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Turkmenistan is situated in the very heart of Central Asia, between the Caspian Sea in the west and the great Amu Darya River in the east, and from the Aral Sea littoral steppes in the north to the Kopet Dag mountain range to the south. Turkmenistan is an independent state; founded in 1991 after the disintegration of the USSR, five years later it attained a unique political status which was recognized by the United Nations Organization. The founder of the State and former national leader of Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Turkmenbashy clearly specified the character of his country and its place in the sophisticated geopolitical space with a capacious formulation of "permanent neutrality". Upon his death in 2006, new President-elect Berdymukhammedov has, for the most part, continued Turkmenbashy's political course.
Ashgabat, also Ashkhabad in transliteration from Russian, formerly Poltoratsk between 1919–1927) is the capital of, and the largest city in, Turkmenistan in Central Asia, situated between the Kara Kum desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range. The 2001 census estimated a population of 695,300, while 2009 estimates around 1 million people in Ashgabat, primarily Turkmen with ethnic minorities of Russians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It is 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the second largest city in Iran, Mashhad.