Useful Notes / Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, officially known as The Republic of Uzbekistan (Uzbek: Oʻzbekiston Respublikasi) is a Central Asian country, formerly part of the Soviet Union. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south, being the only one to border all five. It's also one of the only two countries in the world, alongside Liechtenstein, to be doubly-landlocked (i.e. you need to cross two states to find sea).

With 33 million people living on the country, Uzbekistan is by far the most populous Central Asian country. It is more populous than Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan combined, and Kazakhstan has a little more than half of the population living in six times as much area. There's a reason for that. When the country's border was set up by the Soviets, it was lucky enough to receive the most fertile, most desirable, and thus most populous parts of the region: the fertile lowland region, Bactria, occupies the south; the even more fertile Sogdia, home of the capital Tashkent, large cities Samarkand and Bukhara, and mineral-rich Fergana Valley occupies the center and the eastern panhandle; and although the barren Kyzylkum desert mainly comprises the west, there is a large oasis south of the Aral Sea, known to historians as the Khwarezm region. There is not too much barren steppe (Kazakhstan), desertnote  (Turkmenistan), or mountains (Kyrgystan and Tajikistan). All those parts were also the most historically significant, being the heart of the land route of Silk Road, an old trade network that enabled contact between Asia and Europe back when all you had were horses and caravans. Plus, it is located wholly in what is called Transoxiana, a region in between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers.

Before the late 1st millenium BC, Transoxiana was mainly inhabited by Eastern Iranian confederations, both nomadic and settled. In the 6th century BC, the Achameneids conquered the region, but with much resistance; Herodotus famously recorded that Cyrus the Great was killed while fighting against the Massagetae under Queen Tomyris, who in some tales beheaded and drowned his head into a vessel of blood. Later, it too fell alongside the Achaemenids to Alexander and his Macedonian army. Hellenistic domination continued until the 1st century AD, when power was wrestled by the nomads, this time under the various Indo-European tribes expelled from China, including the Yuezhi and the Hephthalites. The Persians also made their move again under the Sassanids, but this time they were challenged by the Turks, who had formed a huge nomadic empire in Inner Asia known as the Turkic Khaganate. Slowly, Transoxiana shifted from being Eastern Iranian-speaking to Persian-speaking (in the south) and Turkic-speaking (the rest).

In the 8th century, Transoxiana was conquered by the Umayyad caliphate under Qutayba ibn Muslim, but again with stiff resistance from the Turks. They also had to face Tang China, who prevented them from crossing the Tian Shan. The population gradually embraced Islam, especially once the Abbasid caliphate overthrew Marwan II and established a more egalitarian society. A century after conquest, Transoxiana broke away from the caliphate and formed the Samanids, a dynasty of Persian origin. They were succeeded by the Turkic Kara-Khanid Khanate, the first Muslim Turkic dynasty (they converted to Islam halfway through their rule). The Kara-Khanids were extremely significant for the Uzbeks because the Karluk confederation was their distant ancestors. The Qara Khitai, founded by Buddhist Khitans expelled from North China, and finally the Khwarezmians followed them. By this time, Sogdia became one of the wealthiest regions in the world and the cities of Bukhara and especially Samarkand became centers of Islamic learning. Ever heard of Avicenna? The famous physician was born in Bukhara.

Their glory came to an abrupt end when the Mongols invaded in the 13th century and basically reduced Transoxiana to rubble. The Chagatai Khanate emerged from the Mongol Empire, but was conquered shortly thereafter by the most significant person to emerge from Transoxiana: Timur the Lame, a Turk-Persian who had the ambition to restore the Mongol Empire. He embarked on a conquest of Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau, and the Middle East in the 14th century and encouraged/forced many artisans and scholars to come to Samarkand. While his empire fractured not long after, it was significant as it ensured the survival and independence of many states in Transoxiana well-over into the modern period, after many of its contemporaries had long gone.

In the 16th century, Transoxiana was ruled by three principal khanates: Kokand in the Fergana valley, Bukhara in the center, and Khiva in Khwarezm. Tsarist Russia invaded in the 19th century, but they were content enough to turn Bukhara and Khiva into protectorates. The Russian Revolution made both independent, but they were quickly overran by communists and turned into Soviet satellites. Despite some attempts by the Basmachi religious movement triggered as a reaction to conscription during World War I, the Russians regained control and absorbed the satellite states. The Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created as a constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1924 and would remain so until independence in December 1991.

Among the legacies of the Soviets was the promoting of separate ethnicities for the Central Asians. Before the 20th century, ethnicity was a rather fluid concept in the region and people were differentiated mostly by way of life (settled vs nomadic). The Uzbeks were quite enthusiastic in playing along, since they have the strongest identity among the Turks and have been a settled community far longer than the others. The other, unfortunate, legacy, was the rapid disappearance and desertification of the Aral Sea, thanks to some shortsighted plan to make the Kyzylkum desert into an agricultural area. This never-rectified disaster forced a large-scale evacuation not only because of the loss of the region's fishing industry, but also because the area is slowly turning into a poisonous, infertile salt marsh.

Uzbekistan's economy relies mainly on commodity production, including cotton, gold, uranium, potassium, and natural gas. Despite the declared objective of transition to a market economy, Uzbekistan continues to maintain rigid economic controls, which often repel foreign investors. The policy of gradual, strictly controlled transition has nevertheless produced beneficial results in the form of economic recovery after 1995. Uzbekistan's domestic policies on human rights and individual freedoms are often criticized by international organizations (when there's a pervasive rumor that the nation's first president enjoyed boiling dissidents alive, there is a bit of a problem...).

According to the official census, Uzbeks make up 80% of the population, followed by Tajiks with 5%, Russians and Kazakhs each 3%, Karakalpaks 2.5%, and the rest other minorities. However, this estimate is unreliable because of some shady classification scheme used by the government, which counts other ethnicities but particularly the Tajiks as Uzbeks. This problem is traced since back when the SSR was formed, where many decided to blend with the majority to avoid being deported to other SSRs "where they belong". The real Tajik population might be somewhere up to a quarter, and they're concentrated in the former Bukharan Khanate around Samarkand. There is also a shrinking Bukharan Jewish community that is dated way back to the Sassanian period.

The Uzbek flag
The flag's sky blue, white and green stripes symbolize the skies and water, peace and purity, and hope and joy, respectively; the red fimbriations symbolize the blood that flows in every human; the crescent at the canton is a Turkic symbol; and the twelve stars denote the months of the year, as well as the astronomical achievements of the land during the Islamic Age.