Uzbekistan & the Central Asian Republics

3/1/09

(Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan)

Overview

The former Soviet Republics of Central Asia are an ethnic cauldron, prone to instability and conflict. Each has, at best, a confused national identity due to the various historical and cultural influences that have shaped the region. Add to the mix a variety of tribal and clan loyalties, religious fervor and significant oil reserves and you wind up with a potent brew. Those seeking to influence the region now include not only Russia, but also Iran, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States.

Key Lecture Points

  • Central Asia has long been influenced by Russia. During the Soviet era, the people of the area were divided into a series of Soviet Socialist Republics: Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Tajik SSR. The Soviet era was characterized by rapid industrialization, but also the suppression of local cultures, hundreds of thousands of deaths from failed collectivization programs, and a lasting legacy of ethnic tensions and environmental problems.
  • Since the fall of the Soviet Union, these areas have become independent nations, but ones which struggle to maintain internal political and economic stability. To various degrees, the Central Asian Republics are torn by internal ethnic and religious splits, as well as external forces, such as the battle between Russian and Western influence and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Uzbekistan, as an example of the problems of Central Asia, has been ruled by only one leader since its independence in 1991, Islam Karimov, himself a former Soviet-era leader whose authoritarian rule has been criticized by observers. In his own defense, Karimov argues that his government has been on the front lines of fighting Islamic extremism. He narrowly avoided assassination in 1998 and has since cracked down upon the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
  • Uzbekistan has played a part in counter-terrorism efforts since September 11, 2001, approving US access to a vital military air base in southern Uzbekistan on the border with Afghanistan. However, President Karimov asked the U.S. to leave in July 2005, out of concern that a rising US presence could hinder Uzbek-Russian relations. Uzbekistan continues to support coalition anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan by granting access to Germany to an air base in southern Uzbekistan.

Exploration Questions

  • Do you feel that Russian history, control, and influence has helped or hindered Uzbekistan and the Central Asian Republics? Would they be better off if still under Russian dominance?
  • How do you feel the Central Asian Republics (including Uzbekistan) can work together to improve their individual and collective situations? Is such cooperation truly possible?

Reflective Questions

  • How do you feel the issues of Soviet control compares to your experience of such eras as the Cold War?
  • What is your impression of these Asian countries? Are you familiar or unfamiliar with them as a whole? Individually? Where (if any) have you heard about them?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Akbarzadeh, Shahram. Uzbekistan and the United States: Authoritarianism, Islamism and Washington's New Security Agenda. Zed Books 20005. 192 pages. An overview of Uzbekistan’s history with the United States, framed in the light of Islamism and the United States’ desires and objectives.
    Click here to order
  • Kort, Michael. Central Asian Republics (Nations in Transition (Facts on File)). Facts on File, 2003. 200 pages. This new volume in the Nations in Transition series examines the problems confronting the five Central Asian Republics, Uzbekistan.
    Click here to order