Central Asia

Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.[2] It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".[3]

Central Asia (2019) has a population of about 72 million, consisting of five republics: Kazakhstan (pop. 18 million), Kyrgyzstan (6 million), Tajikistan (9 million), Turkmenistan (6 million), and Uzbekistan (33 million).[4] Afghanistan (pop. 35 million), which is a part of South Asia, is also sometimes included in Central Asia.[5][6]

Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road.[7] It has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.[8] The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China.[9] This crossroads position has intensified the conflict between tribalism and traditionalism and modernization.[10]

In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was predominantly Iranian,[11][12] populated by Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians, Chorasmians and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Dahae. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs; Turkic languages largely replaced the Iranian languages spoken in the area.

From the mid-19th century until almost the end of the 20th century, most of Central Asia was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, both Slavic-majority countries, and the five former Soviet "-stans" are still home to about 7 million ethnic Russians and 500,000 Ukrainians.[13][14][15]

Central Asia
Map of Central Asia
Area4,003,451 km2 (1,545,741 sq mi)[note 1]
  • Population
  •  • Density
  •  71,982,775
  •  17.43/km2 (45.1/sq mi)
Countries
Nominal GDP$260 billion (2017)[1]
Nominal GDP per capita$3,700 (2017)
Map of Central Asia
Map of Central Asia (including Afghanistan)

Definitions

Central Asia borders4
Three sets of possible boundaries for the region
Turkestan
Map of Turkestan with modern state borders. The area covers Russia (Tatarstan and parts of Siberia), Mongolia, the Chinese autonomous province of Xinjiang (also known as East Turkestan or Chinese Turkestan), Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Afghanistan.

The idea of Central Asia as a distinct region of the world was introduced in 1843 by the geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The borders of Central Asia are subject to multiple definitions. Historically built political geography and geoculture are two significant parameters widely used in the scholarly literature about the definitions of the Central Asia.[16]

The most limited definition was the official one of the Soviet Union, which defined Middle Asia as consisting solely of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, hence omitting Kazakhstan. This definition was also often used outside the USSR during this period.

However, the Russian culture has two distinct terms: Средняя Азия (Srednyaya Aziya or "Middle Asia", the narrower definition, which includes only those traditionally non-Slavic, Central Asian lands that were incorporated within those borders of historical Russia) and Центральная Азия (Tsentralnaya Aziya or "Central Asia", the wider definition, which includes Central Asian lands that have never been part of historical Russia).

Soon after independence, the leaders of the four former Soviet Central Asian Republics met in Tashkent and declared that the definition of Central Asia should include Kazakhstan as well as the original four included by the Soviets. Since then, this has become the most common definition of Central Asia.

The UNESCO History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, published in 1992, defines the region as "Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, Pakistan, northern India, western China, Mongolia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics."[17]

An alternative method is to define the region based on ethnicity, and in particular, areas populated by Eastern Turkic, Eastern Iranian, or Mongolian peoples. These areas include Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Turkic regions of southern Siberia, the five republics, and Afghan Turkestan. Afghanistan as a whole, the northern and western areas of Pakistan and the Kashmir Valley of India may also be included. The Tibetans and Ladakhi are also included. Insofar, most of the mentioned peoples are considered the "indigenous" peoples of the vast region. Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan.[18][19][20]

There are several places that claim to be the geographic center of Asia, for example Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva in the Russian Federation, and a village 200 miles (320 km) north of Ürümqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region of China.[21]

Geography

Bringing the sheep home, on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul (3968109583)
On the southern shore of Issyk Kul lake, Issyk Kul Region.

Central Asia is an extremely large region of varied geography, including high passes and mountains (Tian Shan), vast deserts (Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan), and especially treeless, grassy steppes. The vast steppe areas of Central Asia are considered together with the steppes of Eastern Europe as a homogeneous geographical zone known as the Eurasian Steppe.

Much of the land of Central Asia is too dry or too rugged for farming. The Gobi desert extends from the foot of the Pamirs, 77° E, to the Great Khingan (Da Hinggan) Mountains, 116°–118° E.

Central Asia has the following geographic extremes:

A majority of the people earn a living by herding livestock. Industrial activity centers in the region's cities.

Major rivers of the region include the Amu Darya, the Syr Darya, Irtysh, the Hari River and the Murghab River. Major bodies of water include the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, both of which are part of the huge west-central Asian endorheic basin that also includes the Caspian Sea.

Both of these bodies of water have shrunk significantly in recent decades due to diversion of water from rivers that feed them for irrigation and industrial purposes. Water is an extremely valuable resource in arid Central Asia and can lead to rather significant international disputes.

Historical regions

Central Asia Ethnic en
Ethnic map of Central Asia.
White areas are thinly-populated semi-desert.
The three northwest-tending lines are the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers flowing from the eastern mountains into the Aral Sea and in the south the irrigated north side of the Kopet Dagh mountains.
Central Asia is located in Kazakhstan
Khwarezm
Khwarezm
Ferghana
Ferghana
Zhetysu
Zhetysu
Dzun- garia
Dzun-
garia
Tarim_Basin
Tarim_Basin
Historical regions of Central Asia
on a map of Kazakhstan
Central Asia is located in Uzbekistan
Khwarezm
Khwarezm
Ferghana
Ferghana
Transoxiana
Transoxiana
(Sogdia)
(Sogdia)
Zhetysu
Zhetysu
Bactria
Bactria
Margiana
Margiana
Historical Regions of Central Asia
on a map of Uzbekistan
Central Asia is located in Uzbekistan
Samarkand
Samarkand
Bukhara
Bukhara
Khiva
Khiva
Kokand
Kokand
Tashkent
Tashkent
Merv
Merv
Balkh
Balkh
Historic cities of Central Asia
Kokand is one of the many towns that rose and fell in the Ferghana Valley

Central Asia is bounded on the north by the forests of Siberia. The northern half of Central Asia (Kazakhstan) is the middle part of the Eurasian steppe. Westward the Kazakh steppe merges into the Russian-Ukrainian steppe and eastward into the steppes and deserts of Dzungaria and Mongolia. Southward the land becomes increasingly dry and the nomadic population increasingly thin. The south supports areas of dense population and cities wherever irrigation is possible. The main irrigated areas are along the eastern mountains, along the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers and along the north flank of the Kopet Dagh near the Persian border. East of the Kopet Dagh is the important oasis of Merv and then a few places in Afghanistan like Herat and Balkh. Two projections of the Tian Shan create three "bays" along the eastern mountains. The largest, in the north, is eastern Kazakhstan, traditionally called Jetysu or Semirechye which contains Lake Balkhash. In the center is the small but densely-populated Ferghana valley. In the south is Bactria, later called Tocharistan, which is bounded on the south by the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The Syr Darya (Jaxartes) rises in the Ferghana valley and the Amu Darya (Oxus) rises in Bactria. Both flow northwest into the Aral Sea. Where the Oxus meets the Aral Sea it forms a large delta called Khwarazm and later the Khanate of Khiva. North of the Oxus is the less-famous but equally important Zarafshan River which waters the great trading cities of Bokhara and Samarkand. The other great commercial city was Tashkent northwest of the mouth of the Ferghana valley. The land immediately north of the Oxus was called Transoxiana and also Sogdia, especially when referring to the Sogdian merchants who dominated the silk road trade.

To the east, Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin were united into the Chinese province of Xinjiang about 1759. Caravans from China usually went along the north or south side of the Tarim basin and joined at Kashgar before crossing the mountains northwest to Ferghana or southwest to Bactria. A minor branch of the silk road went north of the Tian Shan through Dzungaria and Zhetysu before turning southwest near Tashkent. Nomadic migrations usually moved from Mongolia through Dzungaria before turning southwest to conquer the settled lands or continuing west toward Europe.

The Kyzyl Kum Desert or semi-desert is between the Oxus and Jaxartes, and the Karakum Desert is between the Oxus and Kopet Dagh in Turkmenistan. Khorasan meant approximately northeast Persia and northern Afghanistan. Margiana was the region around Merv. The Ustyurt Plateau is between the Aral and Caspian Seas.

To the southwest, across the Kopet Dagh, lies Persia. From here Persian and Islamic civilization penetrated Central Asia and dominated its high culture until the Russian conquest. In the southeast is the route to India. In early times Buddhism spread north and throughout much of history warrior kings and tribes would move southeast to establish their rule in northern India. Most nomadic conquerors entered from the northeast. After 1800 western civilization in its Russian and Soviet form penetrated from the northwest.

Names of historical regions

Climate

Central Asia map of Köppen climate classification
Central Asia map of Köppen climate classification.

Because Central Asia is not buffered by a large body of water, temperature fluctuations are severe, outside the sunny, hot summer months. In most areas the climate is dry and continental, with hot summers and cool to cold winters, with occasional snowfall. Outside high-elevation areas, the climate is mostly semi-arid to arid. In lower elevations, summers are hot with blazing sunshine. Winters feature occasional rain and/or snow from low-pressure systems that cross the area from the Mediterranean Sea. Average monthly precipitation is extremely low from July to September, rises in autumn (October and November) and is highest in March or April, followed by swift drying in May and June. Winds can be strong, producing dust storms sometimes, especially toward the end of the dry season in September and October. Specific cities that exemplify Central Asian climate patterns include Tashkent and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the last of these representing one of the wettest climates in Central Asia, with an average annual precipitation of over 22 inches.

According to the WWF Ecozones system, Central Asia is part of the Palearctic ecozone. The largest biomes in Central Asia are the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. Central Asia also contains the montane grasslands and shrublands, deserts and xeric shrublands as well as temperate coniferous forests biomes.

History

Scythia-Parthia 100 BC
Geographical extent of Iranian influence in the 1st century BC. Scythia (mostly Eastern Iranian) is shown in orange.

Although, during the golden age of Orientalism the place of Central Asia in the world history was marginalized, contemporary historiography has rediscovered the "centrality" of the Central Asia.[22] The history of Central Asia is defined by the area's climate and geography. The aridness of the region made agriculture difficult, and its distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in the region; instead, the area was for millennia dominated by the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe.

Relations between the steppe nomads and the settled people in and around Central Asia were long marked by conflict. The nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and the steppe horse riders became some of the most militarily potent people in the world, limited only by their lack of internal unity. Any internal unity that was achieved was most probably due to the influence of the Silk Road, which traveled along Central Asia. Periodically, great leaders or changing conditions would organize several tribes into one force and create an almost unstoppable power. These included the Hun invasion of Europe, the Wu Hu attacks on China and most notably the Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia.[23]

Men from Khiva
Uzbek men from Khiva, ca. 1861–1880

During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, southern Central Asia was inhabited predominantly by speakers of Iranian languages.[11][24] Among the ancient sedentary Iranian peoples, the Sogdians and Chorasmians played an important role, while Iranian peoples such as Scythians and the later on Alans lived a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle. The well-preserved Tarim mummies with Caucasoid features have been found in the Tarim Basin.[25]

The main migration of Turkic peoples occurred between the 5th and 10th centuries, when they spread across most of Central Asia. The Tang Chinese were defeated by the Arabs at the battle of Talas in 751, marking the end of the Tang Dynasty's western expansion. The Tibetan Empire would take the chance to rule portion of Central Asia along with South Asia. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols conquered and ruled the largest contiguous empire in recorded history. Most of Central Asia fell under the control of the Chagatai Khanate.

SB - Kazakh man on horse with golden eagle
Kazakh man on a horse with golden eagle

The dominance of the nomads ended in the 16th century, as firearms allowed settled peoples to gain control of the region. Russia, China, and other powers expanded into the region and had captured the bulk of Central Asia by the end of the 19th century. After the Russian Revolution, the western Central Asian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. The eastern part of Central Asia, known as East Turkistan or Xinjiang, was incorporated into the People's Republic of China. Mongolia remained independent but became a Soviet satellite state. Afghanistan remained relatively independent of major influence by the USSR until the Saur Revolution of 1978.

The Soviet areas of Central Asia saw much industrialization and construction of infrastructure, but also the suppression of local cultures, hundreds of thousands of deaths from failed collectivization programs, and a lasting legacy of ethnic tensions and environmental problems. Soviet authorities deported millions of people, including entire nationalities,[26] from western areas of the USSR to Central Asia and Siberia.[27] According to Touraj Atabaki and Sanjyot Mehendale, "From 1959 to 1970, about two million people from various parts of the Soviet Union migrated to Central Asia, of which about one million moved to Kazakhstan."[28]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, five countries gained independence. In nearly all the new states, former Communist Party officials retained power as local strongmen. None of the new republics could be considered functional democracies in the early days of independence, although in recent years Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia have made further progress towards more open societies, unlike Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which have maintained many Soviet-style repressive tactics.[29]

Culture

Petropavl mosque
Mosque in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan

Arts

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Hazrat-e Turkestan, Kazakhstan
Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Hazrat-e Turkestan, Kazakhstan. Timurid architecture consisted of Persian art.
Sadi and the youth of kashgar Bukhara 1547
Saadi Shirazi is welcomed by a youth from Kashgar during a forum in Bukhara.

At the crossroads of Asia, shamanistic practices live alongside Buddhism. Thus, Yama, Lord of Death, was revered in Tibet as a spiritual guardian and judge. Mongolian Buddhism, in particular, was influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The Qianlong Emperor of Qing China in the 18th century was Tibetan Buddhist and would sometimes travel from Beijing to other cities for personal religious worship.

Central Asia also has an indigenous form of improvisational oral poetry that is over 1000 years old. It is principally practiced in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan by akyns, lyrical improvisationists. They engage in lyrical battles, the aitysh or the alym sabak. The tradition arose out of early bardic oral historians. They are usually accompanied by a stringed instrument—in Kyrgyzstan, a three-stringed komuz, and in Kazakhstan, a similar two-stringed instrument, the dombra.

Photography in Central Asia began to develop after 1882, when a Russian Mennonite photographer named Wilhelm Penner moved to the Khanate of Khiva during the Mennonite migration to Central Asia led by Claas Epp, Jr.. Upon his arrival to Khanate of Khiva, Penner shared his photography skills with a local student Khudaybergen Divanov, who later became the founder of Uzbek photography.[30]

Some also learn to sing the Manas, Kyrgyzstan's epic poem (those who learn the Manas exclusively but do not improvise are called manaschis). During Soviet rule, akyn performance was co-opted by the authorities and subsequently declined in popularity. With the fall of the Soviet Union, it has enjoyed a resurgence, although akyns still do use their art to campaign for political candidates. A 2005 The Washington Post article proposed a similarity between the improvisational art of akyns and modern freestyle rap performed in the West.[31]

As a consequence of Russian colonization, European fine arts – painting, sculpture and graphics – have developed in Central Asia. The first years of the Soviet regime saw the appearance of modernism, which took inspiration from the Russian avant-garde movement. Until the 1980s, Central Asian arts had developed along with general tendencies of Soviet arts. In the 90's, arts of the region underwent some significant changes. Institutionally speaking, some fields of arts were regulated by the birth of the art market, some stayed as representatives of official views, while many were sponsored by international organizations. The years of 1990–2000 were times for the establishment of contemporary arts. In the region, many important international exhibitions are taking place, Central Asian art is represented in European and American museums, and the Central Asian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has been organized since 2005.

Sports

Equestrian sports are traditional in Central Asia, with disciplines like endurance riding, buzkashi, dzhigit and kyz kuu.

Association football is popular across Central Asia. Most countries are members of the Central Asian Football Association, a region of the Asian Football Confederation. However, Kazakhstan is a member of the UEFA.

Wrestling is popular across Central Asia, with Kazakhstan having claimed 14 Olympic medals and Uzbekistan seven. As former Soviet states, Central Asian countries have been successful in gymnastics.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan national cricket team, first formed in 2001, has claimed wins over Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe.

Notable Kazakh competitors include cyclists Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, boxer Vassiliy Jirov and Gennady Golovkin, runner Olga Shishigina, decathlete Dmitriy Karpov, gymnast Aliya Yussupova, judoka Askhat Zhitkeyev and Maxim Rakov, skier Vladimir Smirnov, weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, and figure skaters Denis Ten and Elizabet Tursynbaeva.

Notable Uzbekistani competitors include cyclist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, boxer Ruslan Chagaev, canoer Michael Kolganov, gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, tennis player Denis Istomin, chess player Rustam Kasimdzhanov, and figure skater Misha Ge.

Economy

GDP growth trends in Central Asia, 2000−2013
GDP growth trends in Central Asia, 2000–2013. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 14.1
GDP in Central Asia by economic sector, 2005 and 2013
GDP in Central Asia by economic sector, 2005 and 2013. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, Figure 14.2

Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, the Central Asian republics have gradually been moving from a state-controlled economy to a market economy. The ultimate aim is to emulate the Asian Tigers by becoming the local equivalent, Central Asian snow leopards. However, reform has been deliberately gradual and selective, as governments strive to limit the social cost and ameliorate living standards. All five countries are implementing structural reforms to improve competitiveness. In particular, they have been modernizing the industrial sector and fostering the development of service industries through business-friendly fiscal policies and other measures, to reduce the share of agriculture in GDP. Between 2005 and 2013, the share of agriculture dropped in all but Tajikistan, where it progressed to the detriment of industry. The fastest growth in industry was observed in Turkmenistan, whereas the services sector progressed most in the other four countries.[32]

Public policies pursued by Central Asian governments focus on buffering the political and economic spheres from external shocks. This includes maintaining a trade balance, minimizing public debt and accumulating national reserves. They cannot totally insulate themselves from negative exterior forces, however, such as the persistently weak recovery of global industrial production and international trade since 2008. Notwithstanding this, they have emerged relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis of 2008–2009. Growth faltered only briefly in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and not at all in Uzbekistan, where the economy grew by more than 7% per year on average between 2008 and 2013. Turkmenistan flirted with growth of 15% (14.7%) in 2011. Kyrgyzstan's performance has been more erratic but this phenomenon was visible well before 2008.[32]

The republics which have fared best surfed on the wave of the commodities boom during the first decade of the new century. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have abundant oil and natural gas reserves and Uzbekistan's own reserves make it more or less self-sufficient. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all have gold reserves and Kazakhstan has the world's largest uranium reserves. Fluctuating global demand for cotton, aluminium and other metals (except gold) in recent years has hit Tajikistan hardest, since aluminium and raw cotton are its chief exports − the Tajik Aluminium Company is the country's primary industrial asset. In January 2014, the Minister of Agriculture announced the government's intention to reduce the acreage of land cultivated by cotton to make way for other crops. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are major cotton exporters themselves, ranking fifth and ninth respectively worldwide for volume in 2014.[32]

Although both exports and imports have grown impressively over the past decade, Central Asian republics countries remain vulnerable to economic shocks, owing to their reliance on exports of raw materials, a restricted circle of trading partners and a negligible manufacturing capacity. Kyrgyzstan has the added disadvantage of being considered resource poor, although it does have ample water. Most of its electricity is generated by hydropower.[32]

The Kyrgyz economy was shaken by a series of shocks between 2010 and 2012. In April 2010, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed by a popular uprising, with former minister of foreign affairs Roza Otunbayeva assuring the interim presidency until the election of Almazbek Atambayev in November 2011. Food prices rose two years in a row and, in 2012, production at the major Kumtor gold mine fell by 60% after the site was perturbed by geological movements. According to the World Bank, 33.7% of the population was living in absolute poverty in 2010 and 36.8% a year later.[32]

Despite high rates of economic growth in recent years, GDP per capita in Central Asia was higher than the average for developing countries only in Kazakhstan in 2013 (PPP$23 206) and Turkmenistan (PPP$14 201). It dropped to PPP$5 167 for Uzbekistan, home to 45% of the region's population, and was even lower for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.[32]

Kazakhstan leads the Central Asian region in terms of foreign direct investments. The Kazakh economy sccounts for more than 70% of all the investment attracted in Central Asia.[33]

Science and technology

Modernization of research infrastructure

Bolstered by strong economic growth in all but Kyrgyzstan, national development strategies are fostering new high-tech industries, pooling resources and orienting the economy towards export markets. Many national research institutions established during the Soviet era have since become obsolete with the development of new technologies and changing national priorities. This has led countries to reduce the number of national research institutions since 2009 by grouping existing institutions to create research hubs. Several of the Turkmen Academy of Science's institutes were merged in 2014: the Institute of Botany was merged with the Institute of Medicinal Plants to become the Institute of Biology and Medicinal Plants; the Sun Institute was merged with the Institute of Physics and Mathematics to become the Institute of Solar Energy; and the Institute of Seismology merged with the State Service for Seismology to become the Institute of Seismology and Atmospheric Physics. In Uzbekistan, more than 10 institutions of the Academy of Sciences have been reorganized, following the issuance of a decree by the Cabinet of Ministers in February 2012. The aim is to orient academic research towards problem-solving and ensure continuity between basic and applied research. For example, the Mathematics and Information Technology Research Institute has been subsumed under the National University of Uzbekistan and the Institute for Comprehensive Research on Regional Problems of Samarkand has been transformed into a problem-solving laboratory on environmental issues within Samarkand State University. Other research institutions have remained attached to the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, such as the Centre of Genomics and Bioinformatics.[32]

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are also building technology parks as part of their drive to modernize infrastructure. In 2011, construction began of a technopark in the village of Bikrova near Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital. It will combine research, education, industrial facilities, business incubators and exhibition centres. The technopark will house research on alternative energy sources (sun, wind) and the assimilation of nanotechnologies. Between 2010 and 2012, technological parks were set up in the east, south and north Kazakhstan oblasts (administrative units) and in the capital, Astana. A Centre for Metallurgy was also established in the east Kazakhstan oblast, as well as a Centre for Oil and Gas Technologies which will be part of the planned Caspian Energy Hub. In addition, the Centre for Technology Commercialization has been set up in Kazakhstan as part of the Parasat National Scientific and Technological Holding, a joint stock company established in 2008 that is 100% state-owned. The centre supports research projects in technology marketing, intellectual property protection, technology licensing contracts and start-ups. The centre plans to conduct a technology audit in Kazakhstan and to review the legal framework regulating the commercialization of research results and technology.[32]

Trends in GERD GDP ratio in Central Asia, 2001−2013
Trends in research expenditure in Central Asia, as a percentage of GDP, 2001–2013. Source: UNESCO Science Report: 2030 (2015), Figure 14.3

Countries are seeking to augment the efficiency of traditional extractive sectors but also to make greater use of information and communication technologies and other modern technologies, such as solar energy, to develop the business sector, education and research. In March 2013, two research institutes were created by presidential decree to foster the development of alternative energy sources in Uzbekistan, with funding from the Asian Development Bank and other institutions: the SPU Physical−Technical Institute (Physics Sun Institute) and the International Solar Energy Institute. Three universities have been set up since 2011 to foster competence in strategic economic areas: Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan (first intake in 2011), an international research university, Inha University in Uzbekistan (first intake in 2014), specializing in information and communication technologies, and the International Oil and Gas University in Turkmenistan (founded in 2013). Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are both generalizing the teaching of foreign languages at school, in order to facilitate international ties. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have both adopted the three-tier bachelor's, master's and PhD degree system, in 2007 and 2012 respectively, which is gradually replacing the Soviet system of Candidates and Doctors of Science. In 2010, Kazakhstan became the only Central Asian member of the Bologna Process, which seeks to harmonize higher education systems in order to create a European Higher Education Area.[32]

Financial investment in research

The Central Asian republics' ambition of developing the business sector, education and research is being hampered by chronic low investment in research and development. Over the decade to 2013, the region's investment in research and development hovered around 0.2–0.3% of GDP. Uzbekistan broke with this trend in 2013 by raising its own research intensity to 0.41% of GDP.[32]

Kazakhstan is the only country where the business enterprise and private non-profit sectors make any significant contribution to research and development – but research intensity overall is low in Kazakhstan: just 0.18% of GDP in 2013. Moreover, few industrial enterprises conduct research in Kazakhstan. Only one in eight (12.5%) of the country's manufacturing firms were active in innovation in 2012, according to a survey by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Enterprises prefer to purchase technological solutions that are already embodied in imported machinery and equipment. Just 4% of firms purchase the license and patents that come with this technology. Nevertheless, there appears to be a growing demand for the products of research, since enterprises spent 4.5 times more on scientific and technological services in 2008 than in 1997.[32]

Central Asian researchers by sector of employment (HC), 2013
Central Asian researchers by sector of employment (HC), 2013. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 14.5

Trends in researchers

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan count the highest researcher density in Central Asia. The number of researchers per million population is close to the world average (1,083 in 2013) in Kazakhstan (1,046) and higher than the world average in Uzbekistan (1,097).[32]

Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country where the business enterprise and private non-profit sectors make any significant contribution to research and development. Uzbekistan is in a particularly vulnerable position, with its heavy reliance on higher education: three-quarters of researchers were employed by the university sector in 2013 and just 6% in the business enterprise sector. With most Uzbek university researchers nearing retirement, this imbalance imperils Uzbekistan's research future. Almost all holders of a Candidate of Science, Doctor of Science or PhD are more than 40 years old and half are aged over 60; more than one in three researchers (38.4%) holds a PhD degree, or its equivalent, the remainder holding a bachelor's or master's degree.[32]

Central Asian researchers by field of science, 2013
Central Asian researchers by field of science, 2013. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 14.4

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have all maintained a share of women researchers above 40% since the fall of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan has even achieved gender parity, with Kazakh women dominating medical and health research and representing some 45–55% of engineering and technology researchers in 2013. In Tajikistan, however, only one in three scientists (34%) was a woman in 2013, down from 40% in 2002. Although policies are in place to give Tajik women equal rights and opportunities, these are underfunded and poorly understood. Turkmenistan has offered a state guarantee of equality for women since a law adopted in 2007 but the lack of available data makes it impossible to draw any conclusions as to the law's impact on research. As for Turkmenistan, it does not make data available on higher education, research expenditure or researchers.[32]

Table: PhDs obtained in science and engineering in Central Asia, 2013 or closest year

PhDs PhDs in science PhDs in engineering
Total Women (%) Total Women (% Total per million population Women PhDs per million population Total Women (% Total per million population Women PhDs per million population
Kazakhstan (2013) 247 51 73 60 4.4 2.7 37 38 2.3 0.9
Kyrgyzstan (2012) 499 63 91 63 16.6 10.4 54 63
Tajikistan (2012) 331 11 31 3.9 14
Uzbekistan

(2011)

838 42 152 30 5.4 1.6 118 27.0

Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Table 14.1

Note: PhD graduates in science cover life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and statistics, and computing; PhDs in engineering also cover manufacturing and construction. For Central Asia, the generic term of PhD also encompasses Candidate of Science and Doctor of Science degrees. Data are unavailable for Turkmenistan.

Table: Central Asian researchers by field of science and gender, 2013 or closest year

Total researchers (head counts) Researchers by field of science (head counts)
Natural Sciences Engineering and technology Medical and health sciences Agricultural sciences Social sciences Humanities
Total researchers Per million pop. Number of women Women (% Total Women (% Total Women (%) Total Women (%) Total Women (%) Total Women (%) Total Women (%)
Kazakhstan

2013

17 195 1 046 8 849 51.5 5 091 51.9 4 996 44.7 1 068 69.5 2 150 43.4 1 776 61.0 2 114 57.5
Kyrgyzstan

2011

2 224 412 961 43.2 593 46.5 567 30.0 393 44.0 212 50.0 154 42.9 259 52.1
Tajikistan

2013

2 152 262 728 33.8 509 30.3 206 18.0 374 67.6 472 23.5 335 25.7 256 34.0
Uzbekistan

2011

30 890 1 097 12 639 40.9 6 910 35.3 4 982 30.1 3 659 53.6 1 872 24.8 6 817 41.2 6 650 52.0

Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Table 14.1

Research output

Growth in scientific output has accelerated in Kazakhstan since 2012
Scientific publications from Central Asia catalogued by Thomson Reuters' Web of Science, Science Citation Index Expanded, 2005–2014, UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 14.6

The number of scientific papers published in Central Asia grew by almost 50% between 2005 and 2014, driven by Kazakhstan, which overtook Uzbekistan over this period to become the region's most prolific scientific publisher, according to Thomson Reuters' Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded). Between 2005 and 2014, Kazakhstan's share of scientific papers from the region grew from 35% to 56%. Although two-thirds of papers from the region have a foreign co-author, the main partners tend to come from beyond Central Asia, namely the Russian Federation, USA, German, United Kingdom and Japan.[32]

Five Kazakh patents were registered at the US Patent and Trademark Office between 2008 and 2013, compared to three for Uzbek inventors and none at all for the other three Central Asian republics, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.[32]

The most prolific countries in Central Asia – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – specialize in physics and chemistry
Cumulative total of articles by Central Asians between 2008 and 2013, by field of science. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 14.6

Kazakhstan is Central Asia's main trader in high-tech products. Kazakh imports nearly doubled between 2008 and 2013, from US$2.7 billion to US$5.1 billion. There has been a surge in imports of computers, electronics and telecommunications; these products represented an investment of US$744 million in 2008 and US$2.6 billion five years later. The growth in exports was more gradual – from US$2.3 billion to US$3.1 billion – and dominated by chemical products (other than pharmaceuticals), which represented two-thirds of exports in 2008 (US$1.5 billion) and 83% (US$2.6 billion) in 2013.[32]

International cooperation

The five Central Asian republics belong to several international bodies, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Economic Cooperation Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. They are also members of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Programme, which also includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia and Pakistan. In November 2011, the 10 member countries adopted the CAREC 2020 Strategy, a blueprint for furthering regional co-operation. Over the decade to 2020, US$50 billion is being invested in priority projects in transport, trade and energy to improve members' competitiveness. The landlocked Central Asian republics are conscious of the need to co-operate in order to maintain and develop their transport networks and energy, communication and irrigation systems. Only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan border the Caspian Sea and none of the republics has direct access to an ocean, complicating the transportation of hydrocarbons, in particular, to world markets.[32]

Kazakhstan is also one of the three founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2014, along with Belarus and the Russian Federation. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have since joined this body. As co-operation among the member states in science and technology is already considerable and well-codified in legal texts, the Eurasian Economic Union is expected to have a limited additional impact on co-operation among public laboratories or academia but it should encourage business ties and scientific mobility, since it includes provision for the free circulation of labour and unified patent regulations.[32][34]

Kazakhstan and Tajikistan participated in the Innovative Biotechnologies Programme (2011–2015) launched by the Eurasian Economic Community, the predecessor of the Eurasian Economic Union, The programme also involved Belarus and the Russian Federation. Within this programme, prizes were awarded at an annual bio-industry exhibition and conference. In 2012, 86 Russian organizations participated, plus three from Belarus, one from Kazakhstan and three from Tajikistan, as well as two scientific research groups from Germany. At the time, Vladimir Debabov, Scientific Director of the Genetika State Research Institute for Genetics and the Selection of Industrial Micro-organisms in the Russian Federation, stressed the paramount importance of developing bio-industry. 'In the world today, there is a strong tendency to switch from petrochemicals to renewable biological sources,' he said. 'Biotechnology is developing two to three times faster than chemicals.'[32]

Kazakhstan also participated in a second project of the Eurasian Economic Community, the establishment of the Centre for Innovative Technologies on 4 April 2013, with the signing of an agreement between the Russian Venture Company (a government fund of funds), the Kazakh JSC National Agency and the Belarusian Innovative Foundation. Each of the selected projects is entitled to funding of US$3–90 million and is implemented within a public–private partnership. The first few approved projects focused on supercomputers, space technologies, medicine, petroleum recycling, nanotechnologies and the ecological use of natural resources. Once these initial projects have spawned viable commercial products, the venture company plans to reinvest the profits in new projects. This venture company is not a purely economic structure; it has also been designed to promote a common economic space among the three participating countries.[32]

Four of the five Central Asian republics have also been involved in a project launched by the European Union in September 2013, IncoNet CA. The aim of this project is to encourage Central Asian countries to participate in research projects within Horizon 2020, the European Union's eighth research and innovation funding programme. The focus of this research projects is on three societal challenges considered as being of mutual interest to both the European Union and Central Asia, namely: climate change, energy and health. IncoNet CA builds on the experience of earlier projects which involved other regions, such as Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and the Western Balkans. IncoNet CA focuses on twinning research facilities in Central Asia and Europe. It involves a consortium of partner institutions from Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Portugal, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. In May 2014, the European Union launched a 24-month call for project applications from twinned institutions – universities, companies and research institutes – for funding of up to €10, 000 to enable them to visit one another's facilities to discuss project ideas or prepare joint events like workshops.[32]

The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) was established in 1992 by the European Union, Japan, the Russian Federation and the US to engage weapons scientists in civilian research projects and to foster technology transfer. ISTC branches have been set up in the following countries party to the agreement: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The headquarters of ISTC were moved to Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan in June 2014, three years after the Russian Federation announced its withdrawal from the centre.[32]

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have been members of the World Trade Organization since 1998, 2013 and 2015 respectively.[32]

Territorial and regional data

Country Area
km²
Population[35]
(2016)
Population density
per km2
Nominal GDP (2017)
GDP per capita
(2017)
HDI (2017) Capital Official languages
Kazakhstan 2,724,900 17,987,736 6.3 $160.839 billion $8,841 0.788 Astana Kazakh, Russian
Kyrgyzstan 199,950 5,955,734 29.7 $7.061 billion $1,144 0.655 Bishkek Kyrgyz, Russian
Tajikistan 142,550 8,734,951 60.4 $7.146 billion $824 0.624 Dushanbe Tajik, Russian
Turkmenistan 488,100 5,662,544 11.1 $37.926 billion $6,643 0.688 Ashgabat Turkmen
Uzbekistan 447,400 31,446,795 69.1 $47.883 billion $1,491 0.701 Tashkent Uzbek

Demographics

Central Asia Ethnic en
The ethnolinguistic patchwork of Central Asia (1992).
Uzbek Kids
Uzbek children in Samarkand

By a broad definition including Mongolia and Afghanistan, more than 90 million people live in Central Asia, about 2% of Asia's total population. Of the regions of Asia, only North Asia has fewer people. It has a population density of 9 people per km2, vastly less than the 80.5 people per km2 of the continent as a whole.

Languages

Russian, as well as being spoken by around six million ethnic Russians and Ukrainians of Central Asia,[36] is the de facto lingua franca throughout the former Soviet Central Asian Republics. Mandarin Chinese has an equally dominant presence in Inner Mongolia, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

The languages of the majority of the inhabitants of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics belong to the Turkic language group. Turkmen, is mainly spoken in Turkmenistan, and as a minority language in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Kazakh and Kyrgyz are related languages of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages and are spoken throughout Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and as a minority language in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Xinjiang. Uzbek and Uyghur are spoken in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Xinjiang.

The Turkic languages may belong to a larger, but controversial, Altaic language family, which includes Mongolian. Mongolian is spoken throughout Mongolia and into Buryatia, Kalmyk, Tuva, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang.

Middle Iranian languages were once spoken throughout Central Asia, such as the once prominent Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Bactrian and Scythian, which are now extinct and belonged to the Eastern Iranian family. The Eastern Iranian Pashto language is still spoken in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Other minor Eastern Iranian languages such as Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi, Sarikoli, Wakhi, Yaghnobi and Ossetic are also spoken at various places in Central Asia. Varieties of Persian are also spoken as a major language in the region, locally known as Dari (in Afghanistan), Tajik (in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), and Bukhori (by the Bukharan Jews of Central Asia).

Tocharian, another Indo-European language group, which was once predominant in oases on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang, is now extinct.

Other language groups include the Tibetic languages, spoken by around six million people across the Tibetan Plateau and into Qinghai, Sichuan, Ladakh and Baltistan, and the Nuristani languages of northeastern Afghanistan. Dardic languages, such as Shina, Kashmiri, Pashayi and Khowar, are also spoken in eastern Afghanistan, the Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir. Korean is spoken by the Koryo-saram minority, mainly in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.[37]

Religions

Islam is the religion most common in the Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, Xinjiang and the peripheral western regions, such as Bashkortostan. Most Central Asian Muslims are Sunni, although there are sizable Shia minorities in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Buddhism and Zoroastrianism were the major faiths in Central Asia prior to the arrival of Islam. Zoroastrian influence is still felt today in such celebrations as Nowruz, held in all five of the Central Asian states.

Buddhism was a prominent religion in Central Asia prior to the arrival of Islam, and the transmission of Buddhism along the Silk Road eventually brought the religion to China.[38] Amongst the Turkic peoples, Tengrianism was the popular religion before arrival of Islam. Tibetan Buddhism is most common in Tibet, Mongolia, Ladakh and the southern Russian regions of Siberia.

The form of Christianity most practiced in the region in previous centuries was Nestorianism, but now the largest denomination is the Russian Orthodox Church, with many members in Kazakhstan where about 25% of the population of 19 million identify as Christian, 17% in Uzbekistan and 5% in Kyrgyzstan.

The Bukharan Jews were once a sizable community in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but nearly all have emigrated since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In Siberia, Shamanism is practiced, including forms of divination, such as Kumalak.

Contact and migration with Han people from China has brought Confucianism, Daoism, Mahayana Buddhism, and other Chinese folk beliefs into the region.

Geostrategy

Qianlong Horse
Tartar prostrating before Qianlong Emperor of China (1757).[39]
Great Game cartoon from 1878
Political cartoon from the period of the Great Game showing the Afghan Amir Sher Ali with his "friends" Imperial Russia and the United Kingdom (1878)
Islam karimov
Islam Karimov (President, Uzbekistan) in the Pentagon, March 2002

Central Asia has long been a strategic location merely because of its proximity to several great powers on the Eurasian landmass. The region itself never held a dominant stationary population nor was able to make use of natural resources. Thus, it has rarely throughout history become the seat of power for an empire or influential state. Central Asia has been divided, redivided, conquered out of existence, and fragmented time and time again. Central Asia has served more as the battleground for outside powers than as a power in its own right.

Central Asia had both the advantage and disadvantage of a central location between four historical seats of power. From its central location, it has access to trade routes to and from all the regional powers. On the other hand, it has been continuously vulnerable to attack from all sides throughout its history, resulting in political fragmentation or outright power vacuum, as it is successively dominated.

  • To the North, the steppe allowed for rapid mobility, first for nomadic horseback warriors like the Huns and Mongols, and later for Russian traders, eventually supported by railroads. As the Russian Empire expanded to the East, it would also push down into Central Asia towards the sea, in a search for warm water ports. The Soviet bloc would reinforce dominance from the North and attempt to project power as far south as Afghanistan.
  • To the East, the demographic and cultural weight of Chinese empires continually pushed outward into Central Asia since the Silk Road period of Han Dynasty. However, with the Sino-Soviet split and collapse of Soviet Union, China would project its soft power into Central Asia, most notably in the case of Afghanistan, to counter Russian dominance of the region.
  • To the Southeast, the demographic and cultural influence of India was felt in Central Asia, notably in Tibet, the Hindu Kush, and slightly beyond. From its base in India, the British Empire competed with the Russian Empire for influence in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • To the Southwest, Western Asian powers have expanded into the southern areas of Central Asia (usually Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan). Several Persian empires would conquer and reconquer parts of Central Asia; Alexander the Great's Hellenic empire would extend into Central Asia; two Islamic empires would exert substantial influence throughout the region; and the modern state of Iran has projected influence throughout the region as well. Turkey, through a common Turkic nation identity, has gradually increased its ties and influence as well in the region. Furthermore, since Uzbekistan announced their intention to join in April 2018, Turkey and all of the Central Asian Turkic-speaking states except Turkmenistan are together part of the Turkic Council.[40]

In the post–Cold War era, Central Asia is an ethnic cauldron, prone to instability and conflicts, without a sense of national identity, but rather a mess of historical cultural influences, tribal and clan loyalties, and religious fervor. Projecting influence into the area is no longer just Russia, but also Turkey, Iran, China, Pakistan, India and the United States:

  • Russia continues to dominate political decision-making throughout the former SSRs; although, as other countries move into the area, Russia's influence has begun to wane though Russia still maintains military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.[41]
  • The United States, with its military involvement in the region and oil diplomacy, is also significantly involved in the region's politics. The United States and other NATO members are the main contributors to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and also exert considerable influence in other Central Asian nations.
  • China has security ties with Central Asian states through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and conducts energy trade bilaterally.[42]
  • India has geographic proximity to the Central Asian region and, in addition, enjoys considerable influence on Afghanistan.[43][44] India maintains a military base at Farkhor, Tajikistan, and also has extensive military relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.[45]
  • Turkey also exerts considerable influence in the region on account of its ethnic and linguistic ties with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and its involvement in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Political and economic relations are growing rapidly (e.g., Turkey recently eliminated visa requirements for citizens of the Central Asian Turkic republics).
  • Iran, the seat of historical empires that controlled parts of Central Asia, has historical and cultural links to the region and is vying to construct an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.
  • Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic state, has a history of political relations with neighboring Afghanistan and is termed capable of exercising influence. For some Central Asian nations, the shortest route to the ocean lies through Pakistan. Pakistan seeks natural gas from Central Asia and supports the development of pipelines from its countries. According to an independent study, Turkmenistan is supposed to be the fifth largest natural gas field in the world.[46] The mountain ranges and areas in northern Pakistan lie on the fringes of greater Central Asia; the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan lies adjacent to Tajikistan, separated only by the narrow Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Being located on the northwest of South Asia, the area forming modern-day Pakistan maintained extensive historical and cultural links with the central Asian region.

Russian historian Lev Gumilev wrote that Xiongnu, Mongols (Mongol Empire, Zunghar Khanate) and Turkic peoples (Turkic Khaganate, Uyghur Khaganate) played a role to stop Chinese aggression to the north. The Turkic Khaganate had special policy against Chinese assimilation policy.[47] Another interesting theoretical analysis on the historical-geopolitics of the Central Asia was made through the reinterpretation of Orkhun Inscripts.[48]

The region, along with Russia, is also part of "the great pivot" as per the Heartland Theory of Halford Mackinder, which says that the power which controls Central Asia—richly endowed with natural resources—shall ultimately be the "empire of the world".[49]

War on Terror

In the context of the United States' War on Terror, Central Asia has once again become the center of geostrategic calculations. Pakistan's status has been upgraded by the U.S. government to Major non-NATO ally because of its central role in serving as a staging point for the invasion of Afghanistan, providing intelligence on Al-Qaeda operations in the region, and leading the hunt on Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan, which had served as a haven and source of support for Al-Qaeda under the protection of Mullah Omar and the Taliban, was the target of a U.S. invasion in 2001 and ongoing reconstruction and drug-eradication efforts. U.S. military bases have also been established in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, causing both Russia and the People's Republic of China to voice their concern over a permanent U.S. military presence in the region.

Western governments have accused Russia, China and the former Soviet republics of justifying the suppression of separatist movements, and the associated ethnics and religion with the War on Terror.

Major cultural, scientific and economic centres

Cities within the regular definition of Central Asia and Afghanistan

City Country Population Image Information
Astana Kazakhstan 1,006,574
(2017)
Central Astana on a Sunny, Snowy Day in February 2013 The capital and second largest city in Kazakhstan. After Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, the city and the region were renamed from Tselinograd to Aqmola. The name was often translated as "White Tombstone", but actually means "Holy Place" or "Holy Shrine". The "White Tombstone" literal translation was too appropriate for many visitors to escape notice in almost all guide books and travel accounts. In 1994, the city was designated as the future capital of the newly independent country and again renamed to the present Astana after the capital was officially moved from Almaty in 1997.
Almaty Kazakhstan 1,713,220
(2017)
Almaty, Kok-tobe exposition 3 It was the capital of Kazakhstan (and its predecessor, the Kazakh SSR) from 1929 to 1998. Despite losing its status as the capital, Almaty remains the major commercial center of Kazakhstan. It is a recognized financial center of Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region.
Bishkek Kyrgyzstan 865,527
(2009)
E7904-Bishkek-Ala-Too-Square The capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is also the administrative center of Chuy Region, which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the region, but rather a region-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
Osh Kyrgyzstan 243,216
(2009)
Osh 03-2016 img27 view from Sulayman Mountain The second largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Osh is also the administrative center of Osh Region, which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the region, but rather a region-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
Dushanbe Tajikistan 780,000
(2014)
Palace of Nations and the Flagpole, Dushanbe, Tajikistan The capital and largest city of Tajikistan. Dushanbe means "Monday" in Tajik and Persian,[57] and the name reflects the fact that the city grew on the site of a village that originally was a popular Monday marketplace.
Ashgabat Turkmenistan 1,032,000
(2014)
Neutrality-Road-Ashgabat-2015 The capital and largest city of Turkmenistan. Ashgabat is a relatively young city, growing out of a village of the same name established by Russians in 1818. It is not far from the site of Nisa, the ancient capital of the Parthians, and it grew on the ruins of the Silk Road city of Konjikala, which was first mentioned as a wine-producing village in the 2nd century BCE and was leveled by an earthquake in the 1st century BCE (a precursor of the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake). Konjikala was rebuilt because of its advantageous location on the Silk Road, and it flourished until its destruction by Mongols in the 13th century CE. After that, it survived as a small village until the Russians took over in the 19th century.[58][59]
Bukhara Uzbekistan 237,900
(1999)
2012 Bukhara 7515821196 The nation's fifth-largest city and the capital of the Bukhara Region of Uzbekistan. Bukhara has been one of the main centers of Persian civilization from its early days in the 6th century BCE, and, since the 12th century CE, Turkic speakers gradually moved in. Its architecture and archaeological sites form one of the pillars of Central Asian history and art.
Kokand Uzbekistan 209,389
(2011)
KokandPalace Kokand (Uzbek: Qo'qon / Қўқон; Tajik: Хӯқанд; Persian: خوقند‎; Chagatai: خوقند; Russian: Коканд) is a city in Fergana Region in eastern Uzbekistan, at the southwestern edge of the Fergana Valley. It has a population of 192,500 (1999 census estimate). Kokand is 228 km southeast of Tashkent, 115 km west of Andijan, and 88 km west of Fergana. It is nicknamed "City of Winds", or sometimes "Town of the Boar".
Samarkand Uzbekistan 596,300
(2008)
Samarkand view from the top The second largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of Samarqand Region. The city is most noted for its central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, and for being an Islamic center for scholarly study. It was here that the ruler Ulugh Beg (1394–1449) built a gigantic astronomical observatory.[60]
Tashkent Uzbekistan 2,180,000
(2008)
International Business Center. Tashkent city The capital and largest city of Uzbekistan. In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, the town and the region were known as Chach. Tashkent started as an oasis on the Chirchik River, near the foothills of the Golestan Mountains. In ancient times, this area contained Beitian, probably the summer "capital" of the Kangju confederacy.[61]
Kabul Afghanistan 3,895,000
(2011)
Kabul Skyline The capital and largest city of Afghanistan. The city of Kabul is thought to have been established between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE.[62] In the Rig Veda (composed between 1700–1100 BCE), the word Kubhā is mentioned, which appears to refer to the Kabul River.[63]
Kandahar Afghanistan 557,118
(2015)
Aerial view of a section of Kandahar in 2013 The second largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Kandahar province. The region around Kandahar is one of the oldest known human settlements.
Mazar-e Sharif Afghanistan 375,181
(2008)
Mi-17 helicopter flies over the northern Afghan city-101113-N-5006D-582 The fourth largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Balkh province, is linked by roads to Kabul in the southeast, Herat to the west and Uzbekistan to the north.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The area figure is based on the combined areas of five countries in Central Asia.

References

Citations

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Sources

Further reading

External links

Asian cuisine

Asian cuisine includes several major regional cuisines: East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Central Asian, and Western Asian. A cuisine is a characteristic style of cooking practices and traditions, usually associated with a specific culture. Asia, being the largest and most populous continent, is home to many cultures, many of which have their own characteristic cuisine.

Ingredients common to many cultures in the East and Southeast regions of the continent include rice, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, chilies, dried onions, soy, and tofu. Stir frying, steaming, and deep frying are common cooking methods.

While rice is common to most Asian cuisines, different varieties are popular in the various regions. Basmati rice is popular in the subcontinent, Jasmine rice is often found across the southeast, while long-grain rice is popular in China and short-grain in Japan and Korea.Curry is a common dish in southern,

southeastern Asia and Japan and also found to some extent in other East Asian cuisines. Curry dishes with origins in India and other northern South Asian countries usually have a yogurt base while those in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia generally use coconut milk as their foundation.

Bactria

Bactria (); or Bactriana was a historical region in Central Asia. Bactria proper was north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya river, covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and parts of Northern Pakistan. More broadly Bactria was the area north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Tian Shan with the Amu Darya flowing west through the center.

Demographics of Central Asia

Central Asia is a diverse land with many ethnic groups, languages, religions and tribes. The nations which make up Central Asia are five of the former Soviet republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, which have a total population of about 70 million. Afghanistan is not always considered part of the region, but when it is, Central Asia has a total population of about 122 million (2016). Additionally, Pakistan has a large population of central Asian peoples even though it is not categorized as a central Asian nation. Most central Asians belong to religions which were introduced to the area within the last 1,500 years, such as Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Ismaili Islam, Tengriism, and Syriac Christianity. Buddhism, however, was introduced to Central Asia over 2,200 years ago, and Zoroastrianism, over 2,500 years ago.

History of Central Asia

The history of Central Asia concerns the history of the various peoples that have inhabited Central Asia. The lifestyle of such people has been determined primarily by the area's climate and geography. The aridity of the region makes agriculture difficult and distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in the region. Nomadic horse peoples of the steppe dominated the area for millennia.

Relations between the steppe nomads and the settled people in and around Central Asia were marked by conflict. The nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and the steppe horse riders became some of the most militarily potent people in the world, due to the devastating techniques and ability of their horse archers. Periodically, tribal leaders or changing conditions would organise several tribes into a single military force, which would then often launch campaigns of conquest, especially into more 'civilised' areas. A few of these types of tribal coalitions included the Huns' invasion of Europe, various Turkic migrations into Transoxiana, the Wu Hu attacks on China and most notably the Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia.

The dominance of the nomads ended in the 16th century as firearms allowed settled people to gain control of the region. The Russian Empire, the Qing dynasty of China, and other powers expanded into the area and seized the bulk of Central Asia by the end of the 19th century. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union incorporated most of Central Asia; only Mongolia and Afghanistan remained nominally independent, although Mongolia existed as a Soviet satellite state and Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in the late 20th century. The Soviet areas of Central Asia saw much industrialisation and construction of infrastructure, but also the suppression of local cultures and a lasting legacy of ethnic tensions and environmental problems.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, five Central Asian countries gained independence — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In all of the new states, former Communist Party officials retained power as local strongmen.

Indian subcontinent

The Indian subcontinent is a southern region and peninsula of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Geologically, the Indian subcontinent is related to the land mass that rifted from Gondwana and merged with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east. Politically, the Indian subcontinent includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.Sometimes, the geographical term 'Indian subcontinent' is used interchangeably with 'South Asia', although that last term is used typically as a political term and is also used to include Afghanistan. Which countries should be included in either of these remains the subject of debate.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan ( KUR-gih-STAHN; Kyrgyz: Кыргызстан Kırğızstan (Kyrgyz pronunciation: [qɯrʁɯsˈstɑn]); Russian: Киргизия [kʲɪrˈɡʲizʲɪjə] or Кыргызстан [kɨrɡɨˈstan]), officially the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz: Кыргыз Республикасы, translit. Kırğız Respublikası; Russian: Киргизская Республика, tr. Kirgizskaya Respublika), and also known as Kirghizia, is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country with mountainous terrain. It is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and southwest, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan's recorded history spans over 2,000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since independence, the sovereign state has officially been a unitary parliamentary republic, although it continues to endure ethnic conflicts, revolts, economic troubles, transitional governments and political conflict. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Turkic Council, the Türksoy community and the United Nations.

Ethnic Kyrgyz make up the majority of the country's 6 million people, followed by significant minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Kyrgyz is closely related to other Turkic languages, although Russian remains widely spoken and is an official language, a legacy of a century of Russification. The majority of the population are non-denominational Muslims. In addition to its Turkic origins, Kyrgyz culture bears elements of Persian, Mongolian, and Russian influence.

Pontic–Caspian steppe

The Pontic–Caspian steppe, or Pontic steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea (called Euxeinos Pontos [Εὔξεινος Πόντος] in antiquity) as far east as the Caspian Sea, from Moldova and eastern Ukraine across the North Caucasus Federal District, Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan, forming part of the larger Eurasian steppe, adjacent to the Kazakh steppe to the east. It is a part of the Palearctic temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregion of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome.

The area corresponds to Cimmeria, Scythia, and Sarmatia of classical antiquity. Across several millennia the steppe was used by numerous tribes of nomadic horsemen, many of which went on to conquer lands in the settled regions of Europe and in western and southern Asia.

The term Ponto-Caspian region is used in biogeography for plants and animals of these steppes, and animals from the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas. Genetic research has identified this region as the most probable place where horses were first domesticated.According to a theory, called Kurgan hypothesis in Indo-European studies, the Pontic–Caspian steppe was the homeland of the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, and these same speakers were the original domesticators of the horse.

Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War (Russian: Гражда́нская война́ в Росси́и, tr. Grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossii; 7 November 1917 – 25 October 1922) was a multi-party war in the former Russian Empire immediately after the two Russian Revolutions of 1917, as many factions vied to determine Russia's political future. The two largest combatant groups were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favoring political monarchism, economic capitalism and alternative forms of socialism, each with democratic and antidemocratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists and nonideological Green armies fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites. Eight foreign nations intervened against the Red Army, notably the former Allied military forces from the World War and the pro-German armies. The Red Army eventually defeated the White Armed Forces of South Russia in Ukraine and the army led by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak to the east in Siberia in 1919. The remains of the White forces commanded by Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel were beaten in Crimea and evacuated in late 1920. Lesser battles of the war continued on the periphery for two more years, and minor skirmishes with the remnants of the White forces in the Far East continued well into 1923. The war ended in 1923 in the sense that Bolshevik communist control of the newly formed Soviet Union was now assured, although armed national resistance in Central Asia was not completely crushed until 1934. There were an estimated 7,000,000–12,000,000 casualties during the war, mostly civilians. The Russian Civil War has been described by some as the greatest national catastrophe that Europe had yet seen.Many pro-independence movements emerged after the break-up of the Russian Empire and fought in the war. Several parts of the former Russian Empire—Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland—were established as sovereign states, with their own civil wars and wars of independence. The rest of the former Russian Empire was consolidated into the Soviet Union shortly afterwards.

Silk Road

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West. It was central to cultural interaction between the regions for many centuries. The Silk Road primarily refers to the terrestrial routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with East Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe.

The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning in the Han dynasty (207 BCE–220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian section of the trade routes around 114 BCE through the missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their trade products and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.Trade on the Road played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, Korea, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Iran/Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was the major trade item exported from China, many other goods were traded, as well as religions, syncretic philosophies, sciences, and technologies. Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Road. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.In June 2014, UNESCO designated the Chang'an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Road as a World Heritage Site. The Indian portion is on the tentative site list.

Sogdia

Sogdia () or Sogdiana was an ancient Iranian civilization that at different times included territory located in present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan such as: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khujand, Panjikent and Shahrisabz. Sogdiana was also a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great (i. 16). In the Avesta, Sogdiana is listed as the second best land that the supreme deity Ahura Mazda had created. It comes second, after Airyanem Vaejah, "homeland of the Aryans", in the Zoroastrian book of Vendidad, indicating the importance of this region from ancient times. Sogdiana was first conquered by Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. The region would then be annexed by the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in 328 BC. The region would continue to change hands under the Seleucid Empire, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Kushan Empire, Hephthalite Empire, and Sasanian Empire.

The Sogdian states, although never politically united, were centred on the main city of Samarkand. Sogdiana lay north of Bactria, east of Khwarezm, and southeast of Kangju between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and the Jaxartes (Syr Darya), embracing the fertile valley of the Zeravshan (ancient Polytimetus). Sogdian territory corresponds to the modern provinces of Samarkand and Bokhara in modern Uzbekistan as well as the Sughd province of modern Tajikistan. During the High Middle Ages, Sogdian cities included sites stretching towards Issyk Kul such as that at the archeological site of Suyab. Sogdian, an Eastern Iranian language, is no longer a spoken language, but its direct descendant, Yaghnobi, is still spoken by the Yaghnobis of Tajikistan. It was widely spoken in Central Asia as a lingua franca and even served as one of the Turkic Khaganate's court languages for writing documents.

Sogdians also lived in Imperial China and rose to special prominence in the military and government of the Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907 AD). Sogdian merchants and diplomats traveled as far west as the Byzantine Empire. They played an important part as middlemen in the trade route of the Silk Road. While originally following the faiths of Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Buddhism, and to a lesser extent, Nestorian Christianity from West Asia, the gradual conversion to Islam among the Sogdians and their descendants began with the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana in the 8th century. The Sogdian conversion to Islam was virtually complete by the end of the Samanid Empire in 999, coinciding with the decline of the Sogdian language, as it was largely supplanted by Persian.

South Asia

South Asia or Southern Asia, is a term used to represent the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as Nepal and northern parts of India situated south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land (clockwise, from west) by West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The current territories of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka form South Asia. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic cooperation organisation in the region which was established in 1985 and includes all eight nations comprising South Asia.South Asia covers about 5.2 million km2 (2 million mi2), which is 11.71% of the Asian continent or 3.5% of the world's land surface area. The population of South Asia is about 1.891 billion or about one fourth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world. Overall, it accounts for about 39.49% of Asia's population, over 24% of the world's population, and is home to a vast array of people.In 2010, South Asia had the world's largest population of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. It also has the largest population of Muslims in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as over 35 million Christians and 25 million Buddhists.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan ( (listen), ; Tajik: Тоҷикистон [tɔdʒikisˈtɔn]), officially the Republic of Tajikistan (Tajik: Ҷумҳурии Тоҷикистон, Jumhuriyi Tojikiston), is a mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia with an area of 143,100 km2 (55,300 sq mi) and an estimated population of 8.7 million people as of 2016. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. The traditional homelands of the Tajik people include present-day Tajikistan as well as parts of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

The territory that now constitutes Tajikistan was previously home to several ancient cultures, including the city of Sarazm of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, and was later home to kingdoms ruled by people of different faiths and cultures, including the Oxus civilisation, Andronovo culture, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Islam. The area has been ruled by numerous empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid Empire, Sasanian Empire, Hephthalite Empire, Samanid Empire, Mongol Empire, Timurid dynasty, the Russian Empire, and subsequently the Soviet Union. Within the Soviet Union, the country's modern borders were drawn when it was part of Uzbekistan as an autonomous republic before becoming a full-fledged Soviet republic in 1929.On 9 September 1991, Tajikistan became an independent sovereign nation when the Soviet Union disintegrated. A civil war was fought almost immediately after independence, lasting from 1992 to 1997. Since the end of the war, newly established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country's economy to grow. Like all other Central Asian neighbouring states, the country, led by President Emomali Rahmon since 1994, has been criticised by a number of non-governmental organizations for authoritarian leadership, lack of religious freedom, corruption and widespread violations of human rights.

Tajikistan is a presidential republic consisting of four provinces. Most of Tajikistan's 8.7 million people belong to the Tajik ethnic group, who speak Tajik (a dialect of Persian). Many Tajiks also speak Russian as their second language. While the state is constitutionally secular, Islam is practiced by 98% of the population. In the Gorno-Badakhshan Oblast of Tajikistan, despite its sparse population, there is large linguistic diversity where Rushani, Shughni, Ishkashimi, Wakhi and Tajik are some of the languages spoken. Mountains cover more than 90% of the country. It has a transition economy that is highly dependent on remittances, aluminium and cotton production. Tajikistan is a member of the United Nations, CIS, OSCE, OIC, ECO, SCO and CSTO as well as an NATO PfP partner.

Tartary

Tartary (Latin: Tartaria) or Great Tartary (Latin: Tartaria Magna) was a historical region but up until the late 18th century it was known as a vast country located in northern and central Asia stretching eastwards from the Caspian Sea and from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, inhabited mostly by Turkic peoples.

The vast region spanned much of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, Volga-Urals, the Caucasus, Siberia, Central Asia, Mongolia, and Manchuria.

Timurid dynasty

The Timurid dynasty (Persian: تیموریان‎), self-designated as Gurkani (Persian: گورکانیان‎, Gūrkāniyān), was a Sunni Muslim dynasty or clan of Turco-Mongol lineage descended from the warlord Timur (also known as Tamerlane). The word "Gurkani" derived from "gurkan", a Persianized form of the Mongolian word "kuragan" meaning "son-in-law", as the Timurids were in-laws of the line of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire. Members of the Timurid dynasty were strongly influenced by the Persian culture and established two significant empires in history, the Timurid Empire (1370–1507) based in Persia and Central Asia and the Mughal Empire (1526–1857) based in the Indian subcontinent.

Transoxiana

Transoxiana (also spelled Transoxania), known in Arabic sources as Mā Warāʾ an-Nahr (Arabic: ما وراء النهر‎ Arabic pronunciation: [ˈmaː waˈraːʔ anˈnahr] – 'what [is] beyond the [Oxus] river') and in Persian as Farārūd (Persian: فرارود‎, Persian pronunciation: [fæɾɒːɾuːd]—'beyond the [Amudarya] river'), is the ancient name used for the portion of Central Asia corresponding approximately with modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and southwest Kazakhstan. Geographically, it is the region between the Amu Darya (Ancient Greek: Ώξος Ốxos) and Syr Darya rivers. The area had been known to the ancient Iranians as Turan, a term used in the Persian national epic Shahnameh, and to the Romans as Transoxania (Land beyond the Oxus). The Arabic term Mā warāʼ an-Nahr (Land Beyond the River) passed into Persian literary usage and stayed on until post-Mongol times.The region was one of the satrapies (provinces ) of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia under the name Sogdiana. It was defined within the classical world of Iran to distinguish it from Iran proper, especially its northeastern province of Khorasan—a term originating with the Sasanians,—although early Arab historians and geographers tended to subsume the region within the loosely defined term "Khorasan" designating a much larger territory.

Turkestan

Turkestan, also spelt Turkistan (literally "Land of the Turks" in Persian), refers to an area in Central Asia between Siberia to the north and Iran, Afghanistan, and Tibet to the south, the Caspian Sea to the west and the Gobi Desert to the east.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan (US: (listen), UK: ; Uzbek: Ўзбекистон/Oʻzbekiston pronounced [ozbekiˈstɒn]; Russian: Узбекистан [ʊzbʲɪkʲɪˈstan]), officially also the Republic of Uzbekistan (Uzbek: Ўзбекистон Республикаси/Oʻzbekiston Respublikasi; Russian: Республика Узбекистан), is a landlocked country in Central Asia. The sovereign state is a secular, unitary constitutional republic, comprising 12 provinces, one autonomous republic, and a capital city. Uzbekistan is bordered by five landlocked countries: Kazakhstan to the north; Kyrgyzstan to the northeast; Tajikistan to the southeast; Afghanistan to the south; and Turkmenistan to the southwest. Along with Liechtenstein, it is one of the world's only two doubly landlocked countries (i.e. sharing borders only with other landlocked countries).

What is now Uzbekistan was in ancient times part of the Iranian-speaking region of Transoxiana and Turan. The first recorded settlers were Eastern Iranian nomads, known as Scythians, who founded kingdoms in Khwarezm (8th–6th centuries BC), Bactria (8th–6th centuries BC), Sogdia (8th–6th centuries BC), Fergana (3rd century BC – 6th century AD), and Margiana (3rd century BC – 6th century AD). The area was incorporated into the Persian Empire and, after a period of Macedonian Greek rule, was ruled by the Persian Parthian Empire and later by the Sasanian Empire, until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century. The Muslim conquest in the 7th century converted the majority of the population, including the local ruling classes, into adherents of Islam. During this period, cities such as Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara began to grow rich from the Silk Road. The local Khwarezmian dynasty, and Central Asia as a whole, were decimated by the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. After the Mongol Conquests, the area became increasingly dominated by Turkic peoples. The city of Shahrisabz was the birthplace of the Turco-Mongol warlord Timur, also known as one of Genghis Khan's grandchildren, who in the 14th century established the Timurid Empire and was proclaimed the Supreme Emir of Turan with his capital in Samarkand. The area was conquered by Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century, moving the centre of power from Samarkand to Bukhara. The region was split into three states: Khanate of Khiva, Khanate of Kokand, and Emirate of Bukhara. It was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century, with Tashkent becoming the political center of Russian Turkestan. In 1924, after national delimitation, the constituent republic of the Soviet Union known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan on 31 August 1991.

Uzbekistan has a diverse cultural heritage due to its storied history and strategic location. Its first major official language is Uzbek, a Turkic language written in the Latin alphabet and spoken natively by approximately 85% of the population. Russian has widespread use as a governmental language; it is the most widely taught second language. Uzbeks constitute 81% of the population, followed by Russians (5.4%), Tajiks (4.0%), Kazakhs (3.0%), and others (6.5%). Muslims constitute 79% of the population while 5% of the population follow Russian Orthodox Christianity, and 16% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. A majority of Uzbeks are non-denominational Muslims. Uzbekistan is a member of the CIS, OSCE, UN, and the SCO. While officially a democratic republic, by 2008 non-governmental human rights organizations defined Uzbekistan as "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights".Following the death of Islam Karimov in 2016, the second president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, started a new course, which was described as a A Quiet Revolution and Revolution from Above. He stated he intended to abolish cotton slavery, systematic use of child labour, exit visas, to introduce a tax reform, create four new free economic zones, as well as amnestied some political prisoners. The relations with neighboring countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan drastically improved. However, the Amnesty International report on human rights in the country for 2017/2018 described continued repressive measures, including forced labour in cotton harvesting, and restrictions on movements of 'freed' prisoners.The Uzbek economy is in a gradual transition to the market economy, with foreign trade policy being based on import substitution. In September 2017, the country's currency became fully convertible in the market rates. Uzbekistan is a major producer and exporter of cotton. The country also operates the largest open-pit gold mine in the world. With the gigantic power-generation facilities of the Soviet era and an ample supply of natural gas, Uzbekistan has become the largest electricity producer in Central Asia. Renewable energy constitutes more than 23% of the country's energy sector, with hydroelectricity and solar energy having 21.4% and 2% respectively.

Uzbeks

The Uzbeks (Oʻzbek/Ўзбек, pl. Oʻzbeklar/Ўзбеклар) are a Turkic ethnic group; the largest Turkic ethnic group in Central Asia. They comprise the majority population of Uzbekistan but are also found as a minority group in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and China. Uzbek diaspora communities also exist in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Regions of Asia
Central
North
East
West
South
Southeast

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