Uzbekistan - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about Uzbekistan: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...


Uzbekistan, republic in Central Asia, bordered on the west and north by Kazakhstan, on the east by Kyrgyzstan, on the southeast by Tajikistan, and on the south by Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic (also known as Qoraqalpoghiston, or Karakalpakstan) occupies 37 percent of Uzbekistan’s territory in the western portion of the country. Toshkent (Tashkent), located in the northeast, is the capital city and chief industrial and cultural center. Uzbeks make up the majority of the republic’s population. In the official state language of Uzbek, the republic is called Uzbekiston Respublikasy (Republic of Uzbekistan).

Uzbekistan was the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1924 until 1991, when it gained its independence. In 1992 Uzbekistan was officially designated a secular and democratic republic with the ratification of its first post-Soviet constitution. However, many of the centralized controls that were characteristic of the Soviet period remain entrenched in the economic and political structures of Uzbekistan. Although the constitution guarantees a multiparty system, the republic’s president, Islam Karimov, has established an authoritarian-style regime that has been intolerant of opposition groups. Karimov has also proceeded cautiously with market-oriented economic reforms, and the government retains control over most sectors of the economy.


Uzbekistan is a landlocked country that covers an area of about 447,400 sq km (about 172,700 sq mi). Mountains dominate the landscape in the east and northeast. Several branches of the western Tien Shan and Pamirs-Alai mountain systems cross into Uzbekistan from neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with some peaks reaching above 4,000 m (13,000 ft). Areas of eastern Uzbekistan are especially prone to seismic disturbances; in 1966 a strong earthquake destroyed large portions of Toshkent.

To the west of the mountains, Uzbekistan is generally low in elevation. More than two-thirds of Uzbekistan’s territory is covered by desert and steppe (semiarid grassy plains). One of the largest deserts in the world, the Qyzylqum, lies in north central Uzbekistan, and extends into Kazakhstan. In northeastern Uzbekistan, southwest of Toshkent, lies the Mirzachol desert. Across west central Uzbekistan is a vast area of flat plains called the Turan Plain, while additional plains lie south and east of the Qyzylqum. The extreme western portion of the country is occupied by the Ustyurt plateau, an elevated plain with some small mountain ridges and abrupt edges.

Rivers and Lakes of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan generally lies between the two largest rivers of Central Asia, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. These two roughly parallel rivers both have their headwaters in the mountains east of Uzbekistan and follow northwesterly courses toward the Aral Sea, a saltwater lake straddling the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Since the early 1960s the Aral Sea has shrunk to less than half its former size, and dry land has separated the remaining water into two main lakes. Uzbekistan’s largest river is the Amu Darya. This river is formed by the confluence of the Panj and Vakhsh rivers on the extreme southwestern border of Tajikistan, near the southeastern tip of Uzbekistan. The Amu Darya traverses a course generally parallel to, and at times part of, Uzbekistan’s southern borders with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, then turns due north through Uzbekistan’s Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic toward the southern section of the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya is formed in the fertile Fergana (Farghona) Valley by the convergence of two rivers flowing from the east, the Naryn and Qoradaryo. The Syr Darya then flows westward through this valley and northern Tajikistan, turns north to cut through Uzbekistan, and enters Kazakhstan, eventually reaching the northern section of the Aral Sea.

Another important river is the Zeravshan, which flows westward from the mountains of Tajikistan through east central Uzbekistan. Before it began to be tapped for irrigation, the Zeravshan was the Amu Darya’s largest tributary; now it dissipates in the Qyzylqum desert near the city of Bukhara (Bukhoro). Uzbekistan has thousands of small streams that expire in the desert, many having been emptied by irrigation.

Extensive canal systems, such as the Amu-Bukhara canal and many others built during the Soviet period, have greatly altered water-flow patterns. Artificial lakes and reservoirs have been created, many of which are fed by irrigation runoff. The largest freshwater lake is Lake Aydarkul, in northeastern Uzbekistan.

Plant and Animal Life in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s mixed topography provides divergent wildlife habitats. In the steppes the endangered saiga antelope can be found, as well as roe deer, wolves, foxes, and badgers. The desert monitor, a large lizard that can reach lengths of 1.6 m (5 ft), thrives in the Qyzylqum desert, along with a type of gazelle and a number of rodent species. The river deltas are home to wild boars, jackals, and deer, with a variety of pink deer living in the Amu Darya delta. The Turan (or Caspian) tiger is now extinct: The last one was killed in the Amu Darya delta in 1972. The endangered snow leopard, which has long been hunted illegally for its prized fur, lives in the eastern mountains. The mountains also are home to several types of mountain goat, including the Alpine ibex (characterized by enormous, back-curving horns), as well as lynx, wild boars, wolves, and brown bears.

A number of bird species are native to the steppes, including ring-necked pheasants, black grouse, partridges, falcons, and hawks. Eagles and lammergeiers (a type of vulture) nest in the mountainous regions, preying on marmots and mouse hares. Ducks, geese, and other birds migrate through the marshes of the Ustyurt plateau.

Plant life is equally diverse. Drought-resistant grasses and low shrubs cover the steppes, except in areas that have been cleared for crop cultivation. Ancient walnut-tree forests are located in the lower mountains, whereas spruce, larch, and juniper thrive in the higher elevations. Elm and poplar trees grow along riverbanks, along with dense stands of brush called tugai.

Natural Resources of Uzbekistan

Only 11 percent of the land in Uzbekistan is arable. The richest farmland is found in the river valleys and the alluvial plains at mountain bases. Uzbekistan contains significant mineral wealth. Deposits of gold, uranium, silver, copper, zinc, coal, lead, tungsten, and molybdenum are mined. Uzbekistan also harbors large reserves of oil and natural gas.

Climate of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has a harsh continental climate. Four distinct seasons create great fluctuations in temperature over the course of a year. Average daily temperatures in January range from -6° to 2°C (21° to 36°F) and in July from 26° to 32°C (79° to 90°F), although temperatures can be much more extreme. There are also wide ranges of temperature between day and night. Precipitation is scant, and the long, hot summers are marked by drought, although the only truly arid region in Uzbekistan is the Qyzylqum desert. The wettest months are March and April. Snow is common from December through February, although snow cover often melts within a couple of days.

Environmental Issues of Uzbekistan

The evaporation of the Aral Sea is one of the worst ecological disasters in the world. The Aral has shrunk so much that it now holds only about one-fifth the volume of water it held in 1960. The shrinkage is due to irrigation withdrawals from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, a practice that began on a massive scale in the early 1960s as part of the Soviet Union’s ill-conceived drive to increase cotton yields in Central Asia. Growing cotton in the naturally arid and saline soil in Central Asia requires excessive irrigation—cotton is a highly water-dependent crop. More than half of the Aral Sea basin is now a dry, salt-encrusted wasteland. The region’s ecosystem was severely degraded as the lake rapidly evaporated and the water flow became scant and intermittent in the two river deltas. Wildlife habitat has been destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and many animal and plant species have become extinct in the area. Windstorms pick up massive amounts of salt and sand from the exposed lake bed and deposit them elsewhere in the vicinity, mainly along the Aral shores, but sometimes as far as 400 km (250 mi) away. This has contributed to desertification, a process that transforms previously arable or habitable land into desert. The salt-laden dust storms, which also contain chemicals such as pesticides, have adversely affected human health: The toxic dust has been linked to respiratory illnesses and certain types of cancer.

Industrial wastes and the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture have contributed to the severe pollution of Uzbekistan’s rivers and lakes. Contaminated drinking water is considered responsible for many human health disorders. Agricultural chemicals, including DDT, also have contaminated the soil in crop-growing areas. In 1992 the government established the State Committee for Environmental Protection. However, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have taken the lead in spearheading environmental initiatives, particularly in regard to conserving and protecting regional water resources.


With an estimated 27,606,007 inhabitants in 2009, Uzbekistan has the largest population of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the third largest population of all the former Soviet republics (after Russia and Ukraine). The country’s population growth rate is 0.9 percent per year due to relatively high birth rates. The average population density is 65 persons per sq km (168 per sq mi), although population density is far higher in the Fergana Valley, the most densely settled area in Central Asia.

Some 36 percent of the total population lives in urban areas. Toshkent, the capital, is the largest city in Central Asia and the fourth largest in the former Soviet Union (after Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kyiv). Other major cities, which are concentrated in the more habitable oases in the eastern half of the country, include Samarqand, Namangan, Andijon, and Bukhara. Nukus is the capital of the Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic.

Ethnic Groups and Languages of Uzbekistan

Although many different ethnic groups live in Uzbekistan, the population is highly homogeneous. Uzbeks constituted 80 percent of the population by 1996 after their share of the population increased quickly in the 1990s. The group known as Uzbeks includes descendents of Turkic-speaking nomads who settled in the region beginning in the 15th century as well as Persian-speaking inhabitants of the region’s towns and villages. Russians are a large minority group, accounting for 6 percent of the population. This is less than in the 1980s; many Russians emigrated to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One reason for this emigration is that the government of Uzbekistan has rejected requests to grant Russians dual citizenship. Moreover, many Russians claim that they are subject to discrimination in Uzbekistan. The Russian share has also dropped because of a relatively low Russian birth rate. Other minorities include Tajiks, Kazakhs, and Tatars, followed by Qoraqalpoghs, Kyrgyz, Koreans, Ukrainians, and Turkmens (or Turkomans).

A significant part of Uzbekistan’s non-Russian minority population has also emigrated since the late 1980s. Some of these emigrants are members of ethnic groups that were forcibly exiled en masse to Uzbekistan under the directive of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during World War II (1939-1945). Thus, the Meskhetian Turks, who had been deported from Georgia, have almost all left Uzbekistan. Other deported peoples who have left in large numbers include Germans and Crimean Tatars. On the other hand, the majority of the deported Koreans have remained in Uzbekistan. Although not members of a deported people, most of Uzbekistan’s Jews have also left, mainly for Israel and the United States. Most Jews arrived on the territory of today’s Uzbekistan only under Soviet rule in the 20th century; however, a small community of Bukhara Jews has lived there for many centuries.

Most ethnic minorities are concentrated in particular areas. For example, the overwhelming share of Russians and Ukrainians live in Toshkent and other industrial centers. Tajiks are concentrated in Samarqand and Bukhara. Qoraqalpoghs reside principally in their home region, the Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic, in western Uzbekistan. Kazakhs are concentrated in areas near Toshkent and Bukhara.

Tensions among Uzbekistan’s ethnic groups have the potential to create regional conflict, but ethnic-based antagonisms have not escalated into violence since independence. Clashes did occur between Meskhetian Turks and Uzbeks in 1989; the conflict was attributed to the high levels of unemployment and the shortage of housing in the Fergana Valley.

The official state language is Uzbek. It belongs to the Eastern Turkic, or Karluk, language group of the Altaic language family. There are several Uzbek dialects. The written language that preceded modern Uzbek was written in an Arabic script, and Arabic letters continued to be used for about a decade after the creation of a modern Uzbek language under the Soviets. In the late 1920s, however, the Soviet government decreed that a Latin-based alphabet be used instead. Then in 1940 the government imposed a modified Cyrillic script (the script of the Russian language). In 1993 the government of independent Uzbekistan resolved to gradually revert to the Latin alphabet. Since then there have been significant efforts to increase literacy in the Latin script, especially among grade-school students. Most ethnic minorities in Uzbekistan tend to speak their own native languages. Russian was the preferred language during the Soviet period and is still widely used in the cities.

Religion in Uzbekistan

As in the other Central Asian states, the predominant religion in Uzbekistan is Islam. Uzbeks and other Muslim peoples of Uzbekistan are primarily Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. There are small, yet growing, communities of Muslims whom government authorities allege are fundamentalist Wahhabis. The Russian and Ukrainian minorities are traditionally Orthodox Christians.

Islam first appeared in the area of present-day Uzbekistan with Arab invaders in the 8th century. Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, became a strong influence in the political and economic life of the region between the 11th and 13th centuries. Sufi travelers brought Islam to non-Muslim conquerors of the region, who used the faith to increase their legitimacy among the local population. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Naqshabandiya became the dominant Sufi order. Naqshabandiya Sufis such as Khoja Ahrar (1404-1490) became wealthy landholders and powerful political brokers, maintaining this position until the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the 19th century. Sufis participated in and occasionally led revolts against Russian and Soviet rule, such as the revolt led by Dukchi Ishan in Andijon in 1898.

During the Soviet period, the officially atheistic Communist regime sought to restrict Islam, and most of Uzbekistan’s mosques were forcibly closed in the 1920s. Since 1989, when Islam Karimov rose to the leadership of Uzbekistan, restrictions on Islam have been relaxed. Since then many mosques have been restored or built in Uzbekistan, and religious literature has become much more accessible. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan’s leaders have made it clear that the government will not tolerate the mixing of religion and politics by independent groups.

Education in Uzbekistan

Education is compulsory in Uzbekistan from age 7 until age 16. Nearly the entire adult population can read and write. Illiteracy was high before the Soviet period but was virtually eliminated by 1970 as a result of the Soviet Union’s emphasis on free and universal education. Since gaining independence, Uzbekistan has embarked on a gradual and costly reform of its education system, which was based on the Soviet model, to bring it up to modern and internationally recognized standards. Among other changes, the government has introduced new curricula and textbooks, new teacher-training programs, and a multitiered degree system for higher education. The government has also opened new primary and secondary schools to serve the growing population of the country, as well as science and technology institutes to meet the needs of a developing nation. Schools play an integral role in the process of nation building. For example, textbooks now place a greater emphasis on Uzbek history and literature, and both the Arabic and Latin scripts are taught in schools.

Institutes of higher education include Toshkent State University (founded in 1920), Toshkent Islamic University (1999), Samarqand State University (1933), and Nukus State University (1979), all named after the cities of their location.

Way of Life in Uzbekistan

Uzbeks are among the most traditional of the Central Asian peoples. Traditional clothing is often worn on a daily basis, although Western-style clothing is also worn in the cities. Traditional men’s wear includes brightly colored striped robes, black boots, and embroidered skullcaps or turbans. Women wear colorful silk, cotton, or velvet dresses and headscarves. The Uzbek cuisine is distinctive, yet some Uzbek dishes, such as palov, are eaten throughout Central Asia. (Palov is a pilaf of rice, meat, vegetables, and sometimes dried fruit.) Other staples of the Uzbek diet include kabob (barbecued meat, especially mutton), laghmon (long, thick noodles often used in soups), and many varieties of bread, called non. Green tea is a common beverage. Common recreational activities include soccer and wrestling, and traditional horseback games are played on special occasions. One such game, known by various names throughout Central Asia (including ulaq, baiga, and buzkashi), is said to date from the days of Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

Uzbeks take great pride in providing hospitality for guests. By custom guests are accorded the best of everything, even during times of economic hardship. Uzbeks maintain close family ties, and in rural areas many members of an extended family may live in one household. Many of the rural poor live below the poverty line. Former Communist officials tend to be the wealthiest and most privileged group in Uzbekistan. Although they have broken their ties with the Communist Party, they have retained control over the economy since independence.


With the ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarqand, and Khiva within its borders, Uzbekistan contains Central Asia’s oldest and most important cultural centers. Islam has been the dominant cultural tradition since the 8th century. During the Soviet period cultural development was restricted under the dogma of socialist realism, which forbade topics that were deemed nationalist—in many cases actually religious—and mandated that literature and art extol Communist themes. However, folk art continued to be produced during certain periods of Soviet history and has enjoyed a great renaissance since the late 1980s.

Art and Architecture of Uzbekistan

For more than a millennium, Islamic traditions have had a major impact on the function, layout, and design of buildings in Central Asia’s cultural centers. Uzbekistan’s ancient cities are endowed with some of the world’s most striking examples of Islamic architecture. This is especially true of Samarqand, which became the capital of the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane (Timur Lang) in 1369. Most of what stands today dates from the period of the Timurid dynasty (founded by Tamerlane), from the 14th to the early 16th century, or from the Shaybanid era of the 16th century. Turquoise-colored domes, such as the dome of the Gur-e Amir (Tamerlane’s mausoleum in Samarqand), are the outstanding feature of Timurid-period architecture. Gracefully arched portals and towering minarets are other trademarks of Islamic architecture.

Islamic tradition prohibits the realistic representation of living things in art. This artistic heritage is evident in the splendid, colorful mosaics that ornament many of Uzbekistan’s architectural monuments. The glazed tilework found on many religious buildings, for example, usually forms abstract geometrical patterns. Some of Uzbekistan’s famous monuments, however, display highly stylized images of animals and other living things. Designs such as the tiled lion figures above the portal at Samarqand’s Shir Dar religious school are considered permissible because they are more symbolic than lifelike.

The folk arts, passed down for many generations, thrive today in Uzbekistan. Uzbeks practice ancient skills such as ornamental wall painting, wood carving, and embroidery. In the Fergana Valley, Uzbek craftworkers use traditional, centuries-old methods to weave silk in the vibrantly multicolored, geometric khon atlas (“king of satins”) pattern and to craft bright blue and green ceramics using local red clay and natural pigments.

Music in Uzbekistan

The music of Uzbekistan is similar to that of the Middle East. It is characterized by complicated rhythms and meters that evoke a richly melodic sound. The music allows for individual nuance and creative variation, although the rhythms generally follow verse structures. Many of the most popular Uzbek instruments have strings, such as the rubob, the dutor, and the ghizhzhak. Instruments similar to these are also popular in certain other parts of Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the Middle East. The age-old tradition of singing minstrels, or bards, was an important part of the early musical (and literary) development in what is now Uzbekistan.

Literature in Uzbekistan

Before the 20th century, much of what is today claimed as the Uzbek literary tradition was shared with other Central Asian peoples. Many writers who were born or created literary works in the territory of present-day Uzbekistan wrote in Persian or in both Persian and Turkic. Tenth-century poet Abu Abdullah Rudaki lived and worked much of his life in Bukhara, which is now located in Uzbekistan. Considered the father of Persian poetry, he is revered not only in Uzbekistan but also in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The early literature of Central Asia that was popular among the general population was in the form of song. Traveling bards, called sha’ir in Uzbek, composed and performed verse tales and epic poems to a melody, making their stories accessible to a mostly illiterate populace. This tradition, which continues to this day, has preserved an ancient oral literature. Farhad and Shirin is one of the most renowned of the Uzbek oral epics.

The best-known Uzbek writer of the 20th century is Abdullah Qadiri. He became famous for his two historical novels, Days Gone By and Scorpion in the Pulpit, both published in the 1920s. Tragically, Qadiri was executed during the Soviet purges of the 1930s, when anyone accused of opposing the regime of Joseph Stalin, including many members of the intelligentsia, were summarily executed or imprisoned.

Libraries and Museums in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s most prestigious libraries are affiliated with learning institutions. The largest library collection in Uzbekistan is located at Toshkent State University. Another large library in the capital is the Central Library of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. Museums in the republic include the Uzbek State Museum of Art and the Toshkent Historical Museum of the Peoples of Uzbekistan, both located in Toshkent; the Museum of Uzbek History, Culture, and Arts, located in Samarqand; and the Karakalpak Art Museum, located in Nukus.


The economic policies and structures of the Soviet period left Uzbekistan poorly prepared for independence. In the 1960s Soviet planners implemented the Virgin Lands campaign, which initiated farming of export crops on vast tracts of uncultivated land in Central Asia. As a result, cotton became the chief crop of Uzbekistan, making the republic highly dependent on imports of food from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan’s natural resources, including gold and natural gas, were extracted without regard for the republic’s economic development. Instead, raw materials were transported to other Soviet republics for processing, leaving Uzbekistan with an undeveloped industrial sector.

Today, the legacy of the Soviet period is felt in many ways. Uzbekistan’s economy remains dependent on cotton exports and therefore rises and falls as world prices fluctuate. A poor cotton harvest due to drought is devastating to the economy. Industries such as textile mills that could process the country’s raw materials are still underdeveloped. The government has sought foreign investment to help develop and diversify the industrial sector. As a result, the country became a regional center for the automotive industry, and mining operations increased to make exports of gold and other metals second only to cotton in value.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan’s government began to implement a shift to a market-style economy, but progress was sporadic and slow. Initially the government maintained the Soviet practice of subsidizing prices for industrial and consumer goods; this practice drained the government’s funds as inflation soared. In 1994 the government introduced a comprehensive program to accelerate the reform process. Most of the subsidies for food, housing, utilities, energy, and transportation were removed, and some enterprises were transferred to private ownership. However, the government retained firm control over most sectors of the economy. In 1996, faced with a crisis in state finances, the government effectively suspended all market reforms. The economic situation steadily deteriorated through the remainder of the 1990s. Nevertheless, the government continued to resist any substantial reform of the economy.

In 2007 Uzbekistan’s total gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of goods and services produced in the country, was $22.3 billion. Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of the GDP; industry (including mining, manufacturing, and construction) accounted for 31 percent; and services (including social services and the financial sector) contributed 45.6 percent.

Agriculture of Uzbekistan

Agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. The sector employs 34 percent of the workforce. Cotton is the primary crop; Uzbekistan is among the world’s largest producers and exporters of seed (unginned) cotton. Such production has come at a high price. Although only 10.8 percent of the country’s land area is arable, crop yields are kept high through intensive use of chemical fertilizers and extensive irrigation. Growing cotton requires large amounts of water, but Uzbekistan has very limited water resources. The country continues to use an inefficient irrigation scheme that was developed during the Soviet period. Intensive irrigation has depleted regional water resources, caused the Aral Sea ecological disaster, and reduced the fertility of the soil through salinization (a process whereby underground salts rise to the surface).

While a focus on growing cotton remains, the government has encouraged a shift to grain production. As a result, wheat, rice, and barley harvests have risen. The country also produces fruits and vegetables, as well as jute and tobacco. Still, much of the food consumed in Uzbekistan must be imported. Uzbekistan is the largest producer of silk and Karakul pelts in the former USSR.

Mining in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has abundant mineral wealth, and developing the country’s mining industry is an economic priority. The export of metals is now second only to cotton. Uzbekistan is among the world’s leaders in gold production, extracting 85 metric tons in 2006. Almost all of the gold is exported. Uzbekistan’s Muruntau gold mine, located in the Qyzylqum desert, is one of the world’s largest open-pit gold mines. The country also produces quantities of copper, silver, tungsten, molybdenum, and uranium.

Uzbekistan has major reserves of fossil fuels. The country produces large quantities of natural gas, some of which it exports. The country’s petroleum reserves produce enough for domestic consumption. Unlike some other countries in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has not sought to become an exporter of oil. Government subsidies keep domestic prices for oil and gas low. Uzbekistan also has significant reserves of coal, about one-third of which is highly valued anthracite.

Manufacturing in Uzbekistan

Little industrial development occurred in Uzbekistan under Soviet rule besides that related to the cotton industry, such as fertilizer production and ginning. Since independence, however, Uzbekistan has begun to develop its industrial base. Textile manufacturing, which was limited in the Soviet era, is expanding. Automobiles and trucks are assembled through agreements formed in the mid-1990s with German and South Korean manufacturers. Transport and passenger aircraft are produced near Toshkent. Industry, including mining, manufacturing, and construction, employs 20 percent of the workforce.

Energy in Uzbekistan

Some 87 percent of Uzbekistan’s electricity is generated in thermal plants burning natural gas or, to a lesser extent, coal. Hydroelectric facilities produce the remaining 13 percent. The country is an important component of the electrical supply system in Central Asia, both importing and exporting large quantities of electricity.

Currency and Trade in Uzbekistan

The currency of Uzbekistan is the som, which was first issued in 1994. The government has maintained a fixed exchange rate on the som, rather than allowing its value to be determined by market forces.

Uzbekistan maintains strong economic ties with many former Soviet republics, including its Central Asian neighbors. Russia is by far its largest trading partner, as during the Soviet period. However, an increasing share of Uzbekistan’s trade is with nations beyond former Soviet borders, including European countries, Turkey, Japan, and China. Chief exports are cotton, light industrial goods, natural gas, and electricity. In 1994 Uzbekistan formed a trilateral economic and defense union with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; with the addition of Tajikistan in 1998, the four nations formed the Central Asian Economic Union (renamed the Central Asian Economic Forum in 2001).


Uzbekistan promulgated its first constitution as an independent republic in 1992, replacing the constitution of the Soviet period. The constitution declares Uzbekistan to be a secular and democratic republic and guarantees basic human rights. All citizens aged 18 and older may vote.

Executive of Uzbekistan

The head of state is the president, who is elected by popular vote. In a national referendum held in 2002, voters approved a constitutional amendment to lengthen the president’s term of office from five years to seven. The constitution states that the president may serve no more than two consecutive terms. The president exercises broad executive authority. Among other duties, the president appoints the prime minister and a cabinet of ministers; these appointments must be approved by the legislature.

Legislature of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has a unicameral (single-chamber) legislature called the Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly). The Oliy Majlis comprises 250 members, who are elected to five-year terms. The president is empowered to dissolve the Oliy Majlis and call for new elections. In 2002 voters approved a constitutional amendment to create a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature. The change was to go into effect with the 2004 legislative elections, upon the term expiration of the current Oliy Majlis.

Judiciary of Uzbekistan

The constitution provides for an independent judicial system with a Supreme Court at its apex. Supreme Court judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Oliy Majlis. The Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic has its own Supreme Court. Other high courts are the Constitutional Court, which is charged with protecting the constitution, and the High Economic Court. Lower courts are based in the regions, districts, and cities. Their judges are appointed by the president, without the requirement of legislative approval.

Local Government of Uzbekistan

For purposes of local government, Uzbekistan is divided into 12 wiloyatlar (regions) and the Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic (Qoraqalpoghiston). Toshkent has special status, as its local government operates independently of regional authority. The president appoints khokims (governors) of the regions, a system designed to centralize political power in the republic. According to Uzbekistan’s constitution, Qoraqalpoghiston is self-governing and has its own legislature and other local government bodies. However, the central government exercises a large degree of control over the republic.

Political Parties of Uzbekistan

The People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU) has remained the ruling party since it was founded in 1991 as the successor to the Communist Party. All religious political parties were banned in 1991. The two leading opposition groups, Birlik (Unity) and Erk (Freedom), also were banned, and their leaders went into exile abroad. Under international pressure to demonstrate that Uzbekistan was allowing a democratic system to develop, President Karimov sanctioned the creation of several new parties. However, they strongly support Karimov and are not true opposition parties. Officially sanctioned parties are allowed to participate in legislative elections, but they do not represent a threat to the continued dominance of the PDPU.

Social Services in Uzbekistan

A comprehensive social welfare system was in place in Uzbekistan during the Soviet period. After independence, the government of Uzbekistan created a social insurance fund, a pension fund, and an employment fund. These funds are intended to provide a safety net for underprivileged social groups, especially during the economic upheaval caused by the transition from a planned economy to a market-based economy. The government-funded health-service sector is generally underdeveloped and has been in decline since independence. Some rural areas are not served by even the most rudimentary of health services.

Communications in Uzbekistan

The media are state-controlled and heavily censored in Uzbekistan. Most newspapers are published by the government, registered political parties, and state-sanctioned organizations. One of the major government publications is Khalq Sozi (Word of the People), a daily newspaper published in both Uzbek and Russian. Television and radio broadcasts are regulated by the state-operated broadcasting company.

Defense of Uzbekistan

During the Soviet period, Uzbekistan had no armed forces separate from the centrally controlled Soviet security system. Today, Uzbekistan has Central Asia’s strongest armed forces. In 2006 the republic had an army of 40,000 personnel and an air force of 15,000. Paramilitary forces include a National Guard that acts as the personal army of the president. Beginning at the age of 18, all male citizens must perform 18 months of military service.

Together with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan contributes military personnel to a Central Asian peacekeeping force that is reserved solely for international peacekeeping missions of the United Nations (UN). Uzbekistan works with other countries of Central Asia to address regional security issues, such as cross-border crime, drug trafficking, religious extremism, and terrorism.

International Organizations in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance of 12 former Soviet republics, in December 1991. Uzbekistan has maintained strong ties with other CIS members, especially Russia and the other nations in Central Asia. However, in 1999 Uzbekistan withdrew from the CIS Collective Security Treaty, citing concerns over Russia’s military dominance in the CIS. In 2001 Uzbekistan joined with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in forming the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), which provides a framework for addressing regional and cross-border issues, such as the sharing of water and energy resources. Uzbekistan was admitted as a member of the United Nations in 1992. It subsequently joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Partnership for Peace (PFP) program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was established in 1994 to strengthen relations between NATO and non-NATO states.


The area of what is now Uzbekistan was incorporated into the eastern satrapies (Persian provinces ruled by a satrap) of Cyrus the Great’s Persian Empire in the 500s BC. These satrapies were known as Sogdiana, Bactria, and Khorezm. Macedonian leader Alexander the Great conquered the region in the early 300s BC, but Macedonian control lasted only until Alexander’s death in 323. In the 100s BC, part of present-day Uzbekistan was included in the vast empire of the Kushānas, descendants of a tribe from western China. At this time the region became an important part of the overland trade routes, known collectively as the Silk Road, that linked China with the Middle East and imperial Rome.

In the 3rd century AD the Sassanid dynasty of Persia gained control over the region of Central Asia. Nomadic tribes from the north invaded between the 4th and 6th centuries, and the Western Turks gained the most extensive control over the region. In the 7th and 8th centuries Arab invaders conquered present-day Uzbekistan and introduced Islam. Then in the 9th century a Persian dynasty, the Samanids, emerged as local rulers and developed Bukhara as an important center of Muslim culture. The Samanid dynasty declined in the 10th century, however, and a number of Turkic hordes vied for control until the great conquest of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan in the 13th century. In the 14th century the area was incorporated into the empire of the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane (Timur Lang), who established the Timurid dynasty. Tamerlane made Samarqand the capital of his vast empire in 1369, fashioning it into a magnificent imperial capital. Tamerlane’s grandson Ulug Beg emerged as the ruler of Samarqand in the early 1400s.

During the 14th century, the nomadic Turkic-speaking tribal groups of Orda, Shiban, and Manghit, who inhabited the steppes of what is now Kazakhstan, formed what is often referred to as the “Uzbek” (also “Uzbeg” or “Ozbek”) confederation. From 1465 to 1466 a group under the Uzbek chieftains Janibek and Keray launched a rebellion against the khan of the confederation, Abul Khayr (1428-1468). The rebellion lasted until 1468, when the khan was killed. This group began to call themselves Qazaqs (or Kazakhs). In part because of the defeat of Abul Khayr, nomadic clans from the Uzbek confederation began to move south into what is now Uzbekistan (known then as Mawarannahr) in the late 15th century. These groups not only engaged in raids on sedentary areas but also conducted a substantial amount of trade and furnished military forces that local rulers could draw upon. The Kazakhs remained in the north.

In the first decade of the 16th century, Timurid authority collapsed when Mohammed Shaybani, grandson of Abul Khayr, seized Khorezm, Samarqand, Bukhara, and Toshkent. The conquered lands became two separate khanates, one centered in Bukhara, seat of the Shaybanid dynasty, and one in Khorezm, seat of the rival Yadigarid dynasty. The Shaybanid dynasty reached its zenith of power in the late 16th century under Abdullah Khan. After Abdullah Khan’s death, power in Bukhara passed to the Janid dynasty.

During the 17th century Uzbeks continued to settle in present-day Uzbekistan, primarily in the oasis areas of the east that were already inhabited by Turkic and Persian-speaking people. In the west, a Turkic-speaking people called Qoraqalpoghs inhabited the Amu Darya delta by the 18th century; a new dynasty in Khiva (as Khorezm had come to be known) forcefully incorporated the Qoraqalpoghs’ homeland into its khanate in 1811.

Meanwhile, the Qŭqon (Kokand) khanate was formed in the Fergana Valley in the early 1700s. In 1740 Persian forces under Nadir Shah invaded Bukhara and then Khiva, conquering both territories. Persian control was short-lived, effectively ending with Nadir Shah’s death in 1747, and the Janid dynasty never recovered. Uzbek clans succeeded in ousting the Janids by the late 18th century, creating three states ruled by rival Uzbek dynasties. The Kungrats were enthroned at Khiva, the Manghits at Bukhara, and the Mins at Qŭqon. The Manghits ruled as emirs, making Bukhara an emirate, while the other two dynasties established khanates. Although distinct borders were never drawn, these three states dominated the area roughly corresponding to present-day Uzbekistan, or the area between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Bukhara was centrally located, and included the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand; Khiva was farther to the west in the area of the Amu Darya delta; and Qŭqon was centered in the Fergana Valley in the east. In the early and mid-19th century, the khanate of Qŭqon expanded into the Tien Shan mountains in the east and the Syr Darya basin in the north.

Russian Conquest

During Qŭqon’s expansion northward, imperial Russian forces were conquering Kazakh territory north of the Syr Darya and pushing farther south. Although the Uzbek khanates waged an armed resistance against the Russian incursion, Russian control was extended over present-day Uzbekistan in the latter half of the 19th century. Russian forces began advancing on Qŭqon’s frontier fortresses in the north in the 1850s, capturing Ak-Mechet (present-day Qyzylorda, Kazakhstan) in 1853. After the conquest of Toshkent in 1865, the khanate’s influence was limited to the Fergana Valley. Bukhara was conquered in 1866 and forced to become a vassal state in 1868, and then Khiva fell in 1873. The Russian conquest was complete in 1876, when Qŭqon was formally annexed. Under Russian rule, Khiva and Bukhara maintained some measure of autonomy as semi-independent states, although they were ultimately subordinate to the Russian Empire.

Russian rule introduced new tensions into Central Asian society. The development of a commodity economy brought profits to some farmers, while it deprived others of their land. Many Central Asians resented the new, corrupt local administration as well as the increasing incursion of Russian colonists into areas such as the Golodnaya Steppe. Moreover, they perceived the new rulers as non-Muslim infidels. In 1916, already overburdened with requisitions of livestock and produce to support Russia’s involvement in World War I (1914-1918), the local populace revolted against a decree making them subject to a draft for construction battalions behind the front lines. The imperial government brutally suppressed the revolt.

Soviet Period

The Russian Empire collapsed in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Bolsheviks (militant socialists) seized power in Russia. During the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), the Bolsheviks sought to reclaim the territories of the former Russian Empire. They established, by force, a new set of political entities in Central Asia that were ruled by local Bolshevik soviets, or councils. In 1918 the Bolsheviks made much of the southern part of Central Asia, including part of present-day Uzbekistan, into the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Other areas of present-day Uzbekistan were still under the administration of Khiva and Bukhara, whose traditional leaders were overthrown in 1920. These latter territories became the Khorezmian People’s Soviet Republic and the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic, which still maintained nominal independence. In 1924 the borders of political units in Central Asia were changed, and the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was formed from territories of the Turkistan ASSR, the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic, and the Khorezmian People’s Soviet Republic. The same year the Uzbek SSR became one of the republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which had been created in 1922. Bolshevik rule was opposed by a Central Asian guerrilla movement known as the basmachi starting in 1918. Although the basmachi were largely put down by 1923, they reappeared in some areas of Uzbekistan during the collectivization of agriculture at the end of the 1920s.

The Uzbek SSR included the Tajik ASSR until 1929, when the Tajik ASSR was upgraded to the status of an SSR. At this point, the Tajik SSR received some additional territory that had belonged to the Uzbek SSR since 1924. In 1930 the Uzbek capital was changed from Samarqand to Toshkent. In 1936 the Uzbek SSR was enlarged with the addition of the Karakalpak ASSR (present-day Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic), taken from the Kazakh SSR. Territory was transferred several times between the Kazakh SSR and the Uzbek SSR after World War II (1939-1945). The present-day borders of the Central Asian states are a result of the territorial units that the Soviets circumscribed during this period.

The Soviets imposed many changes in the Uzbek SSR. In 1928 land was forcibly collectivized into state farms. Another land-related development, one with a catastrophic impact, was the drive initiated in the early 1960s to substantially increase cotton yields in the republic. The drive led to overzealous irrigation withdrawals from the Amu Darya and the subsequent ecological disaster in the Aral Sea basin.

During World War II many industries were relocated to the Uzbek SSR from more vulnerable locations in western regions of the USSR. They were accompanied by large numbers of Russians and members of other nationalities who were evacuated from areas near the front. Because so many Uzbek men were fighting in World War II, women and even children began to take a more prominent role in the economy. Some local women even began to work in urban industries, although the Uzbek population remained overwhelmingly rural. Also during the war the Soviet authorities relocated entire ethnic groups from other parts of the USSR to the Uzbek SSR and elsewhere in Central Asia. Stalin suspected these groups of being in collaboration with the Axis powers against the USSR.

Uzbek society was altered in major ways during the Soviet period. Islam, the traditional religion of the region, became a focal point in the 1920s for the antireligious drives of Communist zealots. Most mosques were closed, and religious schools became antireligious museums. Uzbeks who were deemed nationalist, often practicing Muslims, were targeted for imprisonment and in many cases execution during Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s, which extended throughout all levels of Soviet society. Another development was the virtual elimination of illiteracy, even in rural areas. Only a small percentage of the population was literate before 1917; this percentage increased to nearly 100 percent under the Soviets.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was the only legal party in Uzbekistan until 1990. The first secretary, or head, of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (the republic’s branch of the CPSU) was consistently an Uzbek. However, over much of Soviet history, Uzbeks were underrepresented in the higher levels of the republic Communist Party organs. Uzbeks were even more underrepresented in the central organs of the levels of the party in Moscow.

Political corruption was rampant in the USSR, including in the Uzbek SSR. This was especially true during the time when Sharaf Rashidov was head of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, from 1959 to 1983. Following Rashidov’s death in 1983, the CPSU’s national campaign to clean up corruption widely publicized the misdeeds of the Uzbek SSR’s political officials in the preceding period. These officials were accused of a scam that involved inflating cotton production figures for the republic and diverting payments from the Soviet Union’s central government for recorded, but nonexistent, cotton. Islam Karimov, the former leader of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan and head of that party’s reincarnation, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), became president of the Uzbek SSR in 1990.

Independent Republic

The disintegration of the Soviet Union became inevitable in August 1991, after a failed coup attempt by Communist hardliners in Moscow. That month Uzbekistan declared its independence. After the official collapse of the USSR in December, Uzbekistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an alliance of most of the former Soviet republics. It became a member of the United Nations in March 1992.

Uzbekistan held presidential elections in December 1991, at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Karimov, the incumbent president, was reelected by an overwhelming majority of the vote. Most political groups in opposition to the PDP were not allowed to field candidates. The sole exception was Erk (Freedom), which nominated Muhammad Salih. Karimov, however, controlled the press and other vital organs during the campaign. According to official election results, Salih received only 12 percent of the vote. After the election, Karimov proceeded to establish an authoritarian-style regime. His government sought to crush political opposition, for example, by banning all genuine opposition parties in the early 1990s.

In early 1995 Karimov announced that the government would not object to the formation of blocs within the Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly). Subsequently, the government sanctioned the creation of two new political parties: the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party and the National Revival Democratic Party. However, these parties were not true opposition parties, as they fully supported the policies of the president. In a referendum called by the assembly in March 1995, voters approved putting off presidential elections until the year 2000, extending Karimov’s term until then. In April a group of activists affiliated with the banned opposition party Erk (Freedom) were given lengthy prison sentences for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government by force.

Uzbekistan cautiously approached reforms to transform its Soviet-developed, centrally planned economy to one based on the principles of a free market. Karimov was an outspoken critic of more radical reforms implemented in some other former Soviet republics. Consequently, the government of Uzbekistan resisted any substantive reforms and retained control over most sectors of the economy. Relatively little was accomplished before Karimov effectively suspended reforms in 1996. However, in the early 2000s Karimov held out the promise of further economic reforms as a way to secure renewed aid from Western financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Meanwhile, Karimov continued to rule in an authoritarian manner. No opposition party was allowed to present candidates in the legislative elections that were held in December 1999. In January 2000 Karimov was reelected president in an election that Western observers criticized as neither free nor fair. In a referendum held in January 2002, voters approved a constitutional amendment to extend the presidential term of office from five years to seven; however, it was not specified when the change would go into effect.

Karimov justified his clampdown on political opposition by claiming that allowing it more freedom would leave Uzbekistan vulnerable to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Karimov pointed to the situation in neighboring Tajikistan, where a brutal civil war from 1992 to 1997 pitted extremist Islamic forces against the government. Karimov claimed that violence could also break out in Uzbekistan without strict controls on political activity. Despite his heavy-handed approach, which drew international criticism for violations of human rights, extremist Islamic groups continued to gain supporters, especially among the poor in the Fergana Valley. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was founded in the 1990s with the purported aim of overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamic regime in Uzbekistan. The IMU reportedly had links to the fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan and used bases in Afghanistan and Tajikistan to launch a series of incursions and attacks in Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. Uzbekistan responded by bombing and mining border areas.

The government’s campaign against the IMU took on international significance in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The attacks were linked to al-Qaeda, an international terrorist network that seeks to rid Muslim countries of Western influence and establish fundamentalist Islamic rule. Uzbekistan allowed U.S.-led forces to use its southern Khanabad air base for staging operations in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based. By publicly supporting the United States in its war on terrorism, Uzbekistan established itself as a strategic U.S. ally.

In November 2001 Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan signed a long-awaited border agreement in an effort to boost regional security. A substantial economic aid package was agreed to with the United States in December, and in January 2002 the two countries signed a formal military accord in which the United States guaranteed a further $1 million in aid for security and military purposes.

Uzbekistan came under renewed international criticism in January 2002 when, in a referendum, it was decided to extend the president’s term in office from five to seven years; this was perceived abroad as another confirmation of President Karimov’s personal power. Over 90 percent of the voters also agreed with the proposal to replace the unicameral parliament with a bicameral legislature. In December 2003 Karimov sacked Otkir Sultanov, his prime minister since 1995, replacing him with Shavkat Mirziyayev. Twelve months later parliamentary elections were held; however, no opposition parties were allowed to run and all the candidates were supporters of the president.

Although the Uzbek constitution limits the presidency to two terms, Karimov ran for a third term in the election of 2007. Without credible opposition Karimov won overwhelmingly, and international observers again criticized Uzbek electoral standards.

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