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History of Uzbekistan
 
 
 

Early History

In the first millennium BC, Iranian nomads established irrigation systems along the rivers of Central Asia and built towns at Bukhoro and Samarkand. These places became extremely wealthy points of transit on what became known as the Silk Road between China and Europe. In the seventh century, the Soghdian Iranians, who profited most visibly from this trade, saw their province of Mawarannahr overwhelmed by Arabs, who spread Islam throughout the region. Under the Arab Abbasid Caliphate, the eighth and ninth centuries were a golden age of learning and culture in Mawarannahr. As Turks began entering the region from the north, they established new states. After a succession of states dominated the region, in the 12th century Mawarannahr was united in a single state with Iran and the region of Khorazm, south of the Aral Sea. In the early 13th century, that state then was invaded by Mongols led by Genghis Khan, under whose successors Turkish replaced Iranian as the dominant culture of the region. Under Timur (Tamerlane), the last great Mongolian nomadic leader (ruled 1370-1405), Mawarannahr began its last cultural flowering, centred in Samarkand. After Timur the state began to split, and by 1510 Uzbek tribes had conquered all of Central Asia.

17th-19th Century

In the 16th century, the Uzbeks established two strong rival khanates, Bukhoro and Khorazm. In this period, the Silk Road cities began to decline as ocean trade flourished. The khanates were isolated by wars with Iran and weakened by attacks from northern nomads. In the early 19th century, three Uzbek khanates – Bukhoro, Khiva and Quqon (Kokand) – had a brief period of recovery. However, in the mid-19th century Russia, attracted to the region’s commercial potential and especially to its cotton, began the full military conquest of Central Asia.

By 1876 Russia had incorporated all three khanates (hence all of present-day Uzbekistan) into its empire, granting the khanates limited autonomy. In the second half of the 19th century, the Russian population of Uzbekistan grew and some industrialisation occurred.

20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jadadist movement of educated Central Asians, centred in present-day Uzbekistan, began to advocate overthrowing Russian rule. In 1916 violent opposition broke out in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, in response to the conscription of Central Asians into the Russian army fighting World War I. When the tsar was overthrown in 1917, Jadadists established a short-lived autonomous state at Quqon. After the Bolshevik Party gained power in Moscow, the Jadadists split between supporters of Russian communism and supporters of a widespread uprising that became known as the Basmachi Rebellion. As that revolt was being crushed in the early 1920s, local communist leaders such as Faizulla Khojayev gained power in Uzbekistan. In 1924 the Soviet Union established the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, which included present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan became a separate republic in 1929. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, large-scale agricultural collectivisation resulted in widespread famine in Central Asia. In the late 1930s, Khojayev and the entire leadership of the Uzbek Republic were purged and executed by Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin and replaced by Russian officials. The Russification of political and economic life in Uzbekistan that began in the 1930s continued through the 1970s. During World War II, Stalin exiled entire national groups from the Caucasus and the Crimea to Uzbekistan to prevent “subversive” activity against the war effort.

Moscow’s control over Uzbekistan weakened in the 1970s as Uzbek party leader Sharaf Rashidov brought many cronies and relatives into positions of power. In the mid-1980s, Moscow attempted to regain control by again purging the entire Uzbek party leadership. However, this move increased Uzbek nationalism, which had long resented Soviet policies such as the imposition of cotton monoculture and the suppression of Islamic traditions. In the late 1980s, the liberalised atmosphere of the Soviet Union under Mikhail S. Gorbachev fostered political opposition groups and open (albeit limited) opposition to Soviet policy in Uzbekistan. In 1989 a series of violent ethnic clashes involving Uzbeks brought the appointment of ethnic Uzbek outsider Islam Karimov as Communist Party chief.


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