Great Women in the History of Turkmenistan

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we remember outstanding Turkmen women, each of whom has left an indelible mark on the history of the country.


Sabira Atayeva


A famous theater and film actress, Sabira Atayeva devoted over 55 years of her life to her performances. Born in Ashgabat in 1917, Atayeva grew up in an orphanage, but was selected for her talent by a special commission to study in Moscow at VGITIS. During her career, Atayeva played a huge number of roles, not only in Turkmenistan, but also in films made by studios in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. Named as both a laureate of the State Prize named after Magtymguly and a People’s Artist of the USSR, she is fondly remembered for her parts in the films, “Daughter-in-Law” (1972), “The Kugitang Tragedy” (1978), and the famed historical epic set in the time of Genghis Khan, “The Fall of Otrar” (1991).


Maya (Mamajan) Kuliyeva


Raised in an orphanage from the age of eight, Kuliyeva attended the Turkmenistan branch of the Moscow Conservatory before joining the Turkmen Theater of Opera and Ballet. A lyric soprano, she became the first to perform roles from Western operas on stage in Turkmenistan. Her repertoire included roles in The Tsar’s Bride by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Faust by Charles Gounod, and Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Beyond the stage, she also appeared in several films.

Kuliyeva received a host of awards throughout her career, including the titles of Honored Artist of the Turkmen SSR, People’s Artist of the Turkmen SSR, People’s Artist of the USSR, and Hero of Turkmenistan. Additionally, she served as a deputy of the Supreme Council of the Turkmen SSR during its second and fourth sessions.

A Communist Party organizer during the Soviet-era, she continued to receive recognition after the dissolution of the USSR. In 2010, it was reported that she still had final say over all operas performed in Turkmenistan.

Kuliyeva passed away in 2018, shortly before her 98th birthday, but her legacy lives on. In 2019, the Turkmen National Conservatory was renamed in her honor and the Museum of Maya Kuliyeva opened, and in 2020 a concert was staged in Ashgabat to commemorate the centenary of her birth.


Aksoltan Atayeva


A diplomat and politician, Aksoltan Atayeva has been the Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations since February 23rd 1995, making her the most senior Permanent Representative from any nation currently serving. A graduate of Medical Sciences, Atayeva has held numerous other posts, including Minister of Public Health, Minister of Social Security, President of the Trade Unions of Turkmenistan, and has been a member of the People’s Council since 1993. Atayeva is currently the Ambassador of Turkmenistan to Cuba, Brazil, and Venezuela. In 2019, she was named a Hero of Turkmenistan.


Maya-Gozel Aimedova


Maya-Gozel Aimedova is a celebrated actor who first graced the screen in “Incident in Dash-Kala” (1961). In this film, she portrayed a teacher battling against antiquated marriage customs. Her performance in “Daughter-in-Law” (1972) earned her the prestigious USSR State Prize.

Aimedova showcased her talents beyond acting by co-writing and starring in two films: “When a Woman Saddles a Horse” (1975) and “Djamal’s Tree” (1980). Her multifaceted contributions to these films underscore her versatility as an artist.

Her remarkable work in the industry led to her being recognized as the People’s Artist of Turkmen SSR in 1982. Five years later, in 1987, she was bestowed with the title of People’s Artist of the USSR, further cementing her legacy in the field of performing arts.


Aknur Saparovna Hodjagurbanova


Aknur Saparovna Hodjagurbanova has greatly influenced Turkmenistan’s culture and education. A distinguished conductor, choirmaster and teacher, Hodjagurbanova leads the Gunesh Choir at the special music boarding school within the Turkmen National Conservatory named after Maya Kuliyeva. An Honored Artist of Turkmenistan and a laureate of the Türkmeniň Altyn Asyry contest, she has repeatedly won the Presidential Award of Turkmenistan. Nurturing young talent and helping children grasp and perform musical pieces, Hodjagurbanova has been teaching for 64 years.


Times of Central Asia