Uzbekistan country profile

  • 1 September 2015
  • From the section Asia

The land that is now Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the ancient Silk Road trade route connecting China with the Middle East and Rome. The country spent most of the past 200 years as part of Russia, and then the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent nation in 1991.

Under President Islam Karimov, in power since 1989, Uzbekistan has boasted of steady economic growth based on exports like cotton, gas and gold. But the political system is highly authoritarian, and its human rights record widely decried.

There is no legal political opposition and the media is tightly controlled by the state. A UN report has described the use of torture as "systematic".


Republic of Uzbekistan

Capital: Tashkent

  • Population 28.1 million

  • Area 447,400 sq km (172,700 sq miles)

  • Major languages Uzbek, Russian, Tajik

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 66 years (men), 72 years (women)

  • Currency Uzbek som


President Islam Karimov

President Islam Karimov has led the country since before its independence, becoming the head of the Communist Party in then Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989.

Two subsequent referendums allowed Karimov to extend his rule. He was last elected to office in March 2015, in a vote opponents dismissed as a sham.

Mr Karimov takes a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition, using the danger of Islamic militancy to justify the absence of civil rights.


Image caption Uzbek media operate under tight restriction

The state tightly controls the media. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the law punishes journalists for "interference in internal affairs" and "insulting the dignity of citizens".

Foreign media have been gradually expelled since the 2005 Andijan uprising, RSF adds.

In 2014, Freedom House said "the Karimov regime has all but eradicated free media in Uzbekistan. The few independent journalists who remain are subjected to harassment and detention."

Human Rights Watch says at least three dozen journalists, activists, writers, and intellectuals are behind bars because of their work.


Some key dates in Uzbekistan's history:

1st century BC - Central Asia, including present-day Uzbekistan, forms an important part of the overland trade routes known as the Great Silk Road linking China with the Middle East and imperial Rome.

13th-14th centuries - Central Asia conquered by Genghis Khan and becomes part of Mongol empire.

18th-19th centuries - Rise of independent emirates and khanates of Bukhara, Kokand and Samarkand. But in 1865, Russians take over Tashkent and establish it as the capital of Turkestan, incorporating vast areas of Central Asia. They also annex emirate of Bukhara and khanates of Samarkand, Khiva and Kokand.

1989 - Islam Karimov becomes leader of Uzbek Communist Party. He remains in power to this day, ushering in the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. His last election victory, in March 2015, was widely decried. International observers claim there were no genuine political alternatives and, by law, he had no legal right to run for office again.

Image caption The Trans-Caspian Railway, connecting the Caspian Sea to Uzbekistan, was built in the 19th century, during the Russian Empire's expansion into Central Asia

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