Fact File: Uzbekistan

NameOʻzbek­iston Respub­likasi
Pop­u­la­tion32,979,000 (2017 estim­ate)
Cap­it­al cityTashkent
Offi­cial lan­guageUzbek (offi­cial), Rus­si­an, Tajik
Reli­gionsIslam (88%), East­ern Ortho­dox (9%), oth­er
Life expect­ancy68.45 years
Pop­u­la­tion growth 1.7%
GDP $67.22 bil­lion (2016)
HDI 0.701 (105th)
Gini 0.45
Pres­id­ent Shavkat Mirz­iyoyev


Bor­der­ing the oth­er four Cent­ral Asi­an “Stans”, Uzbek­istan has a rich and col­our­ful his­tory of move­ment, con­quest, and res­ist­ance. After Alex­an­der The Great conquered the region in fourth cen­tury BC, Uzbek­istan wit­nessed sev­er­al dis­tinct phases of extern­al influ­ence. Turkic nomads arrived in the sixth cen­tury AD and by the eight cen­tury Islam was intro­duced by the Arabs. Per­haps most fam­ously the Mon­gol Empire, under Genghis Khan, con­sumed the region in the thir­teenth cen­tury. With the steppes united, trade, com­mu­nic­a­tion and even dis­eases spread massively in the fol­low­ing cen­tur­ies. Uzbekistan’s major cit­ies, such as Bukhara, reaped the bene­fit of rein­vig­or­ated East-West trade links.

The Mon­gols and the Silk Road put the coun­try firmly on the map, but it wasn’t until the early six­teenth cen­tury was invaded by the Uzbek. Under the lead­er­ship of Abdul­lah, the empire took in parts of Afgh­anistan and Per­sia, but soon broke down. That lack of unity left the Uzbek­istani prin­cip­al­it­ies at the mercy of the expand­ing Rus­si­an Empire in the lat­ter half of the nine­teenth cen­tury. In the wake of the Rus­si­an Revolu­tion, the Uzbek frac­tured between Soviet sup­port­ers and the Bas­ma­chi, with the lat­ter even­tu­ally suc­cumb­ing to Sta­lin­ist policies. Col­lect­iv­isa­tion, indus­tri­al­isa­tion, and indi­gen­isa­tion were all pur­sued by the Uzbek Soviet Social­ist Repub­lic dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Soviet industry shif­ted from vul­ner­able pos­i­tions in West­ern Rus­sia to Uzbek­istan dur­ing WWII, whilst in the post-war years a drastic drive toward mass pro­duc­tion of cot­ton led to sev­er­al major eco­lo­gic­al dis­asters. With the col­lapse of Com­mun­ism in 1989, Uzbek­istan even­tu­ally secured its inde­pend­ence in 1991, after sev­er­al cen­tur­ies of Rus­si­an rule.

Art­work on the rooftop of the Tilla Kari madrasa in Samarkand, Uzbek­istan. Photo by Patrick Rig­gen­berg.


Uzbek­istan is cur­rently wit­ness­ing a moment­ous peri­od eco­nom­ic growth. Accord­ing to the World Bank, Uzbekistan’s eco­nomy is set to grow faster than any Cent­ral Asi­an or East­ern European nation between now and 2019. State invest­ment in gas, gold and cot­ton pro­duc­tion has cre­ated a boom­ing export eco­nomy. The future for­tunes of exports are largely tied to the per­form­ance the Chinese and Rus­si­an eco­nom­ies, and their gen­er­al down­turn has con­cerned Uzbek­istani policy makers. Yet even with that con­sidered, a strong small busi­ness sec­tor has lif­ted large sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion out of poverty and into employ­ment, a sign that the country’s eco­nomy is shift­ing toward a great­er reli­ance on intern­al rather than extern­al mar­kets.


The meal is a cent­ral pil­lar of Uzbek cul­ture. Tan­door baked bread (tandir) holds a sac­red place at the meal, and can only be torn by hand and nev­er thrown out. Palov (plov or pilaf) is per­haps the most fam­ous dish in the region — and across Cent­ral Asia. Often con­sidered to be the old­est dish in Uzbek cuisine and it is believed Alex­an­der the Great was served palov after cap­tur­ing Marakanda. Cooked in a large pot, palov is a rice based dish cooked with lamb, rais­ins, and entire bulbs of gar­lic, seasoned with tur­mer­ic, cori­ander, and cumin.

Pilaf (plov) is a pop­u­lar dish through­out Uzbek­istan and the Cent­ral Asia region. Photo Jarda Pulao.


Music is omni­present in Uzbek soci­ety. Whis­pers of the ancients can be heard in tra­di­tion­al recit­als at funer­als and com­mem­or­ative cere­mon­ies, dis­tinct from European music in its mono­phon­ic tex­ture. Uzbek­istan boasts some incred­ibly influ­en­tial musi­cians in the region. Ari Babakhan­ov is amongst the most fam­ous. Known for his immense con­tri­bu­tion to tra­di­tion­al Bukhara music, he also tran­scribed and noted down extens­ive amounts of Per­sian poetry and pop­u­lar Uzbek and Tajik works. Today, Uzbek­istan has a diverse music scene, with rock and rap the most pop­u­lar forms.


Close friends or fam­ily of the same sex greet each oth­er with a kiss on both cheeks. At a meal, guests are expec­ted to take a turn as toast­mas­ter, prais­ing the host for wel­com­ing them into their home. Fam­ily and com­munity is of immense value in Uzbek­istan. Com­munit­ies are gov­erned by the mahal­lya, a self-gov­ern­ing unit of neigh­bours and fam­il­ies sup­port­ing one anoth­er. Most girls marry before the age of 21, and wed­dings involve the entire com­munity; hun­dreds of guests are typ­ic­ally invited.


2016 wit­nessed the elec­tion of a new pres­id­ent, Shavkat Mirz­iyoyev in Uzbek­istan. Pri­or to Mirziyoyev’s elec­tion, the nation had been ruled by Islam Karimov, a deeply con­tro­ver­sial who was con­sist­ently cri­ti­cised by the inter­na­tion­al com­munity for extens­ive human rights abuses in the coun­try. For example, the United Nations has found tor­ture to be insti­tu­tion­al­ised in the coun­try. Press cen­sor­ship remains a major issue and many west­ern news out­lets are not allowed to func­tion in the coun­try. How­ever, whilst human rights abuses remain a key issue, the gov­ern­ment has taken steps to erad­ic­ate human traf­fick­ing and cul­tiv­a­tion of opi­um for export pur­poses.

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