Central Asia   UZBEKISTAN




by Ranjeeta Prasad    

By Sammy Gergis

By  Taub, Perel, Kaplan






Uzbekistan's history

by Ranjeeta Prasad



The first central Asian republic to declare its sovereignty and to adopt post-Communist symbols, Uzbekistan’s history of culture, statehood, and social ties of the territory is more than two and half millennia. Its civilization is a combination of achievements and ideas gained by the Sogadians (the people of Khorezm ---- territory of present day Uzbekistan), Turks, India, China, Iran, Middle East, and by Hellenism.  Still debated is the unifying factor of the diverse groups of people within the country.

 Before the nation was flooded with Islamic invasions, it had strong traditions of Zoroastrism, Buddhism, and Christian communities in all parts of the territory.  Gradually, Islam was adopted with “great cultural and moral possibilities.”  The victory of Islam as the dominant religion (the religion of more than 88% of today’s population) came as a result of the rise of trade and development of the local artisans’ production export and the needs of the population majority to free Central Asian civilization from the harsh Mongol power and animosity between the tribes.

Then came the Timurids Renaissance which was based on the cultural-economic integration of the region.  Three centuries later, Tsarist Russia bound Turkestan (as it was known at the time)  with Russian colonialization for one hundred and thirty years.  From the 1890’s to 1917, Turkestan was a part of Russian empire.  In 1924, with the help of diplomatic missions of many countries, “there was an artificial division of the single ethnic, cultural and economic space of the Turkestan land into the Soviet national republics.”  The separation of Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrghyzes, and Turkmen and  the tyranny of the totalitarian system all led to the national liberation movement.  On August 31, 1991, the Russian Parliament adopted the Declaration of the State Independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan. 

 After looking back at the vast number of peoples who have conquered this region, it is evident that the country was constructed more along the lines of political convenience, not actual historical and cultural bonds.  The creation of the Soviet Union in 1917, hailed by the Bolshevik Revolution, led to Stalin’s rise to power and attainment of native Uzbek political authority.  Nonetheless, despite this “systematically-imposed policy of  conformism to communist rule,” the Uzbeks have emerged with and have maintained a unique culture.  With most of the invasions of the region implemented by Islamic groups, Liat Baranoff (1), concludes that religious identity and cultural adherence are the most significant factors for the region’s unity.

Before the onslaught of Russian imperialism, the Jadid or Reformist movement had great influence in unifying the region with the rest of the Islamic world.  Their main platform for reform was to “rectify moral weaknesses [of majority of their Muslim people and government officials and clergy], and therefore the subsequent vulnerability to outside forces it brought about.  They began modernizing and reunifying with the Islam world by focusing on their people’s past rich with Islamic traditions and values. 

They started the New Method Schools in which, besides focusing on religious history, they taught secular history.  The Russians saw this trend toward nationalism as grounds for opposition and began shutting down their schools and publications.  In addition, there were censorships placed on Jadid theater, Uzbeks monuments and treasures were taken for display in Russian museums, and the capital was relocated from Samarkand to Russian-dominated Tashkent.

 Despite the constant Russian anti-Uzbek bias and attacks, there emerged a new reformist movement called islahatchi in the late twentieth century.  Since this group lacked the political strength of its Jadid predecessors, it brought attention to social problems.  These included drinking and prostitution.   Most importantly, the everyday Uzbeks played a significant role in preserving this identity throughout Soviet rule.  The adherence to their values, customs, and traditions have not only helped form the cultural development of the Russian ruled Uzbekistan but are also seen as a major unifying force at present.


1.  Uzbekistan (Islam, Nationality and Independence), by Liat Baranoff

2.  Uzbekistan and its Civilization, Historical Grounds

3.  The History of National Catastrophe, by Rahim Masov, The University of Minnesota



Uzbek Cultural Identity

By Sammy Gergis, April 2000   



Nestled in Central Asia between Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Krygyzstan lies Uzbekistan, a republic that for over 3000 years has been conquered by several neighboring empires. (Encarta: 2000 p.1) The diversity amongst the constituents in Uzbekistan is immense, the main reason being the number of different races that have passed through this region.  Control of Uzbekistan has varied form the Arabs to the Mongols to the Russians, yet throughout all the periods of conquering, one element that has been able to unite Uzbeks are a common culture and lifestyle that is held within the Islamic religion, the most dominant of the entire region.

Between the years of 1863 and 1876, the Uzbek territory fell under the influence of imperialism from its neighboring empire, Russia.  Between the years of 1913 and 1916, a reformist movement known as the Jadid swept through Uzbekistan leaving a mark for future generations. (Baranoff: 1999 p.2)  The cause of the movement was to rid the country of Muslims that were corrupt and dangerous.  Transactions made by the government and clergy were conducted with practices such as bribery and embezzlement.  It was the goal of the reformers to end these practices and re-introduce the traditional Islamic ways that had previously existed in Uzbekistan.  They enforced this by concentrating on their history, one that is replete with values and Islamic tradition, teaching classical Arabic such that speakers of Farsi and Turkish in Uzbekistan could understand the Quran, and adhering to a curriculum in the school system that placed a heavy value on nationalism. (Baranoff 1999 p.2)    

As part of this reform movement, a new brand of theater known as Jadid Theater began to emerge in an attempt to expand the reformist movement.  To convey their message to the public, the actors and actresses held a series of plays that carried with it a moral message.  The plays would show scenarios of cruel actions and sinners and then present the Islamic custom that would resolve whatever issue was at hand.  Some of the issues presented were the treatment of women, corrupt government practices, education, drug addiction, and imperialism. (Baranoff: 1999 p.3) The Jadid presented the topic of imperialism as sort of a rebellion against the Soviet Republic and their ideology.

The Soviet government did not approve of any of the reform movements and began a crackdown of the Jadid movement.  They shut down schools and newspapers that were spreading what the Jadid believed, for it was believed that a resistance against the republic was forming.  In addition, the Russians took many monuments and works of art to put on display in their museums, claiming it was theirs. (Baranoff: 1999 p.3)  The Uzbeks countered by forming philanthropic organizations dedicated to maintaining and preserving their art.  The Soviets committed many more dishonorable deeds such as: removing the throne form the Royal Palace, taking the Quran of Uthman, (which has the blood of the third Islamic caliph), as well as relocating the capital of Uzbekistan from Smarkand to Tashkent, an area that was totally controlled by the Russians. (Baranoff 1999 p.3) The Uzbek sense of maintaining their identity was very noble, even though the Soviets were determined to destroy it.

In the late twentieth century, another movement known as the Islahatchi had formed in Uzbekistan.  Similar to the Jadid, yet lacking in political strength, the Islahatchi had bought up several social issues that plagued the urban regions of Uzbekistan.  As a result of the Russian way of life, drinking, gambling and prostitution began to penetrate its way into the Uzbek society.  The Islahatchi immediately attacked this principle by claiming it was the antithesis of Islam.  Furthermore, many Islahatchi publications were released that promoted the values of Islam, such as: knowledge, self-control and fairness. (Baranoff 1999 p.4) Through these various methods, it was hoped that the Uzbeks would retain their identity through the one unifying factor that kept them together for so long.

Islamic customs serve as an even better indicator of how strong their disposition toward their own identity is.  The stability of one's family as well as one's ties to the community serve as strong indicators of one's identity with respect to his country, as is apparent in Uzbekistan.  In the Islamic faith, intermarriage is not permitted, and even this practice is not very apparent in Uzbekistan, even amongst those who are not religious.  Because of the Russian crackdown on the culture of Uzbekistan, black markets were formed within communities, as well as teahouses.  TeaHouses were actually mosques that were formed within a community since their destruction would be imminent had they been officially publicized. (Baranoff 1999 p.4)  The formation of these structures not only defied the Soviet communist system; they were just another step in maintaining the cultural tradition and identity that had evolved in Uzbekistan

Towards the end of the communist era in the Soviet Union, Islam continued to develop and unite the people of Uzbekistan.  In 1990 the number of mosques in Uzbekistan tripled as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost (openness) policy.  Uzbekistan soon won its independence after the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and subsequently adopted a constitution that declared it a secular state. (Unknown: 1999 p.3)

The Islamic religion is the identity of the people of Uzbekistan.  It is expressed through their artwork, architecture, sculptures and poetry.  It is also the governing force in their lives.  The Uzbeks underwent hardships that no other surrounding territory could have withstood; yet their faith in Islam united them.  The obedience displayed by the constituents showed that their national and cultural identity derives itself from the traditions and customs laid out by the Quran.  Their forceful approach in maintaining the traditional Islamic way of life is what has kept them alive.  Despite the massive influence of the Soviets on Uzbekistan and all the attempts to assimilate them into the traditional Soviet way of life, the Uzbeks maintained a strong faith which in turn defined their cultural identity, for Islam is their way of life not just their religion. 


Baranoff, Liat.  "Uzbekistan: Islam nationality and Independence." Ó 1999


 Author Unknown.  "Uzbekistan and its Civilization, Historical Grounds." Ó 1999


Encyclopedia Encarta.  "Uzbekistan" Ó 2000




History of Uzbekistan

By  Daniel Taub, Matt Perel, Ari  L. Kaplan



The Early Period

Between the 6th and 16th centuries there were waves of invasions by Mongols and Non-Mongols. From 16th century Uzbeks were part of khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Kokand. The khanates were conquered by Russia in 1860s and 1870s for both economic and military reasons. Economically because (i) the tsarist government wanted control of the vast amounts of raw materials  available in Central Asia, and (ii) to promote Russian industry and investment. Militarily it was to keep Great Britain out of Central Asia.

 The location of Uzbekistan between Tian Shan mountains and the Aral Sea is quite favorable for agriculture. Especially the famous Fergana Valley with its semiadvanced irrigation system and rich mineral deposits is economically very important. Other economic activities were centered in its capital Tashkent, a highly populated area of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan was economically important for tsarist Russia and later for Soviet Union because of its large production of cotton as well as for its mineral resources.  

Uzbekistan under the communist regime.

In 1924 the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbek was founded and originally included the area that in 1929 became the Republic of Tajikistan.  Until the Split between the 2 republics, the 'Capital was Samarkand, But after the split became Tashkent(1930). Uzbek under the leadership of Tashkent quickly became the leading economic and cultural center of the Soviet Central Asia.  The 1930's was also a time of great hardship for the people.  Under the orders from Moscow, the republic went the first of two seperate "Great Purges"  where the Uzbek Communist Elite were liquidated and replaced by loyal Stalinist followers.  

Sharaf Rashidov Was the leader of the Uzbek communist Party from 1959-1983 during which he allowed wide spread corruption to take place in the thriving cotton industry.  After his death in 1983, Moscow again ordered the Purging that not only involved the government officials but also the Native Elite.  This purge was to root out the corruption and fraud that existed in the industry.  This purge caused great tension between the Russian run government and the people of Uzbek because they were no longer able to enjoy the benefits of the illegal action allowed under Rashidov.  The purge was also seen as a move to tarnish the reputation of the people of Uzbek by branding them as corrupt.  

Under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Uzbeks enjoyed great autonomy and were allowed to openly  criticize the Russification Policy of Moscow.  Also during this time, there was much political growth in such groups as the Burliks (Unity). 1989 was a time of civil unrest in this region.  There was minroity groups fighting (the Kirghiz and the Meskitian, both Turkish ethnicity) and small scale attacks on local Russian which eventually caused a great migration back to their Russian soil. In 1990 Islam Karimov becomes the leader of the Uzbek Communist Party.  Immediately after the failed coup attempt against Gorbachev, Karirnov and his government declared independence from the USSR and became the state of Uzbekistan.  

Uzbekistan after the fall of communism

Uzbekistan enticed conquerors for hundreds of years with its enchanting beauty and riches.  If one were to conquer Uzbekistan today, he would find a nation wrought with political chaos and facing severe economic problems.

 Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has been very active in developing ties with its neighbors.  In the past year, the Uzbeks have joined a selection of other nations in signing three treaties. On January 22, 1993, they strengthen economic ties with six other countries by creating an interstate bank to be headed by Russia, using the ruble as the major currency of exchange.   On May 15, 1992, there was a meeting in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. There Uzbekistan participated in a conference to lay the groundwork for a collective security agreement. Finally, on March 20, 1992, there was an agreement signed in Kiev regarding the protection of individual state boundaries.  These initiatives represent Uzbekistan's desire to foster ties with many of its neighbors, but they are having some difficulties.  

At present, their neighbor, Tajikistan, is embroiled in a civil war, which could have spillover effects that could be harmful to Uzbekistan.  This nation has an ethnically diverse population but is able to maintain stability, yet if the civil war in Tajikistan continues that equilibrium might be jeopardized.  

In addition to that problem, the Uzbek government, headed by president  Islam Karimov,  is  very  oppressive  and  less  than democratic. He did not support the breakup of the Soviet Union and is still trying to preserve the old system. Karimov and his government  have  been  cracking  down  on  dissenters,  banning demonstrations, and even arresting opposition leaders. "Freedom is being strangled here”(NY Times--Feb. 13, 1993).  These actions do not provide a valuable atmosphere for economic development.  

Under the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan was forced to produce huge amounts of cotton (as it is the fourth largest cotton producer in the world).   As a result, its whole agricultural balance was weakened and producing other goods is very difficult for them now. They produce some fruits and vegetables but high levels of output will take time.  

They still mine gold and uranium.  The Uzbeks also produce natural gas as well.  Last March, they even found oil (which could be very valuable for then in the future).  Despite these strengths, the Uzbek economy is in dire straits.  

The conversion to private property and ownership has hardly started here.  In addition, retail prices continue to rise, despite subsidies from the government.  Also, as they are facing severe budget constraints, the government has started to lay off workers. This has made the situation here quite grim.  As a result, foreign investors are weary of investing here because, although they regard it as somewhat of a rich country, they are afraid of the massive instability that characterizes it.  

Uzbekistan is a nation with a great deal to offer the world community but is caught in the transition from the command to the market system.  The country has the potential to thrive and prosper but is being strangled by its hardline President.  The future is an uncertain one but could be fruitful if bold steps toward reform are taken.  


  • 1. Andreyev, Nikolai.   "What future for Uzbekistan, Kirgizia, Turknenia?” Current Digest of the Post Soviet Press July 1992: 8-11.

  • 2.  Carlisle, Donald S.  "Uzbekistan and the Uzbeks."  Problems of Communism  Sept. 1991: 23-44.

  •   3.  Erlanger, Steven.  "In Wary Uzbekistan, a New Day but the Same Old Hard Line," The New York Times  13 Feb. 1993: 5.

  •   4.   Erlanger, Steven.  "Tamerlane's Land Trembles: Bloodshed at Gates," The New York Times  15 Feb. 1993: 15.

  •   5.   Associated Press.  "Russia forms commonwealth with 6 states; Ukraine balks," The Boston Globe  23 Jan. 1993: 4.


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