Geokdepe. Saparmurat Haji mosque, vicinity of Ashgabat

Geokdepe is a combination of Mosque, fortress ruins and cemetery 40 minutes by car to the west of Ashgabat. This site includes the remains of the ancient fortress of Geokdepe and the modern Saparmyrat Haji Mosque. Geok-Depe is a fortress from the 19th century where a particularly bloody battle took place between the Turkmen and the Russians in 1881, when the Russian Empire attempted to conquer Turkmenistan. In January, 1881, Russian forces surrounded the Geok Depe fortress and began to bombard it.

There had been 10,000 Turkmen troops inside its massive walls, most of them cavalry, as well as nearly 40,000 civilians. The Famous Russian general, Skobelev, himself had 7,000 infantry and cavalry, and 60 gun and rocket batteries. Soon the Russians found themselves under heavy fire from the ramparts. Skobelev ordered his engineers to tunnel to a point beneath the wall where a mine could be placed. If they dug quickly, the officer in charge would be rewarded with vodka. As the fierce fighting continued overhead, the sappers dug to within twenty five yards of the wall without detection.

Progress began to slow due to the difficulty of providing air to the diggers, but after much effort the tunnel was completed. Two tons of explosives were carried by volunteers to a position directly beneath the wall. Quickly, as the storming parties waited in readiness, the mine was ignited. Simultaneously the full fury of Skobelev's artillery and rocket batteries was turned against the same part of the wall. The result was an enormous explosion, which raised a huge column of earth and rubble skywards.

Together with the artillery fire, the depth charge blew a gap nearly fifty meters wide in the wall, instantly killing several hundred of the defenders. The Russian storming party now rushed into the fortress, while at other points, using scaling ladders carried to the walls under cover of darkness the previous night, Skobelev's troops swarmed over the walls. Hand-to-hand fighting followed for possession of the fortress.

Unprepared for the sudden appearance of the Russians in their midst, and still stunned by the violence of the explosion, the Turkmens soon began to give ground. General Skobelev was one of the Russian Tsar's most outstanding and colorful generals. Nicknamed "the White General" by his troops, he invariably rode into battle in a dazzling white uniform and on a white horse. He also had a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty, which earned him the nickname "Old Bloody Eyes" among the Turkmen. To commemorate the battle in Geokdepe, a magnificent mosque was built in 1996.

Geokdepe. Saparmurat Haji mosque