Turkmenistan: Epics in Place of Historiography

J.M.J. Bouma

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The article analyzes the "Ruhnama", the "Book of the Spirit" of Turkmenistan's late President Saparmurat Niiazov (d. 2006), and its influence on history writing and teaching in Turkmenistan. I argue that the book was initially not intended as a history book but as an epos: it describes the customs and values of the ancient Turkmens and the epical heroes of the Turkmen tradition as models for the nation of today. Consistent with the traditional political functions of epics, the "Ruhnama" (2001) projected a unified identity of the Turkmen tribes back into the past, and legitimized the poitical order of the country after independence.
Under Niiazov no Turkmen history schoolbooks were published, and the "Ruhnama" served as a guiding text for history teachers who had no other 'official' materials. Under Niiazov's successor, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, new course books came out in 2008. In the new history books for the lower classes, the "Ruhnama" continues to be important, and history is still organized according to the epic epochs as described in the "Ruhnama". By contrast, the new textbooks for upper classes largely bypass the "Ruhnama"and its author. Yet while Niiazov is gradually removed from the realm of all-pervasive political leadership into the corner of epics, current president Berdimuhamedov's public representation still draws on narrative structures and techniques reminiscent of the "Ruhnama".
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-585
Number of pages27
JournalJahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Turkmenistan: Epics in Place of Historiography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this