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Central Asia

Core region of the Asian continent

Top 10 Central Asia related articles

Central Asia
Area4,003,451 km2 (1,545,741 sq mi)
Population72,960,000 (2019) (16th)[1][2]
Population density17.43 km2 (6.73 sq mi)
GDP (PPP)$‭1,026 billion (2019)[3]
GDP (nominal)$300 billion (2019)[3]
GDP per capita$21,701 (2019; nominal)[3]
$64,338 (2019; PPP)[3]
HDI 0.779 (high)
DemonymCentral Asian
Countries
LanguagesKarakalpak, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajiki, Turkmen, Uzbek, and Others
Time zones
2 time zones
Internet TLD.kg, .kz, .tj, .tm, .uz
Calling codeZone 9 except Kazakhstan (Zone 7)
Largest cities
UN M49 code143 – Central Asia
142Asia
001World
a With population over 500,000 people

Central Asia is a region in Asia which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.[4] It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".[5] Various neighbouring areas are sometimes also considered part of the region.

Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road.[6] It has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, West Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.[7] The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, South Asia, and East Asia.[8] This crossroads position has intensified the conflict between tribalism and traditionalism and modernization.[9] The age of the Timurid Renaissance began from today's Uzbekistan.

In the pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was predominantly Iranian,[10][11] populated by Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians, Chorasmians and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Dahae. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs; Turkic languages largely replaced the Iranian languages spoken in the area.

From the mid-19th century until almost the end of the 20th century, most of Central Asia was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, both Slavic-majority countries and the five former Soviet "-stans" are still home to about 7 million ethnic Russians and 500,000 Ukrainians.[12][13][14] Stalinist-era forced deportation policies also mean that over 300,000 Koreans[15] and 170,000 ethnic Germans continue to reside in the region.[16]

Central Asia (2019) has a population of about 72 million, consisting of five republics: Kazakhstan (pop. 18 million), Kyrgyzstan (6 million), Tajikistan (9 million), Turkmenistan (6 million), and Uzbekistan (33 million).[17]

Central Asia Intro articles: 38

Definitions

Political map of Central Asia (2000)
Expanded definition of Central Asia. Core definition that includes the five post-Soviet states in dark green. Afghanistan, the most commonly added country to Central Asia, in green. Regions that are sometimes considered part of Central Asia in light green.

One of the geographers that mentioned Central Asia as a distinct region of the world for the modern world was in 1843 by the geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The borders of Central Asia are subject to multiple definitions. Historically built political geography and culture are two significant parameters widely used in the scholarly literature about the definitions of Central Asia.[18] Humboldt's definition composed of every country between 5° North and 5° South of the latitude 44.5°.[19] Only Humboldt does mentions some geographic features of this region which include the Caspian Sea in the west the Altai mountains in the north and the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains in the South.[20] The Prussian geographer did not give an eastern border for the region. Von Humboldt's legacy on Central Asia is still seen in the present, He has a university named after himself which provides the "Central Asian Studies" (Based on the wider Central Asia definition).[21] The Russian Geographer Nicolay Khanykoff questioned the latitudinal definition of Central Asia. Khanykoff himself preferred a physical definition of the region which is all countries located in this region being landlocked from water. These definitions mostly included the countries: Afghanistan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Khorasan and East Turkestan (Xinjiang).[22][23][24]

However, the Russian culture has two distinct terms: Средняя Азия (Srednyaya Aziya or "Middle Asia", the narrower definition, which includes only those traditionally non-Slavic, Central Asian lands that were incorporated within those borders of historical Russia) and Центральная Азия (Tsentralnaya Aziya or "Central Asia", the wider definition, which includes Central Asian lands that have never been part of historical Russia). The latter definition includes Afghanistan and East Turkestan.[25]

The most limited definition was the official one of the Soviet Union, which defined Middle Asia as consisting solely of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, hence omitting Kazakhstan. This definition was also often used outside the USSR during this period. Soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the leaders of the four former Soviet Central Asian Republics met in Tashkent and declared that the definition of Central Asia should include Kazakhstan as well as the original four included by the Soviets. Since then, this has become the most common definition of Central Asia.

The UNESCO History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, published in 1992, defines the region as "Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, northern and central Pakistan, northern India, western China, Mongolia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics."[26]

An alternative method is to define the region based on ethnicity, and in particular, areas populated by Eastern Turkic, Eastern Iranian, or Mongolian peoples. These areas include Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Turkic regions of southern Siberia, the five republics, and Afghan Turkestan. Afghanistan as a whole, the northern and western areas of Pakistan and the Kashmir Valley of India may also be included. The Tibetans and Ladakhi are also included. Most of the mentioned peoples are considered the "indigenous" peoples of the vast region. Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan.[27][28][29]

There are several places that claim to be the geographic center of Asia, for example Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva in the Russian Federation, and a village 320 km (200 mi) north of Ürümqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region of China.[30]

Central Asia Definitions articles: 23

Geography

On the southern shore of Issyk Kul lake, Issyk Kul Region.

Central Asia is an extremely large region of varied geography, including high passes and mountains (Tian Shan), vast deserts (Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan), and especially treeless, grassy steppes. The vast steppe areas of Central Asia are considered together with the steppes of Eastern Europe as a homogeneous geographical zone known as the Eurasian Steppe.

Much of the land of Central Asia is too dry or too rugged for farming. The Gobi desert extends from the foot of the Pamirs, 77° E, to the Great Khingan (Da Hinggan) Mountains, 116°–118° E.

Central Asia has the following geographic extremes:

A majority of the people earn a living by herding livestock. Industrial activity centers in the region's cities.

Major rivers of the region include the Amu Darya, the Syr Darya, Irtysh, the Hari River and the Murghab River. Major bodies of water include the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, both of which are part of the huge west-central Asian endorheic basin that also includes the Caspian Sea.

Both of these bodies of water have shrunk significantly in recent decades due to diversion of water from rivers that feed them for irrigation and industrial purposes. Water is an extremely valuable resource in arid Central Asia and can lead to rather significant international disputes.

Central Asia Geography articles: 23

Historical regions

Khwarezm
Ferghana
Zhetysu
Dzun-
garia
Tarim_Basin
Historical regions of Central Asia
on a map of Kazakhstan
Khwarezm
Ferghana
Transoxiana
(Sogdia)
Zhetysu
Bactria
Margiana
Historical Regions of Central Asia
on a map of Uzbekistan
Samarkand
Bukhara
Khiva
Kokand
Tashkent
Merv
Balkh
Historic cities of Central Asia
Kokand is one of the many towns that rose and fell in the Ferghana Valley

Central Asia is bounded on the north by the forests of Siberia. The northern half of Central Asia (Kazakhstan) is the middle part of the Eurasian steppe. Westward the Kazakh steppe merges into the Russian-Ukrainian steppe and eastward into the steppes and deserts of Dzungaria and Mongolia. Southward the land becomes increasingly dry and the nomadic population increasingly thin. The south supports areas of dense population and cities wherever irrigation is possible. The main irrigated areas are along the eastern mountains, along the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers and along the north flank of the Kopet Dagh near the Persian border. East of the Kopet Dagh is the important oasis of Merv and then a few places in Afghanistan like Herat and Balkh. Two projections of the Tian Shan create three "bays" along the eastern mountains. The largest, in the north, is eastern Kazakhstan, traditionally called Jetysu or Semirechye which contains Lake Balkhash. In the center is the small but densely-populated Ferghana valley. In the south is Bactria, later called Tocharistan, which is bounded on the south by the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The Syr Darya (Jaxartes) rises in the Ferghana valley and the Amu Darya (Oxus) rises in Bactria. Both flow northwest into the Aral Sea. Where the Oxus meets the Aral Sea it forms a large delta called Khwarazm and later the Khanate of Khiva. North of the Oxus is the less-famous but equally important Zarafshan River which waters the great trading cities of Bokhara and Samarkand. The other great commercial city was Tashkent northwest of the mouth of the Ferghana valley. The land immediately north of the Oxus was called Transoxiana and also Sogdia, especially when referring to the Sogdian merchants who dominated the silk road trade.

To the east, Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin were united into the Chinese province of Xinjiang about 1759. Caravans from China usually went along the north or south side of the Tarim basin and joined at Kashgar before crossing the mountains northwest to Ferghana or southwest to Bactria. A minor branch of the silk road went north of the Tian Shan through Dzungaria and Zhetysu before turning southwest near Tashkent. Nomadic migrations usually moved from Mongolia through Dzungaria before turning southwest to conquer the settled lands or continuing west toward Europe.

The Kyzyl Kum Desert or semi-desert is between the Oxus and Jaxartes, and the Karakum Desert is between the Oxus and Kopet Dagh in Turkmenistan. Khorasan meant approximately northeast Persia and northern Afghanistan. Margiana was the region around Merv. The Ustyurt Plateau is between the Aral and Caspian Seas.

To the southwest, across the Kopet Dagh, lies Persia. From here Persian and Islamic civilization penetrated Central Asia and dominated its high culture until the Russian conquest. In the southeast is the route to India. In early times Buddhism spread north and throughout much of history warrior kings and tribes would move southeast to establish their rule in northern India. Most nomadic conquerors entered from the northeast. After 1800 western civilization in its Russian and Soviet form penetrated from the northwest.

Names of historical regions

Central Asia Historical regions articles: 25

Climate

Central Asia map of Köppen climate classification.

Because Central Asia is not buffered by a large body of water, temperature fluctuations are often severe, excluding the hot, sunny summer months. In most areas the climate is dry and continental, with hot summers and cool to cold winters, with occasional snowfall. Outside high-elevation areas, the climate is mostly semi-arid to arid. In lower elevations, summers are hot with blazing sunshine. Winters feature occasional rain and/or snow from low-pressure systems that cross the area from the Mediterranean Sea. Average monthly precipitation is extremely low from July to September, rises in autumn (October and November) and is highest in March or April, followed by swift drying in May and June. Winds can be strong, producing dust storms sometimes, especially toward the end of the dry season in September and October. Specific cities that exemplify Central Asian climate patterns include Tashkent and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the last of these representing one of the wettest climates in Central Asia, with an average annual precipitation of over 22 inches.

Biogeographically, Central Asia is part of the Palearctic realm. The largest biome in Central Asia is the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. Central Asia also contains the montane grasslands and shrublands, deserts and xeric shrublands and temperate coniferous forests biomes.

Central Asia Climate articles: 9

History

Although, during the golden age of Orientalism the place of Central Asia in the world history was marginalized, contemporary historiography has rediscovered the "centrality" of the Central Asia.[31] The history of Central Asia is defined by the area's climate and geography. The aridness of the region made agriculture difficult, and its distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in the region; instead, the area was for millennia dominated by the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe.

Relations between the steppe nomads and the settled people in and around Central Asia were long marked by conflict. The nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and the steppe horse riders became some of the most militarily potent people in the world, limited only by their lack of internal unity. Any internal unity that was achieved was most probably due to the influence of the Silk Road, which traveled along Central Asia. Periodically, great leaders or changing conditions would organize several tribes into one force and create an almost unstoppable power. These included the Hun invasion of Europe, the Wu Hu attacks on China and most notably the Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia.[32]

Geographical extent of Iranian influence in the 1st century BC. Scythia (mostly Eastern Iranian) is shown in orange.

During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, southern Central Asia was inhabited predominantly by speakers of Iranian languages.[10][33] Among the ancient sedentary Iranian peoples, the Sogdians and Chorasmians played an important role, while Iranian peoples such as Scythians and the later on Alans lived a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle. The well-preserved Tarim mummies with Caucasoid features have been found in the Tarim Basin.[34]

Uzbek men from Khiva, ca. 1861–1880

The main migration of Turkic peoples occurred between the 5th and 10th centuries, when they spread across most of Central Asia. The Tang Chinese were defeated by the Arabs at the battle of Talas in 751, marking the end of the Tang Dynasty's western expansion. The Tibetan Empire would take the chance to rule portion of Central Asia along with South Asia. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols conquered and ruled the largest contiguous empire in recorded history. Most of Central Asia fell under the control of the Chagatai Khanate.

The dominance of the nomads ended in the 16th century, as firearms allowed settled peoples to gain control of the region. Russia, China, and other powers expanded into the region and had captured the bulk of Central Asia by the end of the 19th century. After the Russian Revolution, the western Central Asian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. The eastern part of Central Asia, known as East Turkestan or Xinjiang, was incorporated into the People's Republic of China. Mongolia remained independent but became a Soviet satellite state. Afghanistan remained relatively independent of major influence by the USSR until the Saur Revolution of 1978.

The Soviet areas of Central Asia saw much industrialization and construction of infrastructure, 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. Soviet authorities deported millions of people, including entire nationalities,[35] from western areas of the USSR to Central Asia and Siberia.[36] According to Touraj Atabaki and Sanjyot Mehendale, "From 1959 to 1970, about two million people from various parts of the Soviet Union migrated to Central Asia, of which about one million moved to Kazakhstan."[37]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, five countries gained independence. In nearly all the new states, former Communist Party officials retained power as local strongmen. None of the new republics could be considered functional democracies in the early days of independence, although in recent years Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia have made further progress towards more open societies, unlike Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which have maintained many Soviet-style repressive tactics.[38]

Central Asia History articles: 30

Culture

Arts

Mosque in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan

At the crossroads of Asia, shamanistic practices live alongside Buddhism. Thus, Yama, Lord of Death, was revered in Tibet as a spiritual guardian and judge. Mongolian Buddhism, in particular, was influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The Qianlong Emperor of Qing China in the 18th century was Tibetan Buddhist and would sometimes travel from Beijing to other cities for personal religious worship.

Saadi Shirazi is welcomed by a youth from Kashgar during a forum in Bukhara.

Central Asia also has an indigenous form of improvisational oral poetry that is over 1000 years old. It is principally practiced in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan by akyns, lyrical improvisationalists. They engage in lyrical battles, the aitysh or the alym sabak. The tradition arose out of early bardic oral historians. They are usually accompanied by a stringed instrument—in Kyrgyzstan, a three-stringed komuz, and in Kazakhstan, a similar two-stringed instrument, the dombra.

Photography in Central Asia began to develop after 1882, when a Russian Mennonite photographer named Wilhelm Penner moved to the Khanate of Khiva during the Mennonite migration to Central Asia led by Claas Epp, Jr. Upon his arrival to Khanate of Khiva, Penner shared his photography skills with a local student Khudaybergen Divanov, who later became the founder of Uzbek photography.[39]

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Hazrat-e Turkestan, Kazakhstan. Timurid architecture consisted of Persian art.

Some also learn to sing the Manas, Kyrgyzstan's epic poem (those who learn the Manas exclusively but do not improvise are called manaschis). During Soviet rule, akyn performance was co-opted by the authorities and subsequently declined in popularity. With the fall of the Soviet Union, it has enjoyed a resurgence, although akyns still do use their art to campaign for political candidates. A 2005 The Washington Post article proposed a similarity between the improvisational art of akyns and modern freestyle rap performed in the West.[40]

As a consequence of Russian colonization, European fine arts – painting, sculpture and graphics – have developed in Central Asia. The first years of the Soviet regime saw the appearance of modernism, which took inspiration from the Russian avant-garde movement. Until the 1980s, Central Asian arts had developed along with general tendencies of Soviet arts. In the 90s, arts of the region underwent some significant changes. Institutionally speaking, some fields of arts were regulated by the birth of the art market, some stayed as representatives of official views, while many were sponsored by international organizations. The years of 1990–2000 were times for the establishment of contemporary arts. In the region, many important international exhibitions are taking place, Central Asian art is represented in European and American museums, and the Central Asian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has been organized since 2005.

Sports

Kazakh man on a horse with golden eagle

Equestrian sports are traditional in Central Asia, with disciplines like endurance riding, buzkashi, dzhigit and kyz kuu.

The traditional game of Buzkashi is played throughout the Central Asian region, the countries sometimes organize Buzkashi competition amongst each other. The First regional competition among the Central Asian countries, Russia, Chinese Xinjiang and Turkey was held in 2013.[41] The first world title competition was played in 2017 and won by Kazakhstan.[42]

Association football is popular across Central Asia. Most countries are members of the Central Asian Football Association, a region of the Asian Football Confederation. However, Kazakhstan is a member of the UEFA.

Wrestling is popular across Central Asia, with Kazakhstan having claimed 14 Olympic medals, Uzbekistan seven, and Kyrgyzstan three. As former Soviet states, Central Asian countries have been successful in gymnastics.

Mixed Martial Arts is one of more common sports in Central Asia, Kyrgyz athlete Valentina Shevchenko holding the UFC Flyweight Champion title.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan national cricket team, first formed in 2001, has claimed wins over Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe.

Notable Kazakh competitors include cyclists Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, boxer Vassiliy Jirov and Gennady Golovkin, runner Olga Shishigina, decathlete Dmitriy Karpov, gymnast Aliya Yussupova, judoka Askhat Zhitkeyev and Maxim Rakov, skier Vladimir Smirnov, weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, and figure skaters Denis Ten and Elizabet Tursynbaeva.

Notable Uzbekistani competitors include cyclist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, boxer Ruslan Chagaev, canoer Michael Kolganov, gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, tennis player Denis Istomin, chess player Rustam Kasimdzhanov, and figure skater Misha Ge.

Central Asia Culture articles: 60