January 12 has been Memorial Day in Turkmenistan since 1990. It is a day of sad remembrance of the fall of the fortress of Geok Tepe to invading Russian forces on 12 January, 1881.
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The Russian Empire was on the rise during the nineteenth century, expanding into Central Asia. Turkmenistan was targeted for its Caspian Sea ports and strategic trade position. In December of 1880, 6,000 Russian troops laid siege to Geok Tepe, which was defended by 25,000 Turkmen soldiers.
Despite the fortifications and being outnumbered four to one, however, the Russians had superior firearms and equipment and ultimately prevailed. They dug a tunnel under the fortress’ wall and detonated a bomb to blow a hole in the wall. Soon, the Russians stormed the fortress and took it, and the surviving defenders fled across the desert.
Around 8,000 Turkmen soldiers died in the battle for Geok Tepe, while the Russians lost only 400 men.
This is a day of mourning over the loss of both the battle, and consequently, the country to Russian control. But it’s also a time to honour those who have fought and died for the motherland throughout Turkmenistan’s history.
On Memorial Day, the Turkmenistan flag is lowered slightly on the pole all over the country. There are also memorial dinners in some quarters. And there is a special memorial mosque at the site of Geok Tepe Fortress where people come to pray on 12 January every year.