The Republic of Uzbekistan (Uzbek:O‘zbekiston Respublikasi; 'Ўзбекистон Республикаси) is a totalitarian dictatorship in Central Asia, a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and a former Soviet Socialist Republic. Its capital city is Tashkent. The president is Islom Karimov.
Uzbekistan shares borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. In the north west tip of Uzbekistan lies the Aral Sea. The largest city in this area is Nukus which was described in the Lonely Planet guide as the "saddest place on earth" due to the rapidly shrinking water supply of the Aral Sea, as well as its heavy pollution due to weapons testing. The Ferghana Valley is the most fertile and heavily populated area of Uzbekistan. Prominent cities include the historical city Kokand that was once the capital of the Kokand Dynasty and Ferghana. Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are famous ancient cities.
- Area: 447,400 km2., slightly larger than California.
- Major cities: Capital--Tashkent (pop. 2.5 million); Samarkand (600,000); Bukhara (350,000).
- Terrain: Flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat, intensely irrigated river valleys along Amu Darya, Syr Darya; shrinking Aral Sea; semiarid grasslands surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in east.
- Climate: Mid-latitude desert; long, hot summers, mild winters.
Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous country. Its 27 million people, concentrated in the south and east of the country, are nearly half the region's total population. Uzbekistan had been one of the poorest republics of the Soviet Union; much of its population was engaged in cotton farming in small rural communities. The population continues to be heavily rural and dependent on farming for its livelihood. Uzbek is the predominant ethnic group. Other ethnic groups include Russian 5.5%, Tajik 5%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, and Tatar 1.5%. The nation is 88% Sunni Muslim and 9% Eastern Orthodox. Uzbek is the official state language; however, Russian is the de facto language for interethnic communication, including much day-to-day government and business use.
- Population (July 2008 est.): 27,345,026.
- Ethnic groups (1996 est.): Uzbek 80%, Russian 5.5%, Tajik 5%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, Tatar 1.5%, other 2.5%.
- Religions: Muslim 90% (mostly Sunni), Eastern Orthodox 5%, other 3%.
- Languages: Uzbek 74.3%, Russian 14.2%, Tajik 4.4%, other 7.1%.
- Education: Literacy--97% (total population).
- Health (2005 est.): Life expectancy--60.82 years men; 67.73 years women.
- Work force (11.9 million): Agricultural and forestry--44%, industry--20%; services--36%.
The educational system has achieved 97% literacy, and the mean amount of schooling for both men and women is 11 years. However, due to budget constraints and other transitional problems following the collapse of the Soviet Union, texts and other school supplies, teaching methods, curricula, and educational institutions are outdated, inappropriate, and poorly kept. Additionally, the proportion of school-aged persons enrolled has been dropping. Although the government is concerned about this, budgets remain tight. Similarly, in health care, life expectancy is long, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union, health care resources have declined, reducing health care quality, accessibility, and efficiency.
Government and political conditions
Constitutionally, the Government of Uzbekistan provides for separation of powers, freedom of speech, and representative government. In reality, the executive holds almost all power. The judiciary lacks independence, and the legislature--which meets only a few days each year--has little power to shape laws. The president selects and replaces provincial governors. Under terms of a December 1995 referendum, President Karimov's first term was extended. Another national referendum was held January 27, 2002 to again extend Karimov's term. The referendum passed, and Karimov's term was extended to December 2007 by the parliament. Most international observers refused to participate in the process and did not recognize the results, dismissing them as not meeting basic standards. The 2002 referendum also included a plan to create a bicameral parliament.
Elections for the new bicameral parliament took place on December 26, 2004, but no truly independent opposition candidates or parties were able to take part. Independent political parties were allowed to organize, recruit members, and hold conventions and press conferences, but were denied registration under restrictive registration procedures. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) limited observation mission concluded that the elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.
Terrorist bombings were carried out March 28-April 1, 2004 in Tashkent and Bukhara. It is not clear who committed the attacks, but Karimov assigned blame to Islamic extremists. In May 2005, violence erupted in the eastern city of Andijon following armed attacks against a prison, the local government headquarters, and other government facilities. These incidents, combined with mass demonstrations against the jailing of local men on charges of "Islamic extremism" escalated into violence when Uzbek troops responded to the protestors with gunfire. The civilian death toll from the violence has been estimated to be in the hundreds, though Uzbek authorities officially confirmed only 187 casualties. President Karimov identified the protestors as Islamic militants and fundamentalists who provoked the government's violent response. Karimov's opponents believed the conflict was a product of the President's ongoing policy to suppress all forms of dissent in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991. However, it is opposed to reintegration and withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 1999. In November 2005, Uzbekistan signed an alliance treaty with Russia, stating that an attack against one will be considered an act of aggression against both. It re-joined the CSTO in 2006.
Uzbekistan participated in the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan and in UN-organized groups to help resolve the Tajik and Afghan conflicts, both of which it viewed as posing threats to its own stability. Uzbekistan was an active supporter of U.S. efforts against worldwide terrorism and joined the coalition combating terrorism in Afghanistan. It continues to support coalition anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan by granting access to Germany to an air base in southern Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is a member of the United Nations, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, NATO's Partnership for Peace, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It belongs to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Economic Cooperation Organization--comprised of the five Central Asian countries, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In 1999, Uzbekistan joined the GUAM alliance (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova), which was formed in 1997 (making it GUUAM), but formally withdrew in 2005. Uzbekistan is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and hosts the SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent.
The country is a founding member of and remains involved in the Central Asian Union, formed with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, joined in March 1998 by Tajikistan. In 2002, Uzbekistan joined the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), which also includes Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, Uzbekistan joined the Eurasian Economic Community (EurASEC), comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
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