Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilisations for centuries. At 188,500 sq miles (488,100 km2), Turkmenistan is the world's 52nd-largest country. In medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world, and an important stop on the Silk Road, a large road used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Over 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sands) Desert. The capital of Turkmenistan is Ashgabat. Other main cities include Türkmenbasy, Dasoguz, Turkmenabat, Mary, and Balkanabat.
Advancement of the oil and gas industry is one of the main policy priorities for the country. Sustainable development of Turkmenistan’s natural resources, investment in infrastructure and the petrochemical industry are vital to the continued growth of the economy. The country is an important producer of crude oil and natural gas – and is the world number four in terms of gas reserves after Russia, Iran and Qatar. One half of its irrigated land is planted in cotton, making it also the world's 10th-largest cotton producer.
Central Asia has a complex geo-political location and Turkmenistan’s neighbours include Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Exploitation of the Caspian Sea, which is entirely landlocked, also involves co-operation with Azerbaijan and Russia. Until 1991 it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 27 October 1991, Turkmenistan is an independent country and on 12 December 1995, Turkmenistan received Neutrality status approved by the UN.
Mr Niyazov was the first President of Turkmenistan until 21 December 2006, when he passed away. Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow was elected as President and was sworn in on 14 February 2007.
The majority of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmen, sizeable minorities of Russians and Uzbeks also live in the country. Eighty-nine per cent of the population is Muslim.
The promotion of foreign direct investment is part of the Government’s development programme up to 2030. Dragon Oil is one of the largest external investors in Turkmenistan, having invested significant resources in onshore and offshore infrastructure and operating costs for the production of oil from the Cheleken Contract Area in the Caspian Sea.