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Central Asia









Turkic speaking republic formerly within the Soviet Union, now sovereign. The republic was founded in 1924 from several Emirates conquered by the pre-Soviet government of the Tsars.

Once this area was one of the centers of Islamic and world civilization (in the 9th century the mathematician Al Khwarizmi was born in Tashkent - his name is commemorated in Algorithm). Samarqand was the capital of Timur the Lame (Tamburlain) one of the rulers who dominated Central Asia following Genghis Khan.

Religion was discouraged during the communist period. Now it is reviving along with nationalism. A large Russian minority, equivalent to the settler communities in Africa, is leaving.

Independence was declared in September 1991 by the republic's parliament, still controlled by Communists. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

At first the country seemed to be linking with other central Asian republics and with Turkey in the embryo Black Sea Economic Community and also a Central Asian alliance. The script is being changed from Russian Cyrillic to the Roman script used in Turkey. However, in practice under its ferocious dictatorship it has become a closed society.

There are many different ethnic groups within the state. Following the end of the Soviet Union there is ethnic conflict between Uzbeks and others, Kirghiz, Kazaks, Armenians, Jews, Germans and Russians. Many of these are moving out.

The Uzbeks are Muslim by culture but reports suggest that at independence there was little actual knowledge and practice of the religion. Arabic for Koranic study was not taught during the Soviet years. For this reason Islamic fundamentalism seems unlikely to gain power, even if the neo-Communist government is displaced. However, the main opposition candidate in a recent election was apparently a fundamentalist.

The government has been a strong supporter of the American action in Afghanistan. There are now American military bases and the use of Uzbek railways into Afghanistan.

Uzbeks in Afghanistan form one of the main combatant armies there. It is possible that General Dostam, one of the main warlords in Afghanistan, is supported by the Uzbek government.

In April 2004 there were guerrilla attacks, possibly local opposition forces against the dictatorship.


Uzbek (Turkic language)








The Communist party remains in power, exercising an even worse dictatorship than existed during the time of the Soviet Union.

At the time of the end of the Soviet Union there was a brief period when people organised opposition parties. However, these were rapidly suppressed.

Commentators believe that independence was declared by the local Communists in order to escape the fate of the Communists in the rest of the Soviet Union. It has changed its name to People's Democratic party. There were opposition parties represented in the parliament and other candidates were expected to contest the elections on 29 December 1991 but the government party tried to prevent them, probably by fraud in the electoral process. There are still political prisoners and a local KGB using all the techniques of the former Soviet Union.

Parliament was dissolved by decree March 1995. The presidential term was extended by referendum (typical device of dictator).

In some respects the government has reverted to the cruelty and autocracy of the Emirs who ruled before the Russian conquest. How likely is a democratic revolution of the kind that has occurred in several other former Soviet republics, and notably in Kyrgyzstan? Probably not very as the ruler exercises such ferocious power.

13 May 2005, a protest against the imprisonment of prominent citizens in an eastern city, Andijan, escalated. Several hundred people were killed by government troops. At the time many commentators thought this might well result in the end of the dictatorship as much larger crowds came on to the streets. But by the end of June 2005 no change had occurred and none has happened by July 2008.

Largely a kleptocracy like most other post-Soviet states.

Interesting reading

Craig Murray, former British ambassador






The economy was controlled from Moskva in the interests of the Soviet government rather than of the local people. Cotton has been grown from reasons of autarky rather than economic benefit. Only a period of free market pricing can reveal whether cotton is the best crop. The use of wasteful irrigation techniques has caused the ecological problems.

There are also gold mines but these too were controlled by the Soviet Union. It is not yet clear whether control will be exercised by the independent government. Opposition parties observe that independence will be only nominal until the gold is controlled by the local government.

There is oil and oil politics.

The cotton industry has flourished. A BBC report 30 October 2007 showed that much of it was picked by child labour paid almost nothing, thus making it cheaper than competitors'.






Ecological problems due to over-production of cotton has led to the poisoning of the land, inefficient use of irrigation water from the Amu Daria, and the drying up of the Aral Sea, one of the former Soviet Union's major ecological disasters.

A great reduction in the use of irrigation water could allow the Aral Sea to grow again to its usual size (but the extinct fish species won't come back). A large investment in new techniques would be needed. The alternative plan, to bring waters from the arctic rivers, is probably not now possible as the Soviet government has disappeared, and there have been protests by ecologists that there would be too many incalculable consequences.

The goverment is building a dam across the northern part of the Aral Sea to maintain a piece of the sea, but this will result in the rapid drying out of the southern part of the Sea.

The problem is linked to the quasi-colonial status of the country in which all decisions were taken in Moskva ordering the production of cotton. A market economy might find it cheaper to import cotton, especially if the ecological damage were costed and added to the costs of production.

The health of the people is affected by the dust from the dry bed of the former lake which contains heavy metals and the pesticides applied to the cotton fields.

A general collapse of the economy might be the best solution for the sea, as the water would then pass into it directly if the fields are abandoned. Even if irrigation ceased completely it would be several years before the lake could recover. But the people would suffer unemployment. Even if they grew food instead of cotton there would be an improvement as most crops would use less water.





Human Rights

There are reports that there is still no freedom of the press and that the government behaves worse than when it was part of the Soviet Union. Religion is suppressed as much under the present regime as it was in the time of the Soviet Union. There are political prisoners, brutality in the jails, and reports of torture of an extreme kind - boiling of prisoners. There may be torture of US held prisoners at the US airbases.

A horror reported by the BBC is of compulsory sterilisation of women who wish to have more than two children, often without the doctors telling them they are going to do it.

Climate effects

Last revised 12/04/12

Central Asia


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