Friday, November 20, 2015

Admiring the National Emblem of Turkmenistan

So last week I was in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, for a big Exhibition and Conference on Education and Sports. I was very lucky to be able to participate as it's very difficult to get a visa to for Turkmenistan. It was a very interesting trip, and hopefully won't be my last!

But more on the actual trip another time. I want to write about something I couldn't keep my eyes off while I was there: the National Emblem of Turkmenistan.

Almost everywhere I went, the main auditorium of the Exhibition Hall, various auditoriums or meeting rooms in a couple of universities, the hotel, the airport... there it was, right in from of me. Together with a photo of the President. When more than half the talks you're listening to are in Russian or Turkmen, and the translator isn't always doing a great job, you end up spending a lot of time observing your surroundings. And the more I looked at the Emblem, the more I was sure each element of it had to tell an interesting story. So I asked one of the other participants I met there, a Russian who's quite a expert on Turkmenistan (both subject of his research and has been there 5 times). So here goes (with complementary info courtesy of Wikipedia)!

At the centre: a horse. More specifically an Akhal-Teke horse (apparently it's the previous president's horse Yanardag, born in the Spring after Independence from the USSR in 1991), a breed very important to the once tribal people of Turkmenistan who depended on them for survival (it's now their national animal - by the way: no horse meat on the  menu in Turkmenistan, unlike the other Central Asian countries!). There's a magnificent statue to these horses in town, of which I only got a quick "drive by" photo as I never had time to go back and properly wander around, camera in hand... Next time!

Five carpets on a red background surround Yanardag: symbols of the Turkmen people (a carpet was on their old Soviet emblem as well, and Turkmenistan has a "Ministry of Carpets"). Each carpet has a different pattern or guls, corresponding to the five different Turkmen tribes. Their relative position even refers to the tribes' geographical distribution on the map of Turkmenistan! These same carpet guls are present on the flag of Turkmenistan. (Next trip I'm saving up the money to get one, the few I say were gorgeous, but definitely not cheap. Plus I need to find time to visit the National Carpet Museum)

Continuing outwards in this circular pattern, we find the red disc surrounded by two sheaves of white wheat (ak bugday), joined at the base by cotton flowers in bloom. These are two very important and emblematic agricultural products in Turkmenistan. Research done by Turkmen scientists indicate that white wheat originated in this part of the world, and the country has a strong cotton-based industry (I visited some textile shops where everything on sale was of national production made from Turkmen cotton).

In the centre of the top tips of this wheat, five stars and a crescent moon. The crescent moon with the star is common in Turkic symbology. Here the moon apparently also represents hope for the future, and each of the five stars represents one of the five regions or welayatlar of Turkmenistan.

All of these elements are encased in an eight-point star, a common symbol of Islam (majority religion in Turkmenistan). This symbol is known as the Rub el Hizb, and it is used in the Quran to mark the separation between different chapters or surahs.

As for the colours: green and red have apparently been historically venerated by the Turkmen people. I don't know about the green, but red was a very abundant colour everywhere! All students have to wear the National Clothes as a uniform, and for University women this has to be in a shade of red. So in this Conference and Exhibition, with a lot of University students participating, sometimes it felt like there was a sea of red! (They look very elegant and beautiful by the way!).

Students from the International University for the Humanities and Development

Oh, and most of these elements are also present on the flag of Turkmenistan (minus the horse, wheat and cotton).

As I said, I was quite fascinated by this emblem/logo, thinking about the possible meaning of each element. And I love the fact that it is very representative of this country and its people. It tells a good story. :o)


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