Central Asia   UZBEKISTAN


By Tariq Rahim

The former Russian republic of Uzbekistan is located in central Asia, north of Afghanistan. It borders five countries: Afghanistan, Kazakstan, Krygyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. With a total area of 447,400 square kilometers it is the fifth largest former Soviet republic after Russia, the Kazakh Republic, the Ukraine, and Turkmenistan. Its population of 23,418,381 (July 1996) is the largest of all the former Russian republics.

Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most important Muslim community. Although Uzbekistan is heterogeneous, being comprised of Russians, Tajiks, Kazaks, Tatars, and Karakalpak’s, among others, more than 70 percent of its population are Uzbeks. 88 percent of the population is Muslim, while 9 percent are Eastern Orthodox and 3 percent are comprised of people of other religions.

As a nation, Uzbekistan is very young. The native Uzbeks became nationals of the Uzbekistan SSR in 1924-1925 when it became a Russian Republic. Only recently, on August 31, 1991 did it gain its independence from the Soviet Union.

The true origin of the native Uzbek people is very complex. The roots of the Uzbeks can only be traced to the late fourteenth century. At the end of the fifteenth century, large bodies of Uzbeks mixed with different people, thus the heterogeneity of the ethnic Uzbeks makes it difficult to trace their roots on the basis of racial links and blood ties.

Islam is so important in Uzbekistan because it is such a large part of their identity. Nationalism has not been part of the Uzbeks’s identity. Prior to 1917, the Uzbeks had no concept of belonging to a modern and well defined nation. Nationalism for them was religion.

The modernist and intelligentsia became aware of a nation when they tried to achieve dependence. Stalin was opposed to Uzbek independence and fought the Uzbek reformers, know as Jadids, which he persecuted in the Stalinist purges of 1937-1938.

The Soviets under Stalin undertook a russification of the Uzbek people. The Uzbek language was reformed so as to fit better in the Russian and socialist community. The Arabic script was replaced by Roman and Cyrillic script. The Uzbeks also had to undergo religious curtailment and anti-religious propaganda. Despite all this, Uzbek resistance was strong and they have been able to hold on to their traditions while resisting Communist ideology and morals.

While the Uzbeks under Soviet rule experienced a suppression of their culture, a lack of a genuine community and identity, and ethno-religious antagonism, to name a few of the drawbacks of Soviet rule, the achievements they experienced were numerous. Public education while under Soviet Rule almost eliminated illiteracy. In addition to the well developed schools, Uzbekistan has two universities and several scientific and cultural centers. There was also progress in the way of industrialization, economic development and growth, and in communication fields such as publishing, radio, and television

Today’s Uzbekistan is facing a lot of problems. It is one of the poorest republics of the former Soviet Union with a large part of the population living in overpopulated rural communities. It also has a very high inflation rate, a monthly average of 7.7 percent (Jan-Oct. 1995), and a negative growth rate of -1 percent. The government has tried to increase economic growth by stepping up reforms in mid 1994. It introduced tighter monetary policies, expanded privatization, and improved the environment for foreign investors. Nevertheless the State is still a dominating influence in the economy and the reforms have failed to produce structural changes.

Although the economy in Uzbekistan is not experiencing growth, the country still has a lot of potential. The country is endowed with many resources. After the United States and China, it is the world’s largest exporter of cotton. It is also a major producer of gold, natural gas, chemicals, and machinery.




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