Historically, it was part of the Persian Empire, but it was annexed by Russia in the 19th Century and was part of the Soviet Union until the 1990s. Ashgabat, also called Ashkhabad, is its capital. Its city, Merv (today known as Mary), was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road.
While primarily a desert country, it both has petroleum reserves, and is positioning itself as an alternative to Russia as a pipeline operator. It has an authoritarian government and a tribally based social structure, Turkmenistan is cautious about economic development, wanting to build on petroleum and cotton reserves. Foreign investment has been limited.