Fundamental social institutions generally remained unchanged by the presence of Marxist dogma for over seventy years, although the presence of large numbers of Russians changed the distribution of the classes and the cultural loyalties of the intelligentsia. With some weakening in urban areas in the twentieth century, kinship and tribal affiliation retain a strong influence over the structure of Turkmen society.
Today's Turkmen have fully embraced the concepts of national unity and a strong national consciousness, which had been elusive through most of their history. The Turkmen have begun to reassess their history and culture, as well as the effects of Soviet rule. Some of the more notable changes since independence have been a shift from open hostility to cautious official sanctioning of Islam, the declaration of Turkmen as the state language, and the state's promotion of national and religious customs and holidays. For example, the vernal equinox, known as Novruz ("New Year's Day"), is now celebrated officially country-wide.
Interest and pride in national traditions were demonstrated openly prior to independence, particularly following the introduction of glasnost' by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1985. Since independence, the government has played a less restrictive and at times actively supportive role in the promotion of national traditions. For example, in a move to replace the Soviet version of Turkmen history with one more in harmony with both traditional and current values, President Niyazov formed a state commission to write the "true history of sunny Turkmenistan."
The Soviet period dampened but did not suppress the expression of prominent Turkmen cultural traditions. Turkmen carpets continue to receive praise and special attention from Western enthusiasts. The high sheepskin hats worn by men, as well as distinctive fabrics and jewelry, also are age-old trademarks of Turkmen material culture. The Ahal-Teke breed of horse, world-renowned for its beauty and swiftness, is particular to the Turkmen. Aside from a rich musical heritage, the Turkmen continue to value oral literature, including such epic tales as Korkut Ata and Gurogly .
Increased national awareness is reflected in modifications of the school curriculum as well. Among new courses of instruction is a class on edep , or proper social behavior and moral conduct according to traditional Turkmen and Islamic values. Officially sanctioned efforts also have been made to contact members of the Turkmen population living outside of Turkmenistan, and several international Turkmen organizations have been established.
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