads possible through satellite television and radio.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Tajikistan and share Christ with the Turkmen.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Turkmen.
* Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with the Turkmen.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Turkmen toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Tajikistan's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Turkmen.