Central Asia already has a lot going for it – dictators and post-soviet bureaucracy, coupled with mountains, deserts, yurts and the Silk Road. But something that's often overlooked is how unique and interesting their flags are, and Turkmenistan’s really cakes the cake for being unique.
Which is the only flag in the world with pictures of carpets on it? You got it – Turkmenistan! Carpets are a pretty big deal in Turkmenistan. They're very proud of their prosperous carpet industry and pictures of carpets are found everywhere – posters, signposts, petrol stations, book covers, even vending machines. The carpet museum in Ashgabat is one of the most expensive attractions in the whole country and the government holds an annual festival that is devoted entirely to carpets. Every official event has Turkmen carpets covering the floors and lining the walls, and most pictures of the President (except when he’s outside with horses and dogs) have him in front of an iconic Turkmen carpet.
The five carpets that run down the left-hand side of the flag represent the five tribes of Turkmenistan. This is a concept that was re-introduced by Turkmenbashy to give the Turkmen people back a sense of national identity after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, people all over were looking for a sense of identity, grasping at their roots and history to feel part of a tangible community. In returning to the people a feeling of being Turkmen, Turkmenbashy united them and solidified his position as their president. This is one of the aspects of Turkmenbashy’s rule that was continued by Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, and still by his son Serdar, so if you keep your eyes out, you’ll see fives all over Ashgabat.
Although there are barely remnants of the religion now, since it was nicely beaten out of them by the Soviet Union, the crescent moon is to represent Turkmenistan's Islamic heritage, with the five stars to once again point towards the five tribes. The crossed olive branches at the bottom of the carpet motif, similar to the one found on the UN flag, symbolises Turkmenistan's “status of permanent neutrality”.
Not only is their flag notable, but they’re also part of the much-exalted tallest flagpole competition . At 133m, the flagpole in Ashgabat was built in 2008 and took the title from Jordan. If you’ve been to Turkmenistan, or read much about the place, you’ll know that this is a bit of a theme – not flagpoles specifically, just having the biggest of all sorts of absurd things. I won’t list them all here, but Turkmenistan’s records include “most fountain pools in a public place”, “most people singing in a round”, “largest indoor ferris wheel”, “highest density of white marble-clad buildings”, “largest cycling awareness lesson”, “largest building in the shape of a star”, “largest building in the shape of a horse”, and many many more. Most of those don’t come with the stiff competition that the contest for largest flagpole entails though.
It was a long wait, and they ended up being closed for 3 years for COVID, but the borders have finally re-opened. Read more about it here .