BY: Eden Cohen
Mealtimes are important to the people of Turkmenistan- they bring families together . Turkmens eat three meals a day but dinner is the main meal. Traditionally, the head of the family takes the first bite. Also traditionally, families sit on a piece of cloth on the ground, although today Turkmens normally eat in chairs surrounding a table. Guests are always welcome at homes in Turkmenistan and normally never leave without a cup of tea or a bite to eat.
Education has changed a lot for Turkmens. In the early 2000s the president required schools to teach from his book, the Ruhnama, about religion and morality. This rule is not enforced today. Kids get a good education. Their parents expect good grades and good behavior. Turkmen kids start school at six years old and end at eighteen- twelve years of school are required. Education is free but families are expected to buy their own supplies and uniforms.There are also some private schools, but they are mostly for foreign students. The national school clothing for boys is a white shirt, dark pants, and a skullcap. The national school clothing for girls is a red or green dress with a white apron and a skullcap. Classes are taught in Turkmen but the children learn English and Russian as well.
A School in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is unusual, as it is a non-religious or secular state. Turkmens consider religious rituals as cultural traditions. They are used mostly during funerals and weddings. Most Turkmens are Muslim but few practice religion daily. Muslims in Turkmenistan often mix tradition with religion. Some Turkmens also believe in the healing power of herbs and charms.
Sufism is a form of mystical Islam that is widely followed in Turkmenistan. Shrines, or holy places, are visited regularly by people that practice Sufism. Some take day trips to shrines and bring food and offerings.
Muslim men in Turkmen pray at mosques on Fridays and during Holidays. The Russian community in Turkmenistan is mainly Russian Orthodox Christian and attend church on religious holidays. During the Soviet era, religion was discouraged and many mosques were closed down. Today, Turkmens are not as religious as they were before the Soviet era, but some religious activity has been restored. Presently, all religious communities must register and be approved my the government to practice their faith openly. The government also limits the amount of Muslims that can travel to Mecca.
A Mosque in Ashgabat
There are lots of holidays throughout the year. Turkmens have two New Year's Holidays, one of January 1st and one March 21st. On January 1st, Turkmens believe that how they welcome the New Year is how they will spend the rest of the year, so they wear new clothes and clean their homes. The second celebration (March 21) is called Nowruz Bayram, aka Novruz. It is a two-day spring festival that involves folk performances, parades, and sporting events. Women make traditional treats called semeni, made with sprouted wheat slowly cooked until it's a thick and sweet porridge.
Muslims in Turkmenistan celebrate Oraza Bayram, aka Eid al-Fitr. It is a three day festival the marks the end of the holiday Ramadan, which involves fasting from sunrise to sunset. People spend Oraza Bayram visiting relatives and friends and eating traditional foods. They also wear new clothes. Muslims also celebrate Kurban Bayram, aka Eid al-Adha. On this holiday Muslims kill a sheep in remembrance of the prophet Abramham's willingness to sacrifice his son. The meat is given to family members and the poor. In the morning men go to a special prayer at their mosque while women make food for a big meal.
Independence Day is on October 27th, celebrated with military parades, cultural performances, and fireworks at the capital.
An Independence Day Military Parade
Sports and Entertainment
Turkmenistan has a long history of horse racing. They also engage in gores, or wrestling. Falconry is also popular in this country; it is often performed at special events. During weddings wrestlers compete for prizes including livestock or money.
Soccer is a favorite in Turkmenistan. It is watched and played by men and children. Most kids have a soccer ball at home and play with their friends regularly. The Turkmenistan National Soccer/Football Team plays matches in modern stadiums in Ashgabat and internationally.
Kids play volleyball, basketball, and handball during PE at school. Girls generally like dodgeball and jumprope, while boys prefer karate, Judo, and Taekwondo. Everybody plays chess and checkers and chess is often taught at school. Backgammon, locally known as shesh-besh, is played by older men. Large public swing sets are built throughout the country because Turkmens believe that swinging gets rid of sin.
Families in Turkmenistan are very close. Parents spend time with their children as much as possible. Monday through Saturday is school. After school kids usually play until dinner. After dinner the children study. During free time kids like to watch cartoons, play computer games, and listen to music. They also like soccer, riding bikes, and rollerblading. For children that live in the country, playtime is limited because they help their parents with farming and breeding livestock.
Girls usually work with their mothers in the kitchen and learn how to sew. Older children are expected to watch the younger kids. As boys and girls get older, boys are allowed to do more things than girls such as staying out after dark with friends or alone. On the weekends, time is usually spent visiting relatives and usually families visit their grandparent's house for a meal.
A Very Skilled Turkmen Chess Player
One famous person from Turkmenistan is Alty Karliev, an actor, director, and dramatist. He was born in Babadaikhan and got an education in filmaking, dramaturgy, and acting. He worked at the Turkmen Drama Theater and the Theater of Opera and Ballet in Ashgabat. He was involved in the filmaking industry from 1939 unitl his death in 1973. He participated in a number of well-known movies and was considered to be the best Turkmen film director in history.
Another famous person in Turkmenistan is Igor Pirekeev, a competitive shooter. Igor is one of Turkmenistan's most successful athletes at international competitions. In 2002 he won the Asian Games and has placed well at the Olympics and other competitions. So far he has not won an Olympic medal. When not shooting, Igor is an official at his country's state TV company.
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