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2023  N1-2(214-215)
Turkmenabat is one of the oldest cities in Turkmenistan. It was called Chardzhui from the late 15th century. Then, for a short time, it was called Leninsk, New Chardzhui, Chardzhou. And finally, it got its current name in 1999. However, in the distant past, it was called Amul – a fortress city with an impregnable citadel at the most convenient crossing over the Amu Darya River that existed from the first centuries of our era. It was an important place of the Great Silk Road, an intersection of the overland caravan roads from East to West and the river route from South to North. More than a thousand-year history of Amul ended in 1220, when the Mongol invasion led to the death of this city. A high hill with steep slopes with an area of some nine hectares located in the southern outskirts of the modern city is all that remained of it. It is a real Klondike for archaeologists, almost not excavated, hiding in its thickness a lot of evidence of the distant past, not yet known to science.
And there is an old building of an irregular shape in the center of the historical part of Turkmenabat. This is the Haji Myalik Mosque that was built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The architecture of the mosque with its elegant facade and carefully made brick cladding has always attracted attention of residents and guests of the city. Three semicircular arches with a high portal surmounted by two small turrets with sharp conical domes in the Ottoman style create an architectural image that is unparalleled in the architectural culture of this region. There was a round minaret on the right side of the facade. Its lantern with a metal dome was once the highest vantage point in Chardzhui.
Haji Myalik, after whom this mosque was named, was a well-known merchant of his time, a man of deep faith and very respected among fellow countrymen. After performing a pilgrimage to Mecca, he decided to build a temple for the Muslims of his native city at his own expense. He invited experienced Iranian craftsmen to accomplish this task. It is easy to imagine how the townspeople celebrated the opening of this mosque, as they never had such a monumental building before!
But this temple did not last long. After the establishment of the Soviet rule, persecution broke out against all religions. The mosque was expropriated by the state, and the minaret was demolished as a too visible sign of a religious building. At first, the building was adapted for a general education school. Later, it was converted into a communal dwelling. Over time, its inhabitants were resettled to new houses, and for several years the former mosque stood empty, gradually dilapidating and collapsing.
In the sixties of the last century, such well-known scientists as Mikhail Masson, Galina Pugachenkova, Terkesh Khodzhaniyazov, Viktor Pilipko advocated for the preservation and restoration of the historical building. And in 1964, the city authorities decided to house a local history museum in this building. Its exposition was divided into three sections. The first one was devoted to history and ethnography, the second one focused on the specifics of the nature of the region, and the third one presented the achievements of the local industry. One would naturally call that museum a provincial one, as the building itself was of much more interest than the modest collections housed in it.
In 2010, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov suggested erecting a new regional museum in the administrative center of Lebap province. It took a little more than one year to build it, and the new museum was opened on 15 September 2011, the eve of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence.
The white marble building has become the adornment of Turkmenabat and the architectural dominant of the railway station square. This massive structure was built in the recognizable style of modern Turkmen architecture. It immediately catches the eye of people leaving the building of the railway station. It is framed like an expensive painting by cascades of fountains, fragrant flower beds, compositions of ornamental trees and shrubs. The museum stands on a high podium with wide granite stairs leading to it from three sides. Classical stucco, mosaics and Asian-inspired gilded geometric ornaments are important elements of this building’s architecture.
The museum’s exposition is divided into five sections. Visitors first enter the central atrium accommodating the Independence Hall. It largely presents the products of various enterprises of Lebap province, above all the products of the flagship of the chemical industry of Turkmenistan – the Garlyk potash plant with the production capacity of almost one and a half million tons of potash fertilizers per year. There is also a wide range of products from the chemical plant named after S.A. Niyazov. A separate stand covers the products from the oil refinery in the city of Seydi.
One cannot but notice the showcase exhibiting the licorice root extract produced by Buyan, the oldest enterprise in the Amu Darya region, founded back in 1906. Its products are exported to Russia, USA, France, Kazakhstan, Turkey.
The hall of archeology tells visitors about the history of Amul. In addition to fragments of architectural decoration left from long-disappeared buildings, its exposition shows models of the famous architectural monuments of Lebap. These are the Seljuk caravanserai Dayakhatyn, the mausoleums of Darganata, Alamberdar, the Astana Baba complex and others. Pottery is well represented, as this is the most popular and important material for science, helping to establish with the greatest reliability the age of the monument and periods of its life.
These are mostly various household utensils, oil lamps – chirags, huge jugs for grain storage – khums. Among the finds of archaeologists exhibited in the museum are traditional chased articles made of yellow and red copper. In the past centuries, production of chased plates was very popular, and Lebap was famous for its skillful coppersmiths – misgars. This is primarily a teapot with a stand in the form of an inverted bowl. All decoration is made at a very high artistic level, using two technological methods – chasing and engraving. The surface of the product is covered with the finest ornament, combining geometric and floral motifs.
The nature hall demonstrates the landscapes of Lebap, mineral wealth, unusual geological rarities, diverse flora and fauna of this region. It presents the work of three natural parks that were created in the territory of the province. These are the Amudarya State Reserve, located along the middle course of the river, the Koytendag State Reserve, which occupies one of the sections of the Gissar Range, and the Repetek Biosphere Sandy-Desert Reserve, which is located in the sands of the Karakum Desert.
Several impressive dioramas allow visitors to vividly imagine the most characteristic landscapes and unique features of the nature of Lebap. These are coastal areas of the Amu Darya, overgrown with reeds, a desert with loose dunes and takyrs – clay plains covered with cracks, as well as narrow gorges and karst caves of Kugitang. Frozen wildlife scenes appear before the visitors of the museum. There is a dune cat peeping out of the thickets of saxaul, hoping to catch a gopher. And there is also a majestic markhor goat standing on the edge of the cliff. In another diorama, one can see a red deer watched by the Turanian tiger hiding among the reeds.
The underground world of Kugitang is full of secrets. Its unexplored caves are one of the region’s most famous natural attractions. Fanciful stalactites hang from the vaults of these huge stone halls in complete darkness, and stalagmites grow from the base. Tourists are not allowed to go there, but in the museum one can see miniature copies of these underground palaces where only well-trained cavers dare to go.
And there are endemic fish in the showcases that can be found only in the waters of the Amu Darya River. One of its oldest inhabitants is the large and small Amudarya shovelnose, belonging to the sturgeon order. Once very numerous, now they are on the verge of extinction and have long been listed in the Red Book of Turkmenistan. The blind char cave fish is another rare representative of the ichthyofauna that lives in a single karst chasm of the Kugitang mountain range. It belongs to the cyprinoid order but has no eyes and scaly cover. This fantastic fish is also in the Red Book of Turkmenistan.
Entering the hall of ethnography, visitors immediately find themselves in the narrow streets of the medieval city with a cozy teahouse and dukan shops of the Asian bazaar. If one closes his eyes, it may seem that he could hear the voices and sounds of a bygone time – ringing of a large bell on the neck of a huge camel leading another caravan, incomprehensible language of strangers, and even feel the fragrant smells of oriental spices. In the barnyard, they sell thoroughbred dromedary camels and famous Akhal-Teke horses. A new caravan with overseas goods is visible nearby. And how many different people are there! There is a Chinese merchant talking to a Bukhara merchant and Indians offering their outlandish goods. One can even see Venetian merchants who have just bought a Turkmen carpet.
A Turkmen yurt – a mobile dwelling and a symbol of nomadic life is the dominant feature of the ethnography hall. The designers of the exposition came up with a successful solution for viewing the yurt. A visitor can enter it from one side to view the interior decoration and exit from the other side. The interior of the yurt shows how the Turkmens decorated their life in the century before last. The interior decoration includes floor and wall carpets, painted chests, ceramic and wooden utensils, casual clothes hanging on the wall and shoes left at the entrance.
There are also many dioramas in this hall with various scenes from rural life. It shows how a felt mat is made, how silk thread is obtained and how carpets are woven. A peasant plows a plot of land in the field with the help of two bulls harnessed to a plow.
The hall of fine arts is the last in the museum exposition. It is a permanent exhibition of the best works of painting, graphics and arts and crafts by the artists of Lebap province. Portraits of local residents alternate with natural and historical landscapes, historical plots – with modernity.
The Local History Museum of Lebap province has become a true cultural center. It is popular among local residents and guests of the city. The magnificent modern building of the Turkmenabat museum is a real temple of knowledge about this region. It is also symbolic that after restoration the former building of the old mosque, from where the museum moved, will be used for its original purpose.

Allanazar SOPIEV

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005