History & Background
Uzbekistan is one the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. At the end of 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union transformed all republics of that union into independent states. Located in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has a long and dramatic history. It first flourished economically because of the famous "Silk Road" going through the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and Tashkent, the oasis towns over which caravans brought the products of Europe to exchange for those of Asia. Many famous conquerors passed through the land including Alexander the Great who stopped near Samarkand on his way to India in 327 B.C. In the eighth century A.D., the territory was conquered by Muslim Arabs and, in the ninth century, the indigenous Samanid dynasty established an empire there. Uzbekistan was overrun by Genghis Khan in 1220. In the 1300s Timur built an empire with its capital at Samarkand. Uzbekistan's heritage goes back about 2,500 years. In addition to its economic importance, this territory flourished as the medieval intellectual center of the Muslim world.
Russian trade with this region grew during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and, in 1865, Russian troops occupied Tashkent. By the end of the nineteenth century, Russia had conquered all of Central Asia, placed it under colonial administration, and invested in the development of Central Asia's infrastructure, promoting cotton growing and encouraging settlement by Russian colonists.
In 1924, following the establishment of Soviet power, the territories of the Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva and portions of the Fergana Valley that had constituted the Khanate of Kokand were united into the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan. The Soviet era brought literacy and technical development to Uzbekistan. The Republic was valued for its cotton growing and natural resources. However, together with positive developments, there was communist domination which brought with it the suppression of local cultural and religious tendencies. Uzbekistan declared independence on September 1, 1991.
Geographically, Uzbekistan is located in the middle of Central Asia with flat, sandy terrain and broad, intensely irrigated valleys along the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Uzbekistan borders with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tadjikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan territory is 447,400 square kilometers (117,868 square miles) or slightly larger than California. The climate is characterized by long, hot summers and mild winters. Uzbekistan is subdivided into 12 regions, plus the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. Tashkent has a population of two million and is the capital of Uzbekistan.
Politically, the country is a republic with the Constitution adopted 8 December 1992. People elect the President in direct election. Islam Karimov is the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan for the third consecutive time. The Uzbekistan government has three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Supreme Court.
Economically, Uzbekistan was one of the poorest republics of the Soviet Union. The population is heavily rural and dependent on farming for its livelihood. The work force is comprised of the following: agriculture and forestry, 44 percent; industry and construction, 20 percent; and other, 36 percent. In 1997 Uzbekistan GDP was $21.3 billion, and per capita GDP was $895. It is the world's fourth largest producer of cotton. It also produces significant amounts of silk, fruits, vegetables, and other crops. As the world's seventh largest producer of gold, about eighty tons per year, it also has the fourth largest gold reserves. There are sufficient amounts of oil and an abundance of natural gas used for both domestic consumption and export and exportable reserves of copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, and uranium. There is trade with Russia, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the neighboring countries, former Soviet republics, now called the newly independent states (NIS).
Socially and culturally, Uzbekistan is a contemporary mix. It is Central Asia's most highly populated country with the population of over twenty-four million, i.e., nearly half the region's total population. Approximately 98 percent of the total population is literate. The population falls into the following ethnic groups: Uzbek 80 percent, Russian 5.5 percent, Tajik 5 percent, Kazakh 3 percent, Karakalpak 2.5 percent, Tatar 1.5 percent, and other 2.5 percent. In terms of religion, the nation is 88 percent Sunni Moslem, 9 percent Eastern Orthodox, and 3 percent other. The state language since 1991 is Uzbek, but Russian is the de facto language of interethnic and business communication. The Uzbekistan society exhibits characteristics of nepotism, clannishness, and even corruption as integral features of its culture (Abramson 1999).
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