There are more holidays and festivals in Turkmenistan than there are days in the year. Well, almost. Most of these exist solely to celebrate the leadership. The crowds are trained flagwavers and applauders, and tourists are generally not invited to these holidays.
Below you will find a list of festivals that you may be able to join in with. If you are wondering about the best time to visit in general, see when to visit Turkmenistan.
Khait: Date changes. Called Eid Al-Fitr in the Arabic world, this celebration ends Ramadan. Like in other Muslim countries, it is celebrated with mountains of food and prayer.
Kurban Bairam: Date changes. Known in the Arabic world as Eid al-Adha, this is a big, colourful holiday for Turkmens. A sheep will be sacrificed: most of the meat will go to the poor. What’s left is often used for the Turkmen specialty dograma.
Like elsewhere in Central Asia, a lot of pre-Islamic traditions are interwoven with this holiday: jumping over fire is one, harking back to the days of Zoroaster. Another one is swinging away your sins. The practice is simple: youngsters stand on a swing and lose their sins one at a time. This holiday pastime tends to get extreme. Also beware: swinging with a girl of marriageable age might symbolize your engagement.
National holidays (a selection)
Memorial Day: 12 January. A memorial service at Geok Depe mosque is led by the president to commemorate the Turkmens killed at the battle of Geok Depe.
Flag Day: Originally, Flag Day was observed on February 19, and May 18 was celebrated as Revival, Unity and Magtymguly Poetry Day. The latter commemorated the adoption of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, among other things. However, in 2017 the Turkmen parliament decided to merge Flag Day with Constitution Day and observe the new holiday on May 18. Magtymguly Poetry Day was moved to June 27 to coincide with the Day of Culture and Art Workers.
19 February was the birthday of Turkmenistan’s first president, Niyazov, one of the few days of the year when Turkmenistan celebrates absolutely nothing.
In any case, Flag Day is a pretty big thing in Turkmenistan, coming to a conclusion with a large spectacle in Ashgabat.
Navruz: 21 March. The biggest festival of the year in Turkmenistan and Central Asia. Usually celebrated in family circle, with tons of food. A special Turkmen feast dish is semeni, a paste made from sprouted wheat and flour.
Turkmen Horse Festival: Last Sunday of April. Celebrates the famous Ahal Teke horses from Turkmenistan. Horse races abound around the country. Then again, horse races are on every Sunday around the country.
Remembrance and Victory Day: 9 May. A big day all over the former Soviet Union, commemorating the Great Patriotic War against Germany. Flowers on graves, speeches, parades.
Carpet Day: Last Sunday of May. The Carpet Museum in Ashgabat will have exhibits of carpets, carpet-making and a concert.
Grain Day: 3rd Sunday of July. If the annual target of wheat harvest is (said to have been) met, this is a huge celebration.
Melon Day: 2nd Sunday in August. Difficult to say what’s on the menu on a day like this, but we’ve read that little girls in inflatable watermelon outfits might be part of it.
Days of Oil Workers and Bagshy: 2nd Saturday and Sunday of September. On Saturday, festivals, mostly in the major oil towns in Balkanabat, celebrate oil and gas workers’ contribution to the state. The day after, folk singers are revered, and concert events are put up around the country.
Independence Day: September 27. It used to be October 27th, but it was moved in 2018 to mark the end of the Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games, and will remain in place to remind Turkmens of their achievements in those games (and of the total power of their overlord – until he goes). It’s the biggest celebration of the year. Ashgabat sees a parade, fireworks and concerts.
Ashgabat Earthquake Remembrance Day: October 6. Flowers are laid at the monuments in Ashgabat and Gypjak to commemorate the victims of the 1948 earthquake. The Turkmen government holds a sacrificial meal at Gypjak mosque.
National Health Day: First Saturday of November. Government officials have to walk the health paths in Ashgabat and on other parts of the country. The president takes the helicopter to welcome them at the top.
Neutrality Day: Celebrating Turkmenistan’s political neutrality with parades and waiting for hours for the president to drive by.