Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, officially Republic of Uzbekistan, country in Central Asia. It lies mainly between two major rivers, the Syr Darya (ancient Jaxartes River) to the northeast and the Amu Darya (ancient Oxus River) to the southwest, though they only partly form its boundaries. Uzbekistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991. The capital is Tashkent (Toshkent).

Climate

Marked aridity and much sunshine characterize the region, with rainfall averaging only 8 inches (200 mm) annually. Most rain falls in winter and spring, with higher levels in the mountains and minimal amounts over deserts. The average July temperature is 90 °F (32 °C), but daytime air temperatures in Tashkent and elsewhere frequently surpass 104 °F (40 °C). Bukhara’s high summer heat contrasts with the cooler temperatures in the mountains. In order to accommodate to these patterns, Uzbeks favour houses with windows facing away from the sun but open to porches and tree-filled courtyards shut off from the streets.

Although more than 600 streams crisscross Uzbekistan, the climate strongly affects drainage, because river water rapidly escapes through evaporation and filtration or runs off into irrigation systems.

People

Uzbeks make up some four-fifths of the population, followed by Tajiks, Kazakhs, Tatars, Russians, and Karakalpaks. Uzbeks are the least Russified of the Turkic peoples formerly under Soviet rule, and virtually all of them still claim Uzbek as their primary language.

Languages

The Uzbeks speak a language belonging to the southeastern, or Chagatai (Turki), branch of the Turkic language group. Karakalpak, a distantly related Turkic language, enjoys official status alongside Uzbek in Karakalpakstan, where it is spoken by about half a million people. About one-seventh of the population of Uzbekistan speaks Russian.

History

Humans lived in what is now Uzbekistan as early as the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age), some 55,000 to 70,000 years ago. The great states of Bactria, Khwārezm, and Sogdiana emerged during the 1st millennium bce in the fertile region around the Amu Darya, which served as a centre of trade and cultural exchange on the Silk Road between East and West.

Relief tile work from the mausoleum of Bayram Khan at Fathabad, Uzbekistan, late 14th–early 15th century. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Length 1.52 m.Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; photograph John Webb

After the 8th-century-ce introduction of Islam into Central Asia, several streams of population flowed into the territory now forming the land of Uzbekistan. Some migrations contributed to the demographic diversity that characterizes Uzbekistan. Before the lasting conquest by the Russians in the late 19th century, however, military invaders generally withdrew from the area soon after they arrived. Arabs after 711 ce, Mongols under Genghis Khan from the 13th century, Dzungars in the 15th–17th century, and Persians in the 18th century exerted less impact upon the makeup of the population than upon the social and political systems, because they left behind relatively small, assimilable numbers of their people.

One great incoming human wave that did substantially change the demography of the region brought the ethnonym Uzbek to the heart of that territory. These Turkic-Mongol tribes came from northwestern Siberia, where they probably adopted the name Uzbek from the admired Muslim ruler of the Golden Horde, Öz Beg (Uzbek) Khan (reigned 1312–41). A descendant of Genghis Khan, Abūʾl-Khayr (Abū al-Khayr) at age 17 rose to the khanship of the Uzbek confederation in Siberia in 1428. During his 40-year reign, Abūʾl-Khayr Khan intervened either against or in support of several Central Asian Timurid princes and led the Uzbek tribes southeastward to the north bank of the Syr Darya. (See Timur; Timurid dynasty.) However, a number of Uzbek tribes broke away, adopting the name Kazakh, and fled east in the mid-1450s; their departure weakened the Uzbeks. Abūʾl-Khayr continued to lead the main Uzbek body until 1468, when he was killed as the Uzbek confederation was shattered in combat with invading Dzungars.

Recovering rapidly, the mounted Uzbek tribesmen regrouped, and in 1494–95 they conquered key portions of Transoxania (the region between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, roughly corresponding to modern Uzbekistan). The leader of those tribes, Abūʾl-Khayr’s grandson Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan (reigned 1500–10), ejected the last Timurid sultans, Bābur and Ḥusayn Bayqara, from Samarkand and Herat, respectively. The Uzbeks occupied major cities, including Bukhara, Khiva, Samarkand, and Khujand, and moved their numerous tribes permanently into Mawaraunnahr, Khorāsān, and adjacent lands. Muḥammad Shaybānī established and gave his adopted name to the potent Shaybānid dynasty, which ruled from its capital, Bukhara, for a century.

While renowned as military commanders, several Shaybānid khans also gained wide recognition for their Sunni religious orthodoxy and as cultured patrons of the arts. Muḥammad Shaybānī, for example, was an accomplished poet and wrote pious tracts in the ornate Chagatai literary language. Monuments of architecture erected by the Uzbeks during the Shaybānid period further testify to the aesthetics of the dynasty’s rulers. In Bukhara, great well-endowed seminaries and mosques arose under royal patronage, as did many major buildings and bridges.

During the reign of the greatest Shaybānid ruler, ʿAbd Allāh Khan II (reigned 1557–98), Shaybānid authority was expanded in Balkh, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Fergana. Uzbek hegemony extended eastward as far as Badakhstān and East Turkistan and westward to Khorāsān and Khwārezm.

The Shaybānids’ successor, the Ashtarkhanid (Astrakhanid, or Janid) dynasty, ruled Transoxania after 1599. From the elevated political and cultural accomplishments of the Shaybānids, the level and extent of Uzbek influence slid into decline under Ashtarkhanid rule, reaching a low point by the mid-1700s. The severe jolt that Iran’s Afshārid ruler, Nādir Shāh, administered in his quick defeat of Bukhara and Khiva in 1740 decapitated the Ashtarkhanid dynasty, which was finally extinguished in 1785. By then, power in southern Central Asia had already shifted to three energetic tribal formations: the khanates of Bukhara (which included the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand), Khiva (northwest of Bukhara on the Amu Darya), and Kokand (centred in the Fergana Valley in the east).

In Bukhara, which became the dominant Central Asian power, Manghīt tribal chieftains during the late 18th century energized the khanate and revived its fortunes under the leadership of Emir Maʿsum (also known as Shah Murād; reigned 1785–1800), a remarkable dervish emir who forwent wealth, comfort, and pomp. In the khanate of Khiva, the Qonghirat tribe succeeded the Ashtarkhanid dynasty and prevailed until 1920, leaving Khiva a museum capital of architectural, cultural, and literary monuments. The Uzbek Ming tribe, imperial in ambition, founded a new dynasty in Kokand about 1710 as the Ashtarkhanids faltered. Known for the elegant civilization at their courts, the rulers ʿUmar Khan (reigned 1809–22) and Muḥammad ʿAlī Khan (also known as Madali Khan; reigned 1822–42) gave the Uzbek Ming dynasty and the Kokand khanate a reputation for high culture that joined with an expansionist foreign policy. At its height the khanate dominated many nearby Kazakh and Kyrgyz tribes and resisted Russian aggression. Subsequent rulers in the dynasty, however, failed to sustain either the cultural or the political standards of their predecessors.

Cultural life

Over the centuries, the territory of what is now Uzbekistan has produced great scholars, poets, and writers whose heritage has enriched the general culture of humanity. The scholar and encyclopaedist al-Bīrūnī, who lived in the 11th century, produced a series of geographic works about India and a wide range of writings in the natural sciences and humanities. In the 15th century the astronomer and mathematician Ulūgh Beg founded a famous observatory in Samarkand. The late 15th-century scholar, poet, and writer ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī greatly advanced Turkic-language literature and was also a talented artist and composer.

The major writers of the early 20th century broke from the Navāʾī tradition in their style but continued to revere it in their literary history. In the Jadid era (1900–20) the foremost modern poets and prose writers included Abdalrauf Fitrat, Sadriddin Ayni, and Abdullah Qadiri, each of whom was bilingual in Uzbek and Tajik. These writers all began as poets and subsequently branched out to produce many of the first modern indigenous plays, stories, and novels of Central Asia. The younger poets Batu, Cholpán (Abdulhamid Sulayman Yunús), and Elbek (Mashriq Yunus Oghli) offered metres and rhyme schemes quite different from the verse composed in the traditions long employed by the poets of the region. Fitrat gained fame and popularity for such prose and poetic dialogues as Munazara (1909; The Dispute), and Mahmud Khoja Behbudiy became known for a stage tragedy, Padarkush (1913; The Patricide). Abdullah Qadiri became known for a first Uzbek historical novel, Otgän kunlär (1922–26; Days Gone By), and Cholpan introduced a new lyricism in his short poems. Hamza Hakim-Zada Niyaziy was also an early 20th-century playwright and poet later much favoured by Soviet authorities for his simplified, class-oriented plots and subjects.

Most of these writers died violently either during the Russian Civil War or, more commonly, in Joseph Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. As a result, Uzbekistan’s intellectual and cultural life suffered trauma for decades to come. Only since independence have its finest modern authors regained posthumous recognition.

During the second half of the 20th century there was a great increase in the number of writers but not in the quality of the writing. Until the 1980s most Soviet Uzbek authors produced tendentious novels, plays, and verse in line with official Communist Party themes. Among the older generation of contemporary authors is Asqad Mukhtar (b. 1921), whose Socialist Realist novel Apä singillär (Sisters; original and translation published during the 1950s), has been translated into English and other languages. Mukhtar, along with others of his generation, effectively encouraged the creative efforts of younger Uzbek poets and authors, a group far less burdened than their elders by the sloganeering characteristic of Soviet “Socialist Realism.” Among these newer voices, Razzaq Abdurashid, Abduqahhar Ibrahim, Jamal Kamal, and Erkin Wahid, all born in the 1930s, and Rauf Parfi, Halima Khudayberdiy, Muhammad Ali, Sharaf Bashbek, Mamadali Mahmud, all born in the 1940s or later, stand out. Several of these new writers have contributed striking dramas and comedies to the theatre of Uzbekistan. Privately organized drama and theatre were very active in Samarkand, Margilan, Tashkent, and other cities before 1917. In the difficult economic situation of the 1990s, however, the loss of government subsidies led to a drastic decline in theatrical activity, and the cinema and television have further emptied the seats in legitimate theatres.

Musical tradition throughout southern Central Asia provides a distinctive classical form of composition in the great cycles of maqoms handed down from master performers to apprentices. Television and radio as well as concert halls offer maqom cycles in live performances.

Uzbekistan’s cultural heritage includes magnificent monuments in the national architectural tradition: the mausoleum of the Sāmānid ruler Ismāʿīl I (9th and 10th centuries) in Bukhara, the great mosques and mausoleums of Samarkand, constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries, and many other fine tombs, mosques, palaces, and madrasahs. An interesting recent development is the reclamation, renovation, and reconsecration of many smaller old mosques, some very elegant though badly damaged; these had been relegated by communist authorities to serve as garages, storehouses, shops, slaughterhouses, or museums. Muslim rebuilders now accurately reconstruct these damaged buildings as part of a comprehensive drive to re-create the Islāmic life suppressed by the communists between 1920 and 1990.


If you want traditional silk clothes you’ve come to the right place – this lady extracts it from silkworms the traditional way!

Bukhara

Head into the desert, make a fire and be serenaded with traditional Uzbek music from a local nomad.

Even the capital has incredible sights – This is the Kukeldash Mosque in Tashkent.

If you’re feeling hungry stop by the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent for a dazzling selection of spices and food!

The country isn’t just desert and Silk Road architecture! This is crossing the Kamchik Pass in Eastern Uzbekistan. The view down the Qurama Mountains in the Fergana Valley is, in a word, epic! It’s also considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

This guy in Bukhara makes some of the sharpest scissors in the world, by hand!

Kalta Minor in Khiva was destined to become the highest minaret in Central Asia, until the leader Muhammad-Amin-khan died in battle and construction was put on hold. It’s still mind blowing though!

The young kids in traditional dress are just adorable!

Elderly men chilling by a 600-year-old wall in Khiva

The buildings are massive! Really massive!

If you’re looking to get a beautiful handmade carpet at an affordable price it is hard to beat Uzbekistan. Many carpets can have 2, 3 or even more people working on them at once and can take up to a year to make.

Uzbekistan is known for its amazing arts and crafts that have been developed on the Silk Road over the centuries. Here a man makes ceramics by hand outside of Bukhara.

If you want silk, this is the place to go…

Kukeldash Madrassa in Tashkent – a centre of Muslim education.

A man walks around the base of a minaret in Bukhara.

Food for sale at the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent. So many flavours!

A lady walks through the grounds of a madrassa in Khiva.

Uzbekistan is pretty mind blowing!
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