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ETHNONYMS: The national and eponymous ethnonym is Ozbek. Uzbek is used by non-Uzbeks and Ozbek is the term used by Uzbeks themselves.


Identification and Location. Uzbek or Ozbek becomes increasingly common after the middle of the fifteenth century. As a term first used for political-cum-ethnic distinction, it referred to the nomadic warriors associated with Shaibani Khan and the Shaibanids. These were a Turkic people who went on to conquer much of modern Uzbekistan. Their power was eclipsed early in the sixteenth century, and from then until the nineteenth century, the term Uzbek or Ozbek rarely crops up. Literally, the term translates as "Master of the Self." Today's sense of being "Uzbek" is largely a twentieth century creation of Soviet-style modernity. There are Uzbek populations in all of the modern Central Asian countries in addition to Afghanistan and western China.

The country of Uzbekistan contains deserts and mountains, with most of the population concentrated in the east and south. The major mountain ranges are part of the chains of the Tien Shan and Alai, found mostly in Uzbekistan's north and northeast, and south. There are lesser chains, such as the Nurota, in arid central Uzbekistan. Scenic alpine landscapes characterize parts of Tashkent and Samarkand provinces, as well as Uzbekistan's Ferghana valley provinces. Most of Uzbekistan is inhospitable to farming; approximately 11 percent of the land is arable, and much of this land requires extensive and intensive irrigation works for profitable yields.

Demography. Uzbekistan had one of the highest population growth rates of all the former Soviet republics, eclipsed only by Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Notable population declines occurred during the Civil War period (1917-1924) and Collectivization through World War II (1929-1945). Although these are significant chunks of time, the overall historical trend in the twentieth century has been rapid population growth with birth rates exceeding 2 percent per year. At the outset of Russian colonization in the historic population centers of today's Uzbekistan, the overall Central Asian Uzbek population was between three and four million. Census figures for 2000 show that in this nation-state of about twenty-four million, almost 75 percent of the population is ethnically Uzbek, so there are probably sixteen to seventeen million Uzbeks in Uzbekistan today.

Linguistic Affiliation. The overwhelming majority of Uzbeks speak Uzbek, known as Ozbekcha to Uzbek speakers, which became a standardized literary language through the amalgam of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Ferghana valley dialects in the 1920s. The Uzbek literary heritage, however, dates back to the fifteenth century Chaghatay language. Modern Uzbek is a Turkic language, part of the larger Altaic language family, and includes much Persian vocabulary and grammar along with long-established Turkic linguistic patterns. It is classified as an eastern Turkic language associated with much older dialects of Chaghatai and Kipchak, terms still used as ethnic and linguistic markers. Modern Uzbek shares closest linguistic affiliations with Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Turkish, and Turkmen. There are regional dialects, including those spoken in Tashkent, the Ferghana valley, Khorezm (in the west), and the southern dialects of Kashka-Dario (dario means river in Uzbek) and Surkhan-Dario. Perhaps the most distinct regional dialect relative to all other Uzbek-language speakers is that of Khorezm, which is much closer to modern Turkish and Turkmen.

History and Cultural Relations

Although primordialism remains a very popular approach to theorizing ethnic history within Uzbekistan, the evidence indicates that Uzbek ethnic history shows great fluidity and a good deal of what one might call reconstructive surgery. There is no question that the Uzbeks have a pastoral nomadic Turkic heritage, and that Eurasian nomadic peoples, such as the Huns, Turks, Uighur, and Mongols form a part of the historical waves of Turkic invaders. However, Uzbeks also trace their ethnic origin in part to settled, agrarian Iranic, or Persian-speaking peoples. Over the past two millennia, modern Uzbek people's ethnic make up has involved the crossfertilization of Chinese, Turks, South Asians, Iranians and Arabs, and even western Eurasian peoples. For at least five centuries, the people loosely grouped as today's Uzbeks have balanced farming and pastoralism with much merchandising and trading traditions associated with urban centers, such as Tashkent, Urgench, Khiva, Andijon and Kokand.

The increasing trend among Uzbeks since the nineteenth century has been towards intensive agriculture. Uzbekistan's history has not been characterized by any period of Uzbek unity or of an Uzbek state, but more by the existence of independent principalities or kingdoms, including those of Bukhara, Khiva, Kokand, and Tashkent. The current borders of Uzbekistan, finally worked out only in the mid-1920s, do not correspond to the limits of any former Uzbek territory. Since political independence in 1991, Uzbekistan's relationships with neighboring countries has been defined by tension, especially with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Relations with Kazakhstan have been strained also. To its south and southwest, Uzbekistan had downright hostile relations with Taliban Afghanistan, and more or less normal relations with Iran and Pakistan. The Uzbeks of Afghanistan, who mainly live in the country's north, constitute a very large proportion of the Northern Alliance forces, the latter led by a very prominent Uzbek general, Rashid Dostum. Until late 2001, however, official ties between Uzbeks of Uzbekistan and Afghan Uzbeks were not particularly strong. Despite the inter-ethnic tensions between the Han Chinese state and its western Turkic peoples, the independent Turkic nation-states of Central Asia enjoy cordial and productive working relations with the People's Republic of China.


Because much of Uzbekistan's territory comprises deserts and semi-deserts, it only makes sense that the biggest population centers are in oases and their surroundings, and in valleys. Since the best water-fed areas are in the north, east and south, the greatest population centers are in those areas, with the notable exceptions of Nukus, Urgench-Khiva, and Navoii in central Uzbekistan. Tashkent, Samarkand, Namangan, and Bukhara are the largest Uzbek cities, and the water supplies of each of these cities are fed by glacial rivers, including the Syr Dario and Zeravshan. In Uzbekistan, any settlement above 30,000 is classified as urban or a city. While new villages and settlements were an ongoing process of the twentieth century, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Soviet Central Asian settlements is their overall connection to larger centers through the construction of road, railway, airport, telephone, and telegraph systems. These systems have served to bring even Uzbekistan's most isolated locales in much better contact with regional and republican centers after World War II in comparison to neighbors such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of Uzbekistan's population remains rural, and most of these people are settled on collective farms, some of which cover thousands of acres with farm populations reaching anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 on average. In other words, the collective farms each comprise a number of villages, villages that were often settlements long before the imposition of Soviet power. The farms are slowly being broken up, but they are still the prevailing settlement pattern throughout the rural country. Historically, they serve the peasant locales with general stores, post offices, police stations, infirmaries or polyclinics, mills, machine and appliance repair shops, teahouses, and a mosque or two. Sometimes a collective farm might have its own weekly market, a bozor (bazaar), but one is much more likely to find rural residents visiting slightly larger regional settlements once a week to shop for necessities, everything from soap and shoes to spare parts and school supplies.

In the cities of Uzbekistan one finds ubiquitous examples of the well known Soviet-style apartment blocks, huge and fired brick behemoths, although many have decorative touches on the outside including colorful murals and concrete geometric designs over windows, created to reflect a Central Asian flavor. In the countryside there are also occasional examples of smaller-scale block-style housing. The vast majority live in single or extended family dwellings, the latter known as compounds. In Uzbekistan a typical rural family dwelling contains anywhere from four to sixteen inhabitants. Uzbeks are not particularly concerned with the outward appearance of their houses, though most are white-washed or blue-washed and contain corrugated roofs. The houses are rather square and the flat area under the corrugated slanting roof material is usually used to store hay, vegetables, and firewood. Universally, housing materials in the countryside are wattle and daub, utilizing mud for bricks and finishing with an underlying framework of wood. In many regions of the country, especially central and western Uzbekistan, houses are redolent of the Native American southwest with an adobe style look. In the summertime, one often sees people sleeping atop their flat roofs. People covet fired bricks and quality wood, but they are in very short supply in Uzbekistan, especially in the post-Soviet era thanks to the loss of a centralized system of supply.


Subsistence. Most urban Uzbeks buy their own foodstuffs from markets and shops, although nearly all Uzbeks keep garden plots even in the cities both for fresh fruits and vegetables as well as for winter canning purposes. Even in the cities, people often keep chickens and sheep or goats. In the countryside everybody grows food, although it is very rare that people grow enough to be self-sufficient, even if they produce enough of a particular type of fruit, legume, nut, or vegetable. Therefore, all Uzbeks spend a significant amount of time shopping for their foodstuffs, even if this means just visiting the rural marketplaces. Poverty has increasingly become a factor of rural life, with well over 50 percent of the rural population living under the official poverty line. Still, nearly all transactions involving food are monetary ones. Barter is practiced but usually between or among local enterprises, so these tend to be large-scale transactions; an example of which may be diesel fuel for wheat or flour. Many rural residents, and increasingly urban residents, try to sell their own food products, craft items, or imported items. Petty trading has become the main means of survival for the mass of the Uzbek population.

Commercial Activities. Since 1991 Uzbekistan has slowly emerged from its second world status as part of the great socialist superpower to a kind of grudging market-type economy. The leadership of Uzbekistan embraces capitalism officially, but has made it difficult for low-level entrepreneurship to emerge. The government has hampered privatization of agrarian enterprises while refusing to make its currency, the som, convertible and refusing to free prices on staple goods, such as dairy, bread, and cottonseed oil.

As well as being an agricultural population, Uzbeks have long been associated with trading and merchandising, so along with the increase of petty trading, many Uzbeks are shopkeepers and craft manufacturers. The largest commercial enterprises center on cotton productivity, oil production, and gold mining; cotton farming involves the great mass of the peasantry, but it is very poorly remunerated.

Because of the Soviet command-administrative structure, most of Uzbekistan's industrial base was geared more toward the production of raw materials than finished goods. Independent Uzbekistan has worked hard to establish its growing industrialization, including the opening of food industry enterprises, automobile manufacturing, clothing and textile manufacture, glass factories, oil refineries, and porcelain factories. Industrial manufacture for internal consumption includes cotton, silk, wool, fruit and vegetable processing, glass, furniture, oil, cement, brick and porcelain enterprises. Uzbekistan's major industrializing export productivity centers on gold, cotton, marble, some oil, and some light foods industries.

Industrial Arts. Uzbek crafts include metal working, woodworking, textiles (cotton, silk, and wool), and instrument making. Uzbek craftspeople are also renowned for their applied crafts, including tile painting and gypsum carving.

Trade. Uzbeks trade actively on the individual and group level and in local as well as international contexts. In the farming communities these items include meat, bread, tea, kabobs, watermelon, figs and pomegranates. Many peasants journey to large towns and cities to increase their trading networks, bringing everything from robes, knives, and skullcaps to honey and horses. The articles of trade are locally produced foodstuffs, handicrafts, and tools and inventory needed for agricultural work.

Over the past decade many young and enterprising Uzbeks have traveled abroad in groups, forming small networks of international traders. They often travel to Istanbul, Moscow, and Bangkok to trade in such goods as old silk textiles, knives, dried fruits, and tea sets. Many are also engaged in the lucrative sex trade.

Uzbeks have practiced overland trade for centuries and newly independent Uzbekistan continues older traditions of trade with the Chinese, Indians, and Iranians along with a newer orientation to western countries, such as Turkey, Germany, and the United States. Cotton exports help engage trade with Pakistan for sugar and Germany for pharmaceutical goods and transportation vehicles.

Division of Labor. The Soviet system allowed all men and women to collect a pension from their state jobs by age sixty. Nevertheless, able-bodied elderly Uzbeks are involved in all manner of work, if they so choose, but are especially valued for their childcare services and work around the home, including tending to gardens and animals. Older women continue to cook, make handicrafts, and clean, whereas elderly men still do plenty of work around the house involving repair and building. Children are expected to begin carrying out chores both in the home and in the fields from the age of five or six, and they often undertake light assignments with the help of older siblings; in general, such divisions are exactly those reproduced by sex later in life. Gender roles are rather strictly defined in Uzbekistan. Women's work is undervalued but more demanding on the whole and includes housework, cooking, childcare, milking, baking, drawing water, laundering, and doing the bulk of cotton sowing and harvesting. Men are responsible for much of the agricultural work associated with irrigation, gardening work, bringing animals to pasture, the driving and operating of machinery, all tasks associated with carpentry and home repair, and rural shopping. There is some overlap here in terms of gender roles, but by and large the divisions are rigid. In rural areas, one often encounters professionals hard at work at least around their own homes, but rarely in the fields, since their education and training has lifted them above their peasant status. Local officials often use their leadership and administrative status to avoid manual labor; however those who have earned their positions of agricultural expertise do spend more time working directly with peasants.

Land Tenure. Land tenure remains one of the hardest areas to discuss meaningfully. The reasons for this have mostly to do with the Soviet past of expropriation of nearly all lands and pastures as state property. The state ownership of all means of production, including real estate, means that many people have little or no knowledge of pre-1920s land tenure practices. Historically, land, animals, and inventory formed a part of state lands, the lands of religious endowments, and those owned by individuals who passed their holdings on to their children, so that land tenure followed inheritance patterns based on a mixture of Islamic law and adat (local custom). Pastoralists historically inherited usufruct rights to pastures and water sources, but only animals were passed down as owned property. Even during the socialist period, some livestock was inherited, but the use of pastures was radically altered according to collectivization principles.

On the cotton collectives, many people have a sense of land ownership, and many elderly people are well aware of who owned which lands. Overall, pre-Russian conquest land tenure in Uzbekistan appears to have been extremely stratified; the vast majority of peasants were nearly landless. Since the 1990s, land privatization has begun, but very slowly and unevenly; there seems to be little hope that people with old titles to lands will have them returned to their families, especially in the rural areas. Renting land is now possible, as is selling houses, but this does not mean that an individual actually owns the land, or that his or her children can inherit it according to pre-Soviet practices. In a country with scarce productive land and burgeoning population, the land tenure issue will likely remain difficult and unsatisfactory to most for a long time to come.


Kin Groups and Descent. Uzbeks in various regions of their country are to greater and lesser degrees patrilineal, and this is reflected both in marriage patterns and social roles. Pastoralist Uzbeks are able to recount five to seven generations on both sides, but this is rarely the case among urban and farming Uzbeks.

Historically, Uzbeks have featured a clan and tribal division among the patrilineages. It is said that at one time there were more than one hundred Uzbek tribes, including the Naiman, Qipchoq, Noghai, Kungrat, and Ming. Fieldwork in central Uzbekistan provides evidence that many shepherds are capable of discussing their tribal affiliations, but few demonstrate any ability to discuss the precise meanings and structures of tribal organization. Political analysts commonly talk about the tribal affiliations with regard to state politics, but one must be careful about appropriating anthropological terminology here, for what the analysts really mean is that Uzbekistan's politics follow close regional alliances that are not necessarily patricians in the anthropological sense. In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, for example, discussion of clannish politics is much less metaphorical.

Kinship Terminology. Uzbek kin terminology recognizes age differences within generations, so there are distinct terms for older and younger brothers, as well as for older and younger sisters. Strangers always apply either sibling-age ranks or generational terms to one another, as if all people are related by consanguineal ties; thus anybody on the street becomes, for example, aka (older brother) or singil (younger sister) or amaki (father's brother) or hola sister). Terms such as father and mother are also used, as are son or daughter when strangers of vastly different ages engage in conversation. Separate kin terms apply to father's brothers and sisters and mother's brothers and sisters, and there are separate sexmarked terms for affinal relatives. There is a cousin terminology, employing terms such as jiian and togha/hola bache, but people often refer to their first cousins on both sides as brothers and sisters, although they use the terms mentioned above when describing the actual relationship.

The term bolalar (children) is often used by a man to refer to his entire nuclear family, including his wife; she is thus subsumed under the general term "children."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. As Muslims, Uzbeks see marriage as a central and necessary part in the life of an individual. Polygyny was allowed under Islamic shari'a but later banned by Soviet power. Since independence (1991) there has been a slow return to unofficial polygyny, but polygynous unions are rare. In cities the average age at marriage tends to be in the early twenties, and in the late teens in the countryside. Because of Uzbekistan's precipitous economic decline since the late 1980s many young people are deferring marriage until they can accumulate money. This is the case for both men and women, as both parties must bring money, goods, and gifts to the union. In Uzbekistan, qalym (bride-wealth) must be paid by the groom's side to the bride's family, and she brings household goods and clothing to the union. The emphasis in marriage is on the uniting of families, and certainly people look to strategic aspects of their future affinals, including professions of the family, education level, and whether or not they are townsfolk or villagers.

Uzbeks typically arrange marriages. The newly married couple takes up either a patrilocal or virilocal residence. Historically, the extended patrilineal familya set of parents, their married sons and grandchildrenall live within a compound. Uzbeks also feature a stem family, meaning that the youngest son eventually retains ownership of the house after his older brothers have established new residences. In the postwar period there has been a greater increase toward nuclear or small extended family housing arrangements, and one may expect this trend to continue in both cities and villages.

Domestic Unit. A typical extended family unit often lives in a house of four to six rooms with a separated enclosed kitchen, sleeping rooms, and a central guest room. Families typically eat and sleep separated by sex, except for children. Most domestic units surround an inner courtyard where the family normally eats and sometimes sleeps when the weather is warm. In villages, running water and gas are generally absent, although almost all have had electricity since the early 1960s.

Inheritance. Traditionally, Uzbek inheritance was androcentric, with little or nothing going to daughters in terms of land, homes, or livestock, save in the form of movable property for her wedding. In fact, daughters are seen as a financial drain because families should begin to save for their wedding parties and wedding gifts from the time they are born. Youngest sons often received the lion's share of real estate and livestock, although inheritance rules show some flexibility and often depend on the individual family. Although not strictly practiced or enforced, the typical pattern has been one of ultimogeniture, an institution long observed among Turko-Mongolian peoples.

Socialization. Women are expected to be primary caretakers of children, with a heavy reliance on grandmothers and female relatives and friends. Uzbek children grow up often with a large number of relatives and neighbors watching out for them.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Uzbeks pride themselves on their respect for authority and age, and, as a result, young people tend to be very deferential toward those older than themselves, and people in general act deferentially toward those with responsible or professional status, including politicians, local leaders, doctors, and scholars. When meeting someone for the first time, shaking hands or hugging and exchanging pleasantries are very important. Until recently, social stratification only really existed between people associated with professional and political positions and those from the more common orders. Since the mid-1990s economic stratification has intensified, and economic class stratification has divided people from one another in ways that have been experienced for about three generations. Moreover, certain categories of individuals, such as Khojas and Sayids, have always been accorded special respect because of their long associations in Islamic history through education, leadership, and descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Such people continue to have leadership positions in society, and this can be seen through matching their surnames, i.e., Khojaev or Mirsaidov, to their professions.

Political Organization. Uzbekistan officially presents itself as a parliamentary democracy, and in fact it is officially a multi-party state, but in practice the People's Democratic Party and the Uzbek Supreme Council/Parliament act as one, and most of the advanced leadership is a holdover body from the Communist Party. The three to four political parties are little more than pocket parties who support the decisions of the president and his inner circle. The leadership of Tashkent is challenged not so much by ideological opponents as by regional interests. Elections are held, but the choices are little better than what existed under Soviet rule. Intense debate as a part of wide decision making processes affecting the country are virtually absent, and rule proceeds in a very topdown manner.

Social Control. Uzbeks are conflicted over matters of pluralism, religion, and women's rights. The lack of democratic freedoms or of a vibrant civil society sector may have pushed certain groups toward violence as a means toward expressing grievances and accessing power. Some terrorism has occurred, targeting the Uzbek leadership and law enforcement officials since 1997, with apparent links to the repression of Islamic groups. In general, the terrorism has led to massive repression not merely of Islamists but also of ordinary Muslims and human rights advocates. The Uzbek government strongly supports a secular society with the Soviet rights for women maintained. An assault on women's rights, if one can call it this, only comes from small pockets of radical religious organizations and does not characterize the vast majority of Uzbeks.

Crime has been on the rise for years as economic conditions worsen, and the police deal very harshly with suspected criminals. Stiff jail terms and capital punishment are meted out at will.

The closest institution the Uzbeks have that reflects the idea of civil society is the mahalla komitet, or neighborhood committee, whose roots long antedate the USSR. Nevertheless, these neighborhood watch and welfare organizations often have ties to the state, so they have at various times served more as a repressive institution of the state than one of civil society. Since Uzbekistan became independent, however, they have played a greater and more independent role in asserting the needs and interests of small-scale groups. They play a pivotal role in resolving domestic disputes, petty crimes, and social welfare complaints. In the countryside, conflicts increasingly devolve around ideas of ownership and territoriality with regard to cultivated fields and pastures. When conflicts result in assaults or murder, then the police are called in.

Conflict. During the 1990s and through the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Uzbekistan's state military has been involved in skirmishes with Islamists (those who use the Islamic faith to advance political causes violently and non-violently), the Kyrgyz and Tajik authorities, and most recently, in Afhganistan in conjunction with the United States assault on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The overwhelming majority of Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi rite (one of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence). There are also many Uzbeks who adhere to a Sufistic variant of Islam, including those associated with Naqshbandiia and Yassawiia, Central Asian Sufi orders dating to the medieval period. There are also indigenous Jewish and Christian populations, but they are small and shrinking.

In the territory of Uzbekistan, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity also existed and antedated Islam. In general, Uzbeks are tolerant and respectful of other faiths. The official position of atheism, espoused by the Soviet Union, has left a strong impact of skepticism and agnosticism among members of the older generations. Since the 1980s there have been growing tendencies of Wahabism, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and Taliban-style Islam among the young. It is hard to estimate what percentage adhere to these very extremist religious orientations, but it is probably in the tens of thousands.

In many parts of Uzbekistan, people mix normative Islam with pre-Islamic beliefs, including the power of amulets, water sources, and sacred places. In fact, one finds shrine worship spread throughout Central Asia. Many Uzbeks are having to relearn Islam since practicing religion was strongly discouraged during the Soviet period.

Religious Practitioners. Uzbekistan has several levels of an officially recognized Muslim leadership, recognized foremost in the mufti of Tashkent. In the other cities, there are officially recognized mosques, but throughout the country vast numbers of practicing Muslims do not strongly associate with the official mosques, but with their own independent mosques and their local imams (religious leaders akin to priests). Among the Sufi orders, there are pirs, who lead groups in religious practice and Sufi rites. In the villages the mullos (part-time religious leaders) are the religious authorities, but often they are not formally schooled practitioners, merely people with an avowed spiritual direction. They increasingly preside over lifecycle events such as weddings and male circumcisions.

Ceremonies. Uzbeks observe the major Muslim holidays with increasing frequency, including Ramadan, and the Eids (or Hants), marking the end of the fast, and days of remembrance for deceased relatives. They also celebrate important rites of spring that antedate Islam, especially Navruz (Irano-Turkic New Year). Pre-Islamic beliefs that have merged with Islam often take the form of ceremonies in which women attempt to become pregnant or pray for ill relatives. Then the family may make a pilgrimage together to a holy shrine, including a sacred spring or to the supposed site of the tomb of a saint. Uzbeks try to make the haj, but may go to Samarkand or Bukhara instead of Mecca as a substitute.

Lifecycle events, including weddings, births, deaths, circumcisions, and birthdays are all marked by ceremonies including feasting and extended family and neighborly visiting.

Arts. Uzbeks have long been associated with literary creativity, especially poetry, including epics. In addition to the development of renowned nineteenth and twentieth century literary forms, including the novel and short story, Uzbeks may be proudest of their "Shakespeare," the fifteenth century litterateur, Mir Alisher Navoii. Music, including the famous maqqam style (known in Persia and Northern India), singing, and dancing are highly developed expressive forms, varying significantly from east to west in the country. Carving in wood and gypsum, tile work, textiles (hon atlas tie-dyeing and suzani production), and the painting of their own dwellings are beloved forms of both high art and folk production.

Uzbeks do not concern themselves much with Islamic prohibitions on representing nature and living things, although geometric designs are also prominent and beautifully represented in carving and other forms of ornamental architecture. Nature motifs are commonly found painted on the walls and ceilings of people's homes.

Medicine. Although most Uzbeks rely upon modern medicines to cure illness and disease, the collapse of the Soviet system and the attendant development of poverty brought about renewed interest in folk medicines, especially herbal remedies and homeopathic solutions. Uzbeks are strong believers in balancing the humors, in which diet and food combinations play a very important role. For intestinal ailments, for example, people may suggest salt in vodka, and for general pain, a bit of opium, when available, in tea. A strong and growing belief in folk remedies happily coexists with reliance on modern medicines, and the influence of the former has grown during the past decade.

Death and Afterlife. With regard to death, Uzbeks generally have Muslim funerals. They adhere to the notion of heaven and hell, believing that there will be a Judgment Day for all the deceased. In practice, people host family and neighbors for several days after someone has died at home, although a body is often buried the day of death or the following day, after having been ritually washed and wrapped in a shroud. Gathering and feasting is vital to the ritual. Men usually take the funeral pallet to the cemetery, friends help dig the grave, and a mullo or imam says prayers before the burial. The deceased's head is laid in the ground to face Mecca. Days of Remembrance (Haiit in Uzbek) follow on set days for years after a person has died. These include visitations and feasts at the home where the person lived.

For the original article on Uzbeks, see Volume 6, Russia and Eurasia/China.


Allworth, Edward (1990). The Modem Uzbeks From the 14th Century to the Present: A Cultural History. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press.

Forbes Manz, Beatrice (1999). The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macleod, Calum and Bradley Mayhew (1997). Uzbekistan. Chicago: Odyssey Passport.

Roy, Olivier (2000). The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations. New York: New York University Press.

Shaniiazov, K. Sh. (1974). K Etnicheskoi Istorii Uzbekskogo N aroda (Toward an Ethnic History of the Uzbek People). Tashkent: Izdatel'stvo FAN Uzbekskoi SSR.



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Identification. Uzbekistan ranks third in population of the former republics of the USSR and is the largest of the four republics (Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan) formerly referred to as Soviet Central Asia. The republic is comprised of twelve regions (oblasts) and one autonomous republic, the Karakalpak Republic. The vast majority of Uzbekistan's population belongs to Turkic-speaking Muslim groups, with a relatively small population of Slavs and other nationalities.

Location. Uzbekistan is a landlocked area nestled between the republics of Turkmenistan to the west, Kazakhstan to the north, Kyrgyzstan to the east, and Tajikistan to the east and south; it shares one relatively short international border with Afganistan to the south. With a territory of roughly 447,400 square kilometers, it is located between 37° and 45° N and 56° and 73° E. Few rivers feed the republiconly the Syr Darya, Amu Darya, and Zeravshanand rainfall is slight. Uzbekistan's population, therefore, tends to be clustered along these rivers, concentrated in the oases of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara, and in the Fergana Valley. The vast majority of Uzbekistan's territory is steppe or desert. Toward the south and east Uzbekistan becomes more mountainous in the vicinity the Tianshan and Pamir ranges. Overall, Uzbekistan has a hot, dry climate, with temperatures ranging in some places up to about 51° C in the summer.

Demography. The population of Uzbekistan in 1989 was 19,810,000, of which 14,142,000, or roughly 71 percent, are Uzbek and almost 90 percent are of various Muslim nationalities. Uzbekistan's population is characterized by a very high rate of natural growthat least three to four times that of the Russiansand very low migration. For that reason, the population of Uzbekistan has been growing ever more rapidly and has been becoming more ethnically homogeneous over the past several decades. Whereas Uzbekistan's population grew by 28 percent over the twenty-year period from 1939 to 1959, for example (from 6.3 to 8.1 million people), it grew by almost 90 percent over the next twenty-year period, to more than 15 million people, and then by another 29 percent between 1979 and 1989. Central Asian demographers project that by the year 2005, 30 million people will be living in Uzbekistanroughly the population of the entire Soviet Central Asian region todayand that by 2010, Uzbekistan's population will reach 33 million people.

The proportion of indigenous Central Asians has been growing, whereas that of the Russians has been declining. Although from the 1920s until 1959 Russians had comprised a consistently growing share of Uzbekistan's population (rising from less than 2 percent of Uzbekistan's population in 1917 to 13.5 percent in 1959), by 1989 that proportion had fallen to 8.3 percent, or to 1,653,000 people.

Demographic pressures have become one of the most serious and controversial problems in Uzbekistan, as they are increasingly straining the system's ability to provide basic goods and social services. Some Soviet officials and scholars in Central Asia advocated expansion of family planning, but this was initiated on only a rudimentary level and was strongly resisted by the local populations. There is a great need for economic and social reform. The steady decline of Russians in the republic's population and the growth of an increasingly homogeneous Uzbek and Central Asian population fueled Uzbekistan's demands for greater autonomy and, finally, sovereignty from Moscow.

Linguistic Affiliation. Modern literary Uzbek is a Turkic language that is quite close to other Turkic languages of Central Asia, especially Uighur. In a sense, it is the successor to the Chagatay language, which was used for literary purposes (along with Persian) in the region prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Modern literary Uzbek, however, is an artificial conglomerate of a variety of Turkic dialects. The origin of most of the Uzbek vocabulary is Turkic, but there are also many Arabic and Persian elementsand "international" words, usually borrowed from Russian. During most of the period from 1930 to 1989, the Communist party (which held a monopoly on the mass media and educational institutions) attempted to increase the Russian stratum of vocabulary and decrease the others, as well as to promote greater use of the Russian language. The Soviet period has also witnessed extensive change in Uzbek writing systems. During the 1920s a new modified version of the Arabic alphabet was introduced to write Uzbek. Then, at the end of the decade, Arabic letters were replaced with Latin ones; in 1940 Uzbek writing shifted to a slightly modified form of the Russian alphabet. Many of the trends of the period 1930 to 1989 are now being changed or reversed. Many international words are being replaced by Turkic, Arabic, and Persian equivalents; lessons in the Arabic writing system are now being introduced in the schools; and in October 1989 Uzbek was officially declared the state language of Uzbekistan.

History and Cultural Relations

The Central Asian region, which includes what is today Uzbekistan, has a rich history. Lying at the heart of the Silk Road, the region was both a major commercial and spiritual center: trade flourished; agriculture was well advanced; in this area arose great centers of education, art, architecture, poetry, religion, and scientific thought.

Throughout its long history, however, the region has also been the object of repeated invasions and conquests. These include the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century a.d.; the Arab invasions of the seventh to eighth centuries, which introduced Islam and the Arabic script, classical learning, and a new worldview to the region; the occupation of the Turks from the seventh to ninth centuries, from which the region took the name "Turkestan"; and the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century under Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. The conquest by Timur, or Timur the Lame (Tamerlane), in the late fourteenth century began the last and perhaps finest period of a flowering of culture and learning in the region, which included the emergence of perhaps the greatest of Central Asia's poets, Alisher Navoi, the astronomer Ulugh Bek, and the construction of architectural masterpieces the remains of which are still visited today in such Uzbek cities as Samarkand and Bukhara.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, howeveras oceans became a more important means for transporting goods and as European merchants began to turn their attention more toward the New WorldTurkestan entered a long period of decline. The political order that had been established under such leaders as Timur at the height of the region's glory was supplanted by warring principalities. The Bukharan Emirate and the Khivan and Kokand khanates emerged as the major political units. They held sway until the Russian conquest that occurred from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s.

The czarist conquest not only secured Russian rule of the territory, but also brought an influx of Russians. The total number of Russians living in Central Asia at the turn of the century, however, was small, comprising only about 2 percent of the population, and the lives of the Russians and Asians rarely overlapped. Loyalties of the indigenous nationalities rarely extended beyond the family, tribe, or clan. This changed dramatically with the Bolshevik Revolution when, despite a long period of resistance by Central Asians (highlighted by the armed opposition to the Soviet regime of the "Basmachi," which continued well into the 1930s), the new Bolshevik government consolidated its power and created the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925. Uzbekistan saw an increasing flow of Russians into the republic and the beginning of strong government efforts to eradicate religion, educate the population, make Russian the common language, and supplant local traditions with Soviet mores. The history of Soviet rule was marked by fluctuations between intensification and relaxation of these policiesthrough the decades coopting or attracting some Central Asians to promote these policies and making martyrs and enemies of many others.


Traditionally, there were two kinds of groups in what is now Uzbekistan: the sedentary farmers and the nomadic herdsmen. The farmers and city dwellers were largely merchants and craftsmen, whereas the herdsmen lived largely by their flocks of sheep and herds of horses, cattle, camels, and goats. The basic social unit was the village, the nomadic village being called an aul, and the sedentary agricultural village being called a kishlak. Both were based on kinship ties: the auls were relatively small, moving from winter to spring camps on their way to summer pastures, whereas kishlaks were somewhat larger. The kishlak traditionally had a closely knit settlement pattern: houses were built within a small radius of each other. The houses were made of clay, and most had a courtyard in which family and social activities largely took place. The streets of the kishlak ran between the clay walls enclosing the courtyards.

The onset of Soviet power saw the construction of collective and state farms in the countryside, settlement of nomadic tribes, and mass efforts to urbanize the population. In the "European" sectors of citiesand in some entire cities and townsthe buildings resemble those found in the European parts of the former USSR. Many of the villages, smaller cities, towns, and sections of large cities, however, have retained the features of the kishlak. Today the Soviets boast that Uzbekistan has become over 40 percent urban, with Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital, now the third-largest city of the former USSR, having a population of over two million. According to Soviet demographers, however, roughly 80 percent of all Uzbeks still live in rural areas.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The economy of Uzbekistan is very much specialized on a single crop, cotton, and on the infrastructure to serve the cotton industrysuch as irrigation networks, branches of the machine-building and chemical industries that support cotton growing and harvesting, and cotton-ginning and textile mills. Uzbekistan is also rich in other raw materials, including natural gas, some coal, and important nonferrous metals, including what was, at least until recently, the largest gold mine in the world. In the early 1980s some estimates indicated that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan alone accounted for as much as one-half of the former USSR's total gold output.

But Uzbekistan has not reaped the benefits of these rich resources. Instead, control of all resources has been in Moscow's hands, and most processing has been conducted outside of the republic. Thus, Uzbekistan today is one of the poorest republics of the former USSR, with an estimated 40 percent of its population living in poverty. The republic, moreover, has become riddled with the often devastating environmental and health consequences of cotton production. For example, the misuse of water resources, largely for irrigation, has led to the drying up of the Aral Sea, once the world's sixth-largest inland sea; in the past twenty years, it has shrunk by roughly 40 percent. The drying up of the Aral and resulting salinization has ruined fertile soil in the surrounding areas and has had severe health repercussions for the local populations. Likewise, the population's extensive exposure to pesticides, fertilizers, and defoliants used in the cotton fields and the contamination of drinking water with these chemicals has led to a severe increase in death and disease. As but one indication, over the past fifteen years infant-mortality rates in Uzbekistan have risen by over 50 percent to among the highest in the world: in some areas over 100 out of every 1,000 babies born die before reaching the age of 1.

Industrial Arts. Uzbek artisans still ply the handicrafts passed down from generation to generation. These include ceramics, copper embossing, carpet weaving, silkcraft (including silk tapestry), embroidery of headgear, wood carving, and the like.

Trade. By custom Uzbeks are merchants and traders. Although a network of Soviet stores and cooperatives has opened, the traditional open-air markets, with an array of foodstuffs, textiles, and other goods, still tend to remain the center of much commerce. Since the beginnings of perestroika in the USSR, Uzbeks have increasingly attempted to enter world markets, attract Western partners for joint ventures within Uzbekistan, and sell more goods abroad.

Division of Labor. Traditionally in Uzbekistan, there has been a broad division of labor between Uzbeks and Russians, just as there has been between men and women. Uzbeks have tended to be concentrated in the agricultural, service, and light-industrial sectors, whereas Russians have tended to dominate heavy industry and key government and party posts. Uzbek women have tended to predominate in household work and in the lower-skilled and manual jobs, often segregated from men.

But this began to change in the late Soviet era as Uzbeks demanded more economic autonomy from Moscow and developed broader skills, while unemployment, particularly among Central Asians, soared. According to one estimate from Central Asia, between 1.5 and 2 million people are currently unemployed; according to another, roughly one in ten able-bodied people in Uzbekistan are now without jobs, with almost one-quarter of a million young people entering the labor market every year. High unemployment is considered to be one of the key reasons for the many outbreaks of ethnic violence over the past several years, including the bloody violence that erupted in 1989 and 1990 between Uzbeks and Meshketian Turks and between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

Land Tenure. Under the Soviet system, there was no private ownership of land anywhere in the USSR. Instead, most agricultural land was held as part of collective and state farms. Farmers were allowed to cultivate small private plots, and these accounted for a disproportionate share of total agricultural productionby some estimates, as high as almost 30 percent of Uzbekistan's total agricultural output. The development of perestroika and efforts toward economic reform over the past few years have brought with them increasing debates over questions of ownership of land and resources. These efforts, coupled with independence, may greatly change the system of land tenure in Uzbekistan in the future.


Kin Groups and Descent. Uzbek society was traditionally organized patrilineally, with members of individual families carefully graded according to order of birth and precedence. Descent lines for Uzbeks were traditionally traced along patrilineal lines to the founding ancestor of the clan. Although each clan possessed its own territory, single leader, and center of authority, clan genealogy was often amended. Thus, with the combination of two clans in an economic or military alliance, the leader of one might recognize the leader of the other as a brother. Although to a lesser extent than among the Kazakhs or Kyrgyz, many Uzbeks today are still conscious of clan identities, and, to some extent, these still maintain political importance.

Kinship Terminology. The Uzbek language has a very complex kinship terminology. It differentiates, for example, between older and younger brothers, older and younger sisters, patrilineal and matrilineal uncles, and patrilineal and matrilineal aunts.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage of children was traditionally contracted between the bride's and groom's family through a third party. At the time of marriage, the bride-price (kalym ) was transferred and the bride left to join the groom's family. Marriages were marked with feasting, competitions, the actual wedding ceremony, and other rituals. Although for many years the Communist party actively discouraged the kalym, religious weddings, and extravagant banquets, all of these practices survive in some form. It is common for young couples to recite religious wedding vows as well as to comply with the obligatory civil registration.

Domestic Unit. Most Uzbeks, especially those in rural areas, live under one roof with several generations. Likewise, in rural areas, families still tend to be very large. Over 40 percent of all Uzbek families have seven or more children. Upon marriage, women leave their parents' home to live with their husband's family. This means that the households of families with several married sons can be quite large. Although housing constraints have affected this practice, even sons who move out of their parents' homes tend to live nearby. The traditional Uzbek family was polygynous, at least in theory. In fact, however, few families could afford the bride-wealth for more than one wife per son.

Inheritance. The physical property of a family was traditionally divided among the sons in roughly equal proportions. Each son normally received part of his share when he married and part upon the death of the father.

Socialization. Despite the Soviet government's promotion of nurseries and kindergartens, most small Uzbek children are raised by their mothers and grandmothers. This is one of the major reasons for the conservation of cultural and religious traditions in Uzbekistan.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The same Soviet social organizations that were created throughout the USSRfor example, Octobrists and Pioneers (for children), women's organizations, and labor unionshave all existed in Uzbekistan. The neighborhood (mahalla ) committees, however, were much stronger in Uzbekistan than any analogous institution in Russia. Another very important social institution is the chaykhana (teahouse), where Uzbek men still gather.

Political Organization. Until very recently the Communist party was the sole political party in modern Uzbekistan. As elsewhere in the USSR, this party had almost total control over the legislative soviet (council) institutions and executive organs. In elections, voters were offered only one candidate, whose choice was approved by the party. As a result of reforms under Gorbachev, many elections now have more than one candidate per office and other political parties are being organized. The first such party, Erk (Freedom), appeared in the spring of 1990; it emerged from the "informal" organization Erk, which had split from the Birlik (Unity) organization just months before.

Social Control. Public opinion, especially the views of local elders, has been a powerful means for social control. In Soviet times, such formal organizations as the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), Committee on State Security (KGB), the Communist party, and the social organizations (See "Social Organization") played central "control" functions. Although the Communist party treated the traditional forms of control with distrust throughout most of Soviet history, in recent years it turned to these for help in fighting such maladies as crime, alcoholism, and drugs.

Conflict. Numerous states have conquered the territory that comprises modern-day Uzbekistan (see "History and Cultural Relations"). The most important conquests by foreign invaders were those of the Mongols in the thirteenth century and the Russians in the twentieth. Until the twentieth century there were frequent wars among smaller states established in the region. The nineteenth-century internecine wars among these entities facilitated Russian conquest of the territory. Under Soviet rule there have been no open wars among the republics or regions of Central Asia. Beginning in the spring of 1989, however, there have been a number of violent mass disturbances involving Uzbeks clashing with members of other ethnic groups.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims. Because of the region's complex history, however, some beliefs and practices date back to the pre-Islamic past, in particular to Zoroastrianism. A belief in demons and other spirits was widespread in traditional Uzbek society.

Religious Practitioners. The Muslim Religious Board of Central Asia (located in Tashkent) supervises the "official" religious life and institutions in Uzbekistan and trains the "official" clergy. However, because the official institutions have been popularly viewed as coopted by the Communist party and because of limitations on training clergy, a large number of unofficial mullahs perform services. Since 1988, as relations between the party and official religious institutions have improved, many new mosques have opened and antireligious propaganda has drastically decreased. Historically, many Uzbeks belonged to Sufi tarigat (mystic orders). It is very difficult to judge how many adherents these organizations have today.

Ceremonies. Uzbeks, even those who do not consider themselves "believers," participate in a number of Muslim religious ceremonies. The most important are a few life-cycle rituals, in particular, weddings, male circumcisions, and funerals. In addition, many Uzbeks observe other Islamic practices, such as fasting during Ramadan. Only a handful have had the opportunity to perform the hajj to Mecca. The cult of tombs (mazar ) of holy men is widespread in Central Asia. Commonly observed pre-Islamic rituals (e.g., those performed during the New Year, Navroz) are popularly considered Islamic. Because of the Communist party's antireligious policy, however, many Uzbeks were reluctant to participate openly in Islamic rituals until 1988.

Arts. Uzbekistan has a rich variety of art forms, reflecting the cultural influences of the many groups that have crossed Central Asia. During much of Soviet history, especially during the Stalin years, many of these were labeled "feudal." Moreover, the Soviet government encouraged artificial "mixing" of Uzbek and other cultures, usually as a cover for Russification. Nevertheless, in the late twentieth century the Uzbeks are paying renewed attention to study and development of traditional literature (especially poetry), music, and applied arts such as ceramics, calligraphy, metal crafting, and embroidery.

Medicine. Although some modern medicine was introduced into Uzbekistan during the Soviet period, the standard of health careespecially for the predominantly rural Uzbek populationis far below that in most European parts of the former USSR. Many of the serious health problems (e.g., a soaring cancer rate, a high infant-mortality rate, and hepatitis) are direct or indirect results of the reckless pursuit of cotton cultivation (including depletion of water supplies and use of large doses of toxic chemicals). Uzbeks have a rich tradition of folk medicine, but until late in the Communist era the party did not encourage its use.

See also Uzbeks in Part Two, China


Akiner, Shirin (1986) "The Uzbeks." In Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union: An Historical and Statistical Handbook. 2nd ed. London: KPI.

Allworth, Edward (1964). Uzbek Literary Politics. The Hague: Mouton.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush (1986). "The Uzbeks." In Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Montgomery, David C. (1984). "Uzbeks." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 833-839. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.



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LOCATION: Uzbekistan; Afghanistan; China
POPULATION: 27 million
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)


The modern Uzbeks are believed to have originated from a group of tribes called the Kipchak Khanate, whose domain stretched from the Irtish River valley in the north to the shores of the Caspian Sea and Aral Sea in the south. In the 15th century, a southern migration of one of the tribes began. Th is tribe captured territory in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya (darya means "river" in Persian), as well as the city of Samarkand. The Uzbeks mixed with the earlier settlers of the area, including the Persian peoples of Khorezm and Soghdia. This area became consolidated under three separate khanates (Bukhara, Khiva, and Khokand) that ruled as city-states in the region until the 19th century. Uzbeks accounted for more than 50% of the Khiva khanate population and almost 35% of the Bukhara khanate inhabitants. Although originally nomads, most Uzbeks have been sedentary now for more than 300 years. The mixed heritage of the Uzbeks means that their physical features range from East Asian to European. A small percentage of Uzbeks have light hair and light eyes.

Russian encroachment increased in the mid-1800s. All three khanates fell to the Russians between 1865 and 1873. The imperial Russian government renamed the annexed area Russian Turkistan and allowed Bukhara and Khiva to retain some degree of home rule. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkestan was created in 1918. In 1924, the Soviet government began a major revision of Central Asian political boundaries based on ethnic populations. Even though the German army never made it all the way to Central Asia during World War II, that war had a profound effect on Uzbek culture. Entire towns were evacuated from the European part of the Soviet Union to Central Asia (along with their factories and workers). This massive influx of people disturbed the native Uzbek culture and legitimized the imposition of the Russian language and culture into the area that had already started by the turn of the 20th century.

The Soviet era brought tremendous cultural changes to Uzbek society. Perhaps the biggest change was the transformation from informal herding and subsistence agriculture to enormous state-operated farms, the collectivized agriculture imposed in the 1930s. Heavy reliance on irrigation combined with the Soviet cotton monoculture (growing only one crop—cotton—at the expense of others) became prevalent. When Soviet power began crumbling in 1990, leaders in the Uzbek Communist Party hesitated to denounce the Soviet system until it was clear that the Soviet Union had indeed dissolved. Since independence in 1991, the government was slow to institute democratization or market-oriented economic reforms, although commercial development and capitalist property relations were accelerated in the late 1990s. Uzbeks live under a very harsh political regime that has functioned as a self-aggrandizing organization where political and economic liberties are sharply curtailed. Since 2001, thousands of Uzbeks have been jailed and repressed in the name of defense against Islamic extremism, but countless charges against ordinary citizens have been trumped up and prosecuted with little to no evidence of extremist activities. Political oppression is so great today that many Uzbeks claim life was fairer and freer during the late Soviet period.


After the Turks of Turkey, the Uzbeks are the largest ethnic group of Turkic people in the world. The Uzbeks were the third largest ethnic group of the former Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991, with a population of more than 16.7 million, of which 85% lived in what is now Uzbekistan. The population of Uzbekistan increased by 7 million from 1970 to the mid-1980s. Its current population growth rate rivals that of many sub-Saharan African countries. There are also more than 1 million Uzbeks in Afghanistan, and about 800,000 living in the Sinkiang-Uygur Autonomous Region of China.

The Uzbek homeland is situated on the site of the ancient Bactrian and Sogdianan civilizations. Ancient conquerors who laid claim to the territory included the Persian Empire of Darius the Great and the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great. The region was invaded by Arabs in the 8th century ad, at which time Islam was introduced. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire controlled the area, and the Empire of Tamerlane gained power thereafter. Around the 15th century, the Uzbeks began to emerge as an organized group of tribes. The modern Uzbek homeland lies much farther south than the region originally inhabited by the Uzbeks centuries ago. Uzbekistan lies between the Aral Sea and the Fergana River valley in the East and includes parts of the Amu Darya River valley and the southern portion of the Kyzyl Kum Desert. The eastern border is in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, which surrounds the Fergana River valley in the lowlands on three sides. Much of the landscape of Uzbekistan consists of three feature types: deserts, dry steppes, and fertile oases near the rivers.

The region of Uzbekistan west of the Aral Sea is called the Ust-Urt Flatland. This area is dry steppe that can only be used for light grazing. The Aral Sea, with an area once larger than Lake Michigan, is an important water resource for much of Central Asia. In the last 30–40 years, however, the area around the Aral Sea has become an environmental disaster as the sea has lost about 60% of its water volume.


The Uzbek language is considered part of the eastern or Aralo-Caspian branch of the Kipchak group of Turkic languages and is similar to Kazakh and Karakalpak. Contact with the Persian language over the years has influenced the dialect of Uzbeks living near Iran. The Iran-influenced dialect has become the basis of the modern Uzbek literary language. The modern standard for spoken Uzbek is based on the dialects of Tashkent and the Ferghana Valley. The Uzbek language borrowed many words with a Russian or European origin during the early Soviet years but has become more reliant on the incorporation of Turkic and Arabic words into the language since the 1960s.

Names given to Uzbek children, as in other Central Asian cultures, are an important mark of individuality. A person's name was traditionally used to help visitors and residents recognize someone's place of origin. Instead of using a surname, many Central Asian cultures attach the patronymic suffix -oqhli (son of) or -qizi (daughter of) onto the father's or grandfather's name. The Russian patronymics—which are transliterated as -aw, -awnä, and -awä became popular during the 1920s but had fallen out of favor by the 1960s. Families who trace their genealogy to Mohammed will often add the title Sayyid after their name, and those who are descended from one of the four Imams add the title Khoja. Uzbek Muslims who have completed the pilgrimage to Mecca sometimes affix the title Hajji before their names.

Everyday terms in the Uzbek language include salaam aleikhem ("hello"), shundei ("yes"), yok ("no"), markhamat ("please"), and rakhmat ("thank you"). Examples of Uzbek sayings include Äytkän gäp atqan oq ("A word said is a shot fired"); Kob oylä, az soylä ("Think lots, say little"); Yamandän yäkhshilik kutmä ("Don't expect good from evil"); and Yaman yolashän täyaq yäkhshi ("A beating with a cudgel is better than an evil companion").


Although the Uzbeks have not existed as a nation for very long, they are fascinated with researching their complex ethnic heritage. In the 4th century bc, Alexander of Macedonia came across the Uzbeks during his campaign to conquer India. He stopped in Maracanda, near the ancient city of Samarkand, and married Roxana, the daughter of a local leader. Over the centuries, the local legends surrounding Alexander (called Iskander Zulqornai by the Uzbeks) grew until he became a larger-than-life heroic figure.

Two historical heroes are often the subjects of modern Uzbek historical novels. One of these heroes of Uzbek culture is Tamerlane (1336–1405), a Turko-Mongol who ruled from Samarkand but conquered parts of present-day India, Syria, and southern Russia. His grandson Ulughbek (1394–1449) has become another legendary, semi-sacred figure owing to his monumental contributions to the sciences, especially astronomy.


The Uzbeks are among the most traditional people in Central Asia, and religion has an important place in traditional Uzbek culture. Most Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafisect. After the collapse of Communism, religious practices briefly were encouraged, because the new state wanted an antidote to the official Soviet position of atheism. As in other parts of Soviet Central Asia during Soviet rule, the Muslim clergy was persecuted. Since the end of Soviet rule, many new mosques have been built. Tashkent is perhaps the leading Islamic spiritual center in Central Asia, with many Islamic seminaries located there. Sufism (Islamic mysticism) is also practiced by some Uzbeks. A famous Sufischool, the Naqsh-bandi, is located in Bukhara. Today, Namangan in the Ferghana valley is perhaps the most conservatively religious city in all of Central Asia. However, since the late 1990s there has been a steady erosion of religious freedom, both for Muslims and Christians with Muslims bearing the heavier blows. The state claims it opposes religious expression for fear of extremism, but outsiders argue the state's harsh oppression only makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy.


No holiday is more enjoyable to Uzbeks than Novruz , and it is rapidly replacing New Year's Eve as the number one holiday. It coincides with the first day of spring and is an ancient Iranic/ Turkic holiday dating back at least 2,000 years. Speeches, school skits, dances, and town square celebrations with lots of feasting characterize this time. At home, people prepare sumalak , the beloved food of Novruz, a sweet pudding that is thick and brown. People cook young, vitamin-rich wheat plants in huge cauldrons overnight until the sumalak is done in the morning. All the holidays of the Islamic fast (Ramadan) and various forms of Haiit (days to remember one's departed relatives) are now officially recognized in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistani Independence Day is September 1, and people have been celebrating this holiday with great fanfare since 1991. Victory Day is May 9, and all Uzbekistani citizens pay tribute to the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. This holiday has both solemn and joyous sides.


Births, male circumcision, girls' first menstrual periods, marriage, and death are the primary events around which Uzbeki rites of passage occur. The sunnat toi (circumcision party) and the kelin toi (wedding) are events for which people spend the most money and celebrate most heartily.


Uzbeks take a great deal of time to greet one another. Simply seeing a friend or acquaintance and saying, "Hi" or "What's up?" as one passes by is not acceptable. It is considered far more

polite to approach each other, shake hands, and rapidly fire off a number of questions about each other's health, family situation, and work. The elements of sociability are very important. Uzbeks also love to invite "guests" (strangers) into their homes and will signal a passerby in with hand gestures, indicating a cup of tea or something to eat. Once one is invited in, it is absolutely obligatory to serve food and tea, even if the food is just bread or nuts and candies.

Traditionally, Uzbek customs have been oriented toward a reserved patriarchal system. The Uzbeks maintain a strong sense of duty to the elderly and to the community. Children are typically taught that openly confronting adults is wrong, that they should be quiet and composed even if they are upset or angry with their elders. Dignity has an important role in Uzbek society. Someone who talks or laughs too much or is a show-off is considered undignified. In a gap , an Uzbek custom that continues today, men meet with friends and former classmates to eat, play games of cards or bingo, and discuss social and intellectual issues while helping one another out with personal problems.


Uzbek interior design emphasizes the use of traditional themes. Loomed rugs often cover the floors of Uzbek houses, and traditional folk art, emphasizing motifs from the natural world (such as mountains, deer, and peacocks), or scenes painted by local artists from Navoii's (Uzbekistan's Shakespeare) literature, are common wall decorations. Most homes have two or three rooms. Men (and boys) and women (and girls) have separate quarters. Outside the home stands a large eating and resting platform known as the sura, and a great deal of time is spent there during the hot weather. It is usually covered by the shade of the grape lattice. A kitchen area is a separate unit of most homes with a large hearth where all the cooking is done.

Medical services in the cities have suffered since the collapse of the centralized Soviet system. Today people turn to mystic healers and herbalists to treat many ailments once cured with modern medicines, which are now often hard to find. In rural areas, people's general knowledge of proper healthcare is poor.

Transportation systems are extensive but unreliable now, especially in the vast countryside. It is easy, convenient, and cheap to travel from city to city in Uzbekistan by bus, rail, or plane. Urban transportation is good overall, but because gasoline and spare parts are in short supply, all forms of mass transit are often very crowded. Tashkent boasts a beautiful and clean subway system.


The average Uzbek family has five children, but any given home may house two, three, or four generations. Women have a particularly hard time in Uzbekistan because the Soviet era introduced them to the work force, but their duties at home never lessened. The kelin toi , or wedding, is the most important joyous celebration in Uzbek social life. Families save for their entire lives to ensure that their children are properly married, and that they themselves enjoy respect among other community members for the wedding party. The bride's family incurs the greatest expense because daughters receive a dowry. A new Uzbek bride will generally move in with her husband's family and do the majority of the work in the home until she has a few children and the next son is ready to marry. If she marries the youngest son, she will probably have to stay in her in-laws' household the rest of her life, because it is customary for the youngest son to stay in his father's home.

Women generally eat in a different room (often the kitchen) from men and guests, and they always eat separately at social gatherings. Family size is usually a joint decision between the couple, although Uzbek society, in general, values large families.


The Uzbeks are among the most traditional peoples in Central Asia, and so conventional and national costumes are still commonly worn. Uzbeks are known for wearing the traditional doppilar—small, black, square-shaped skullcaps. Doppilar are embroidered with elaborate abstract swirling patterns that serve to indicate the wearer's family ties, place of birth, social status, or other personal information. Many men wear European-style clothes or mixed outfits of European and traditional Uzbek clothing, which often utilizes bright colors or patterns. Some men wear the traditional chopan, originally a long quilted robe used by shepherds. The chopan worn today is often ornamented with pastel designs or sequins. Both men and women often wear long tunics and broad trousers with colorful outer robes. Although many women wear European clothes, some wear the atlas pattern (the traditional silk dress). Atlas is a boldly colored and patterned tie-dyed style. In summer, women wear white head coverings or brightly colored kerchiefs. During winter, they don large woolen shawls that keep their heads and necks warm. Most ethnic Uzbek women have thick black hair traditionally worn in two braids, but Uzbek girls may wear their hair in dozens of small braids.


Uzbek cuisine includes a huge variety of baked, fried, and steamed dishes that make frequent use of Eastern spices such as cumin, coriander, and spicy dried red pepper. Traditional Uzbek dishes include lagman (homemade noodles with mutton, garlic, and vegetables), d'ighman (meat with pastry in a rich broth), dymlama (a layered vegetable and beef steamed stew), and the all-time favorite, plov . Plov is rice with beef (or mutton or chicken), cottonseed oil or dumba (sheep tail fat), vegetables, spices, garlic, and quinces. Breakfast fare consists of bread, some fruits or nuts, and tea, with occasional servings of qattiq (yogurt).


Education in Uzbekistan is universal and mandatory until age 16. City schools are often much better than rural and, historically the Russian-language schools were of higher quality than Uzbek schools. But this is now changing gradually. Turkish lycees (European-style high schools) and medresses (Muslim schools) have opened in all of the major cities, so education has become much more diversified. Aside from conservative parents, who think daughters need only the minimal schooling, almost all Uzbek parents want a high degree of education for their children, and many hope that their children will be accepted to Tashkent State University or be able to study abroad. Overall, Uzbek people greatly revere study and intellectual life.


Classical Uzbek music involves instruments such as the rubob r dutor accompanying a single singer, whose style is drawn out and plaintive—a kind of wailing. Popular Uzbek music is a mixture of traditional styles with rock and pop. The hand-held doira, a tambourine-drum, has a deep, sharp sound, adding very rich beats and rhythms to musical pieces. Some folk singing is accompanied only by the doira.

One of the most famous examples of classic literature revered by the Uzbeks is Baburname (the memoirs of Babur), which was originally written in an eastern Turkish variant. Babur (1483–1530) was a descendant of Turko-Mongol warriors who led a military campaign through present-day Afghanistan and India, where he founded the Mogul Empire and became its first emperor. Babur is respected as a soldier and a statesman by modern Uzbeks.

During the 1960s, several prominent Uzbek playwrights produced works that questioned the Soviet policies against the Uzbek cultural and social leadership from the 1930s to the 1950s. The most famous of these dramas are Izzat Sultan's Iman ("Faith," 1960) and Rahmatullah A. Uyghun's Dostlär ("Friends," 1961), which both show the consequences upon a society when suspicion, malice, and injustice are common in its leadership.


Most Uzbeks continue to work in the agricultural sector; about 65% remain rural. This work has cyclical patterns. Spring, summer, and fall are periods of great diligence, while winter is a time to rest and relax. In addition to working in the collective fields growing wheat, cotton, fruits, and so on, many also raise silkworms for cocoon production (from which comes silk) and labor very hard on their small household plots, growing the bulk of the nation's fruits and vegetables. Many people sell these crops in the peasant markets of major population centers. The industrial and service sectors of the Uzbek economy cover everything from aircraft manufacturing to gold mining and oil extraction. Today, retail trade in the form of private shops is growing, and private business is bustling. Women have participated in almost all sectors of the economy, but there is a growing trend to have them work primarily in the non-industrial sectors. Uzbek women themselves have mixed feelings about this.


Table tennis became popular during the Soviet era and remains so today. Since the mid-1980s, softball has been a popular women's sport. Soccer is the number one team and spectator sport, and basketball and volleyball are very popular in schools.

Kurash is a unique form of wrestling beloved by Uzbek men and boys. It involves facing and holding an opponent by the back of the neck with one hand while gripping the back of his thigh with the other.

The martial arts have become especially popular over the last decade, and many children train seriously in local clubs. Another sport is a form of polo in which hundreds or even thousands of horsemen participate. The two huge teams attempt to capture the carcass of a goat or sheep and get it to the opponents' goal. The game is incredibly dusty and can be violent as the stakes are often high. This form of polo is a very popular spectator sport, especially in the areas of Samarqand and Tashkent.


A popular and ancient form of entertainment among the Uzbeks is payr, an unrehearsed public debate that tests the quick-witted abilities of the opponents. Two competitors stand on a platform and exchange witty and clever comments about each other within the context of a topic chosen before the competition. Each speaker must immediately respond to the other one with a crafty remark. The first one who fails to respond quickly enough is the loser, as determined by the assembled crowd. Sometimes a good payr match will draw thousands of spectators. Bakka (tight-rope walking) also draws big crowds during celebrations or parties; it is one of the most common forms of popular entertainment.

Children love to play games such as top tosh and askiia. Top tosh is equivalent to jacks, except Uzbek children play with rocks or pebbles. Askiia is a word-riddle game where one player makes up questions about a given thing, and the other child must answer to show that he knows what the object of the riddle is.

Movies and television enjoy wide popularity. The most popular genres are martial arts movies, action movies, comedies, and Hindu films, also known as Bombay cinema.


Pottery is the oldest craft practiced among the Uzbeks. Archeologists have found ornamental pieces of Uzbek pottery that are nearly 3,000 years old. Folk arts have a rich tradition in Uzbek culture. In addition to internal house paintings, silk weaving, quilt-making, skullcap-making, and suzama (cloth embroidery) are well-known elements of Uzbek folk art. Hunarmandlik (craftsmanship) shines through in naqsh (wood carving) and mosaic tile work in architecture. The best examples of carving are seen in the doors of family homes and in the columns that support buildings. Ceramics (especially fine porcelain tea sets), metalworking (especially urns and pitchers), and boot-making are other examples of traditional crafts in Uzbek culture. Stamp collecting and corresponding with pen-pals are favorite hobbies for young people.


The Uzbeks currently face two great problems: the stagnation of the economy and a number of serious environmental problems, including the shrinking of the Aral Sea. The reluctance of the government to renounce the old Soviet ways has caused the standard of living to decline since independence. Heavy reliance on the cotton crop coupled with decades of socialist mismanagement has created ecological problems in the Aral Sea, which has lost much of its area since 1960. This loss has occurred because of the central role of growing päkhtä (cotton), which requires copious amounts of water. The irrigation in Uzbekistan (along with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) needed to grow cotton diverted most of the water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the two main rivers that feed into the Aral Sea. Much of the soil around the Aral Sea is now too salty to grow any crops. Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers have also polluted much of the remaining water supply. In the late 1980s, some Soviet scientists indicated that, unless water usage changed, the Aral Sea would completely dry up and disappear within 20 years. With these environmental problems, it may not be possible to grow as much cotton in the future as in the past, which could impede the economy from developing.

The Uzbek human rights record has not been good, especially because of the repression, in the forms of jailings and beatings, of leading opposition figures. However, some improvements were made during 1995–96, as the economy began to stabilize and the state administration relaxed its grip on power ever so slightly. Unfortunately, this all took a decided turn for the worse from the late 1990s and after 2001. Political and economic freedoms in Uzbekistan now appear to be at an all-time low. The state actually makes good profits from cotton, natural gas and oil, and gold mining, but the benefits rarely are shared with ordinary impoverished citizens. After 2005 political repression reached a new high point when the government shot to death hundreds of protesters in the eastern city of Andizhan. Since then the population has been very reluctant to express their myriad grievances in any organized and public forum. Criminal activity, unemployment, homelessness, and child abandonment all have become serious issues in the new millennium.

Alcoholism, drug addiction, and violent crime are the social diseases of present-day Uzbeks, a direct result of rising poverty since the late 1980s and contemporary political, religious, and entrepreneurial repression.

As is true of many other former Soviet territories, labor migration has become a huge social phenomenon today with millions of Uzbeks seeking work in Kazakhstan, Russia, Europe, and the U.S.A. Perhaps 15% of the entire working population lives abroad at least part of the year, and thousands of these people have been subject to myriad forms of abuse including various forms of slavery. It is still hard to determine the overall consequences of these displacements and forms of abuse on the population as a whole.


Uzbeks are among the most inequitable of the Central Asian peoples when it comes to gender. Strict forms of sex segregation are practiced within the domestic sphere as well as in public life. For example, men and women usually do not eat together, and girls are expected to carry out nearly all domestic chores as well as do almost all of the cotton sowing and harvesting work in the rural areas.

While the Soviet period enabled women to perform all kinds of work and receive a higher education, the great gains that Uzbek women made are in danger of being lost. Increasingly, the value of women's education has been lowered, and even though the state guarantees full equality between the sexes before the law, it seems clear that patriarchal values and practices are holding sway.

Traditionally, Uzbek women always marry exogamously— outside of their own patrilineages—and this long has functioned as a gateway to their oppression. With the collapse of Soviet power, Uzbek patriarchal values have become increasingly ascendant, especially with the very trying economic circumstances in which millions find themselves. Th us new available opportunities should go to men not women.

However, labor migration plays havoc with these traditionally discriminatory values as women leave to work abroad, sometimes legally, sometimes not. And when an Uzbek woman is not supervised by her own male kin, then her behavior simply becomes suspect. On the other hand, the labor migration gives women a new economic power, even if the practice may be greatly harming family dynamics. Overall, it is still too early to know the consequences of labor migration in terms of gender relations, but patterns no doubt are taking shape.


Allworth, Edward A. The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1990.

Critchlow, James. Nationalism in Uzbekistan: A Soviet Republic's Road to Sovereignty. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Sahadeo, Jeff, and Russell Zanca, eds. Everyday Life in Central Asia: Past and Present . Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007.

"Uzbeks Prey to Modern Slave Trade," International War and Peace Reporting: Reporting Central Asia. (May 2008).

—revised by R. Zanca


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LOCATION: Uzbekistan; Afghanistan; China

POPULATION: Over 16.7 million


RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)


The Uzbeks were the third largest ethnic group of the former Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991. Although they were originally nomads, most Uzbeks have been settled for more than three hundred years.

The Uzbek homeland is situated on the site of the ancient Bactrian and Sogdian civilizations. Ancient invaders who laid claim to the territory included the Persian Empire of Darius the Great and the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great. The region was invaded by Arabs in the eighth century ad and Islam was introduced. In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire controlled the area. It was followed, in the fourteenth century, by the empire of the Mongol chieftain Tamerlane (Timur).

Around the fifteenth century, the Uzbeks began to emerge as an organized group of tribes. Their region was eventually divided into three separate khanates (territories ruled by a khan, or chieftain). Uzbeks made up more than 50 percent of the people of the Khiva khanate and almost 35 percent of the Bukhara khanate.

All three khanates fell to the Russians between 1865 and 1873. The Imperial Russian government renamed the annexed area Russian Turkistan. Uzbekistan was formed as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925. The Soviet era brought tremendous cultural changes to Uzbek society. Informal herding and subsistence (basic-level) agriculture gave way to enormous state-operated farms.

Since it gained independence in 1991, the government of Uzbekistan has been slow to make democratic or free-market (economic) reforms. However, business development has grown since the mid-1990s.


Much of Uzbekistan's landscape consists of deserts, dry steppes (plains), and fertile oases near rivers. The Aral Sea, which once was larger than Lake Michigan, used to be an important water resource. In the last thirty to forty years, however, the sea has lost about 60 percent of its water due to irrigation methods.

The Uzbeks are the world's second-largest group of Turkic people (after the Turks of Turkey). They number almost 17 million. Eight-five percent (or 14.5 million) live in what is now Uzbekistan.

The capital of Uzbekistan is Tashkent.


The Uzbek language belongs to the Turkic family of languages. It is related to Kazakh and Karakalpak. The Uzbek language borrowed many words of Russian or European origin during the early Soviet years. However, it has borrowed more heavily from Turkic and Arabic since the 1960s.

Everyday terms in the Uzbek language include salaam aleikhem (hello), shundei (yes), yok (no), markhamat (please), and rakhmat (thank you). Examples of Uzbek sayings include Äytkän gäp atqan oq (A word said is a shot fired); Kob oylä, az soylä (Think much, say little); and Yamandän yäkhshilik kutmä (Don't expect good from evil).


Two ancient heroes play an important role in Uzbek folklore. One is Tamerlane (13361405), a Mongol who conquered parts of present-day India, Syria, and southern Russia. His grandson, Ulughbek (13941449), has become another legendary, almost sacred personality. He made great contributions to the sciences, especially astronomy.


Religion has an important place in traditional Uzbek culture. Most Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi sect. During the Soviet era (191891), the government discouraged religious practices. The Muslim clergy was persecuted. Since the end of Soviet rule, many new mosques have been built. Tashkent is one of central Asia's leading Islamic spiritual centers. Sufism (another branch of Islam) is also practiced by some Uzbeks.


No holiday is enjoyed by Uzbeks more than Novruz (the traditional Persian new year). It is rapidly replacing New Year's Eve as the number-one holiday. It coincides with the first day of spring (March 21 or 22). At this time, there are speeches, skits in the schools, and celebrations in the town squares. At home, people prepare sumalak, a sweet pudding. People cook young wheat plants in huge cauldrons overnight to prepare the dish. The Islamic month of fasting (Ramadan) and various forms of Haiit (days to remember relatives who have died) are now officially recognized.

Uzbekistani Independence Day is September 1. On Victory Day (May 9), Uzbekistani citizens mark the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. This holiday has both solemn and joyous aspects.


Birth, male circumcision, a girl's first menstrual period, marriage, and death are the primary events around which Uzbeki rites of passage occur. The sunnat toi (circumcision party) and the kelin toi (wedding) are events for which people spend the most money and celebrate the most enthusiastically.


Uzbeks practice elaborate greetings. Simply saying, "Hi," or "What's up?" as one passes by is not acceptable. First, Uzbeks approach each other and shake hands. Then they rapidly fire off a number of questions about each other's health, family situation, and work. Uzbeks love to invite strangers into their homes. They will signal a passerby in with gestures indicating the offer of a cup of tea or something to eat.

The Uzbeks have a strong sense of duty to the elderly and to the community. Children are typically taught that it is wrong to openly confront an adult.


Woven rugs often cover the floors of Uzbek houses. Traditional folk art is a common wall decoration. It often includes subjects from the natural world, such as mountains, deer, or peacocks. Most homes have two or three rooms. Men and women have separate quarters. Outside the home stands a large platform known as the sura. It is used for eating and resting. A great deal of time is spent there during hot weather. In most homes, the kitchen is in a separate building.


The average Uzbek family has five children. Households may include two, three, or four generations. The kelin toi, or wedding, is the most important and joyous celebration in Uzbek social life. A new Uzbek wife usually moves in with her husband's family. She will do most of the housework until she has a few children and the next son is ready to marry. It is customary for the youngest son and his wife to live permanently in his father's home.

The Soviet era (191891) introduced women to the work force, but their responsibilities at home never lessened.


Traditional national costumes are still often worn by the Uzbeks. Men wear the doppilar, a small, square black skullcap. Doppilar are embroidered with elaborate patterns. These indicate the wearer's family ties, place of birth, or other personal information. Many men wear Western-style clothes or outfits that combine Western and traditional Uzbek styles. These are often brightly colored. Some men wear the traditional chopan, a long quilted robe originally used by shepherds.

Many women wear Western clothes. However, some still wear traditional tie-dyed brightly-colored dresses. In summer, women wear white head coverings or brightly colored kerchiefs. During winter, they wear large woolen shawls.


Uzbek cuisine makes frequent use of Eastern spices such as cumin, coriander, and dried hot red pepper. The all-time favorite Uzbek dish is plov. It consists of rice with beef (or mutton or chicken), cottonseed oil or dumba (sheep tail fat), vegetables, spices, garlic, and quinces. Other traditional Uzbek dishes include lagman (homemade noodles with mutton, garlic, and vegetables), d'ighman (meat with pastry in a rich broth), and dymlama (a layered vegetable and beef stew). Breakfast consists of bread, some fruits or nuts, and tea, sometimes with a serving of qattiq (yogurt).


Education in Uzbekistan is universal (provided for all) and mandatory (required) until the age of sixteen. City schools are often much better than rural ones. Turkish lycees (European-style high schools) and medresses (Muslim schools) have opened in all the major cities. Almost all Uzbek parents want an advanced education for their children. Many hope their children will be accepted to Tashkent State University or be able to study outside Uzbekistan.


Classical Uzbek singing is plaintive (sounding sad) and drawn outa kind of wailing. The hand-held doira is a tambourine-drum with a deep sound. It adds rich beats and rhythms to the songs. Some folksinging is accompanied only by the doira. Popular Uzbek music is a mixture of traditional styles with rock and pop.

A famous example of classic Uzbek literature is Baburname (The Memoirs of Babur). It tells the story of the sixteenth-century military leader who founded the Mogul Empire and became its first emperor. There is a puppet theater in Tashkent that was founded in 1939. Puppet shows using glove and hand puppets, shadow puppets, and marionettes are performed there, depicting stories from Uzbek history.

Famous Uzbek plays of the 1960s express protest against Soviet policies. They include Izzat Sultan's Iman (Faith, 1960) and Rahmatullah A. Uyghun's Dostlär (Friends, 1961).


Over 60 percent of the Uzbek population is rural, and most work is agricultural. Uzbeks grow wheat, cotton, and fruits. Many also raise silkworms. Some labor on small household garden plots, raising fruits and vegetables. Spring, summer, and fall are periods of hard work. Winter is a time to rest and relax.

Industrial work ranges from aircraft manufacturing to gold mining and oil drilling. Today, retail business is growing, in the form of an increasing number of privately owned shops.


Soccer is the number-one team and spectator sport. Table tennis first became popular during the Soviet era (191891). Since the mid-1980s, softball has been a popular women's sport. Basketball and volleyball are favorites in the schools.

Kurash is a unique form of wrestling enjoyed by Uzbek men and boys.

The martial arts have become especially popular in recent years. Many children train in local clubs.

Another sport is a form of polo in which hundreds, or even thousands, of horsemen participate. The two huge teams attempt to capture the carcass of a goat or sheep and get it to the opponents' goal.


An ancient form of entertainment still enjoyed by the Uzbeks is payr, an unrehearsed public debate. Two competitors exchange witty comments about each other related to a specific topic chosen ahead of time. The first competitor who fails to respond quickly enough is the loser. The crowd decides the outcome. Sometimes a good payr match will draw thousands of spectators.

Bakka (tightrope walking) draws large crowds during celebrations or parties. It is one of the most popular forms of entertainment.

Children love to play games such as top tosh and askiia. Top tosh is like jacks, except that Uzbek children play it with rocks or pebbles. Askiia is a riddle game. One player makes up questions about a given thing. The other's answers must show that he or she knows what the object is.

Movies and television are very popular. Favorite programs include martial arts and other action movies, comedies, and films from India, also known as "Bombay cinema."

Gap is a time-honored Uzbek custom that continues today. Men get together with friends and former classmates. They eat, play games of cards or bingo, and discuss social and intellectual issues. They also discuss their personal problems.


Pottery is the oldest craft practiced among the Uzbeks. Other crafts include silk weaving, quilt making, and suzama (embroidery). Hunarmandlik (craftsmanship) shines through in Uzbek naqsh (wood carving) and mosaic tile work. Intricate carving can be seen on the doors of family homes and on the columns that support buildings. Ceramics include fine porcelain tea sets. Metal-working (especially urns and pitchers) and bootmaking are other traditional crafts.

Stamp collecting and writing to pen pals are favorite hobbies for young people.


The Uzbeks' two greatest problems are a troubled economy and environmental problems. The water needed for irrigation to grow cotton in Uzbekistan diverted most of the water from the two main rivers that feed the Aral Sea. The sea has decreased in area since 1960. Much of the soil around it is now too salty for growing crops. Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers have also polluted much of the remaining water supply.

Growing poverty since the late 1980s has contributed to increased alcoholism, drug addiction, and violent crime in present-day Uzbekistan.


Allworth, Edward A. The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1990.

Critchlow, James. Nationalism in Uzbekistan: A Soviet Republic's Road to Sovereignty. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991.

Gippenreiter, Vadim Evgenevich. Fabled Cities of Central Asia: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Nazarov, Bakhtiyar A., and Denis Sinor, eds. Essays on Uzbek History, Culture, and Language. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1993.

Uzbekistan. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1993.


World Travel Guide, Uzbekistan. [Online] Available, 1998.


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The small Uzbek population in China, which was counted at 14,592 in 1990, is but 1 percent of the total worldwide Uzbek population, most of whom live in Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks in China live in Xinjiang Province, primarily in Uzbek communities in cities adjoining the Russian border (Yining, Qoqek [Tacheng], Kashgar, Urumqi, Yarkant, and Kargilik [Yecheng]). The Uzbek language belongs to the Turkic Group of the Altaic Family; it is closely related to Uigur. Uzbek has many loanwords from Farsi (which was once spoken by Uzbek intellectuals), Russian (due to the proximity of Russia), and Chinese (during the twentieth century). The Xinjiang Uzbeks use the Uigur (Arabic) script; in the 1930s the Soviets attempted to replace it with a Cyrillic-based writing system.

The Uzbeks of China originated in Central Asia. Some Uzbeks moved east to Xinjiang as long-distance traders of silk, tea, porcelain, and other goods. Some settled there, becoming silk weavers, farmers, craftsmen, and, eventually, entrepreneurs. The Uzbek migration to Xinjiang has continued into the twentieth century, as has migration out of Xinjiang. Competition from Russian long-distance traders later forced many into local trading, handicraft production, and laboring.

In the past, as today, the Uzbeks of China were primarily an urban people. Less than 30 percent are farmers or herders today; most are factory workers, technicians, and traders. Their literacy levels are the highest of any population in Xinjiang.

The few Uzbeks making their living as herders do so in northern Xinjiang, where they live among Kazaks. In the cities, most live in adobe houses with flat roofs, though some have distinctive round, pointed roofs.

Since there are so few Uzbeks in China, and since they are so widely dispersed, they frequently intermarry with Uigurs and Tatars. In fact, it is very difficult to distinguish Uzbeks from Uigurs. One visible marker is the shape of hat that they wear; Uzbeks wear round hats, while Uigur wear square hats. Another marker is the embroidery designs on men and women's clothing.

The Uzbeks are Muslims. The Muslim prohibitions on eating pork and drinking alcohol are increasingly violated by younger Uzbeks. The medrese, (religious schools located in mosques) have been closed since Chinese public education was introduced.

When an Uzbek dies, the mourning period lasts one week. At 40, 70, and 100 days after death, the ahung (Muslim priest) performs a memorial service.

See also Uzbeks in Part One, Russia and Eurasia


Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 185-189. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.


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A Central Asian people.

In the 1920s and 1930s, before the Soviet Union implemented language and nationalities policies, the Uzbek language, an eastern Turkic language of the Altaic family generally known as Turki (Chaghatai), was written in Arabic script and was the principal literary language for all Turkic-speaking central Asians. When they were forced to adopt Cyrillic script (i.e., the Russian and Slavic alphabet), Uzbeks and other central Asian Turks were denied easy access to their rich literary heritage, which dates to the fifteenth century.

Uzbeks practice Islam; they are Sunni Hanafi Muslims. Originally pastoral nomads, by the early part of the twentieth century they were predominantly sedentary subsistence farmers, herders, or inhabitants of small towns engaged in producing and marketing crafts. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Uzbeks were politically the preeminent force in the region. From the 1860s to 1991, the Uzbeks and other central Asian Muslims suffered colonial occupation of their lands by czarist Russia and its successor, the Soviet Union. As of 2001, Uzbeks constitute more than 80 percent of the population of the independent state of Uzbekistan; about 15 million Uzbeks speak the Northern Uzbek language. Uzbeks are also one of the larger ethnic minority groups in neighboring Tajikistan and in the northern part of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, where Southern Uzbek, a related but distinct language, is spoken.


Allworth, Edward A. The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present: A Cultural History. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1990.

m. nazif shahrani


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Uzbeks Turkic-speaking people, originally of Persian culture, who form 71% of the population of the Republic of Uzbekistan. They took their name from Uzbeg Khan (d. 1340), a chief of the Golden Horde. By the end of the 16th century, the Uzbeks had extended their rule to parts of Persia, Afghanistan and Chinese Turkistan. Their empire was never united and in the 19th century its various states were absorbed by Russia.