The Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia (it is surrounded only by landlocked countries and, along with Liechtenstein, is one of only two such countries in the world). It shares borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Main article: History of Uzbekistan
For thousands of years the present area of Uzbekistan was a part of the Persian Empire. Before the gradual arrival of the Turkic invaders the area was populated by the Persian-speaking people of Iranian stock who still comprise a large minority in Uzbekistan and are called Tajiks today. The area was a bone of contention between the Uzbek emirs and the Persian Kings for many centuries.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to expand, and spread into Central Asia. The "Great Game" period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a second less intensive phase followed. At the start of the 19th century there were some 2000 miles separating British India and the outlying regions of the Tsarist Russia. Much of the land in between was unmapped.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Central Asia was firmly in the hands of Russia and despite some early resistance to Bolsheviks, Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia became a part of the Soviet Union.
On September 1, 1991, Uzbekistan reluctantly declared independence. While the Baltic States led the fight for independence, Central Asian states were afraid of it. "The centrifugal forces pulling the Union apart were weakest in Central Asia. Well after the August 1991 coup attempt, all Central Asian leaders believed that the Union might somehow be preserved," wrote Michael McFaul in Russia's Unfinished Revolution .
Main article: Politics of Uzbekistan
Constitutionally, the Government of Uzbekistan provides for separation of powers, freedom of speech, and representative government. In reality, the executive holds almost all power. The judiciary lacks independence and the legislature, which meets only a few days each year, has little power to shape laws. The president selects and replaces provincial governors. Under terms of a December 1995 referendum, Karimov's first term was extended. Another national referendum was held January 27, 2002 to yet again extend Karimov's term. The referendum passed and Karimov's term was extended by act of the parliament to December 2007. Most international observers refused to participate in the process and did not recognize the results, dismissing them as not meeting basic standards. The 2002 referendum also included a plan to create a bicameral parliament. The building to house the new parliament is currently under construction. Elections for the new bicameral parliament took place on December 26, but no truly independent opposition candidates or parties were able to take part. The OSCE limited observation mission concluded that the elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections. Several political parties have been formed with government approval but have yet to show interest in advocating alternatives to government policy. Similarly, although multiple media outlets (radio, TV, newspaper) have been established, these either remain under government control or rarely broach political topics. Independent political parties were allowed to organize, recruit members, and hold conventions and press conferences, but have been denied registration under restrictive registration procedures. Terrorist bombings were carried out March 28-April 1, 2004 in Tashkent and Bukhara. It is not clear yet who committed the attacks. The government reaction to the attacks, thus far, has been restrained.
Uzbekistan is nominally democratic but has been described as a police state. Several prominent opponents of the government have fled, and others have been arrested. The government severely represses those it suspects of Islamic extremism, particularly those it suspects of membership in the banned Party of Islamic Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahrir). Some 5,300 to 5,800 suspected extremists are incarcerated.
In 2003, Britain's Ambassador for Uzbekistan, Mr. Craig Murray made accusations that information was being extracted under extreme torture from dissidents in that country, and that the information was subsequently being used by Britain and other western, democratic countries which disapproved of torture.
The accusations did not lead to any investigation by his employer, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and he resigned after disciplinary action was taken against him in 2004. No misconduct by him was proven. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office itself is being investigated by the National Audit Office because of accusations of victimisation, bullying and intimidating its own staff, as reported in the Sunday Times (London) on 20 March 2005.
Murray later stated that he felt that he had unwittingly stumbled upon what has been called "torture by proxy". He thought that Western countries moved people to regimes and nations where it was known that information would be extracted by torture, and made available to them.
Prison conditions remain very poor, particularly for those convicted of extremist activities, and a number of such prisoners are believed to have died over the past several years from prison disease and abuse. The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique. No independent political parties have been registered, although they were for the first time able to conduct grass-roots activities and to convene organizing congresses. Following the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Government of Uzbekistan drafted an Action Plan to implement the Special Rapporteur' s recommendations.
In a report dated 21/3/2005, Amnesty International stated that:
'Thousands of people have been detained and imprisoned in Uzbekistan on accusations of "religious extremism". Among them are members and presumed members of independent Islamic congregations, members of banned Islamist and secular opposition parties and movements, and their relatives. Amnesty International has received persistent allegations that police have tortured many of those arrested to extract ‘confessions’. Heavy sentences, including death sentences, have been imposed after trials which appear to have been grossly unfair.'
Main article: Subdivisions of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is divided into 12 provinces (viloyatlar; singular - viloyat), 1 autonomous republic* (respublika), and 1 city** (shahar):
note: administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions and alternate spellings have the administrative center name following in parentheses)
Main article: Geography of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a dry, double-landlocked country of which 10% consists of intensely cultivated, irrigated river valleys. It is one of two double-landlocked countries in the world - the other being Liechtenstein, although in the case of Uzbekistan this is less clear, since it has borders with two countries (Kazakhstan in the north and Turkmenistan in the south) bordering the landlocked but non-freshwater Caspian Sea from which ships can reach the Sea of Azov and thus the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the oceans.
See also: List of cities in Uzbekistan
Main article: Economy of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan was one of the poorest areas of the former Soviet Union with more than 60% of its population living in densely populated rural communities. Uzbekistan is now the world's third largest cotton exporter, a major producer of gold and natural gas, and a regionally significant producer of chemicals and machinery.
Following independence in December 1991, the government sought to prop up its Soviet-style command economy with subsidies and tight controls on production and prices. Faced with high rates of inflation, however, the government began to reform in mid-1994, by introducing tighter monetary policies, expanding privatization, slightly reducing the role of the state in the economy, and improving the environment for foreign investors. The state continues to be a dominating influence in the economy, and reforms have so far failed to bring about structural changes. The IMF suspended Uzbekistan's $185 million standby arrangement in late 1996 because of governmental steps that made fulfillment of Fund conditions impossible. Uzbekistan has responded to the negative external conditions generated by the Asian and Russian financial crises by tightening export and currency controls within its already largely closed economy. Economic policies that have repelled foreign investment are a major factor in the economy's stagnation. A growing debt burden, persistent inflation, and a poor business climate cloud growth prospects in 2000.
Main article: Demographics of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous country. Its 25 million people, concentrated in the south and east of the country, are nearly half the region's total population. Uzbekistan had been one of the poorest republics of the Soviet Union; much of its population was engaged in cotton farming in small rural communities. The population continues to be heavily rural and dependent on farming for its livelihood. Uzbek is the predominant ethnic group. Other ethnic groups include Russian 5.5%, Tajik 15%, Korean 4.7%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, and Tatar 1.5%. The nation is 88% Sunni Muslim and 9% Eastern Orthodox. Uzbek is the official state language; however, Russian is the de facto language for interethnic communication, including much day-to-day government and business use.
The educational system has achieved 97% literacy, and the mean amount of schooling for both men and women is 11 years. However, due to budget constraints and other transitional problems following the collapse of the Soviet Union, texts and other school supplies, teaching methods, curricula, and educational institutions are outdated, inappropriate, and poorly kept. Additionally, the proportion of school-aged persons enrolled has been dropping. Although the government is concerned about this, budgets remain tight. Similarly, in health care, life expectancy is long, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union, health care resources have declined, reducing health care quality, accessibility, and efficiency.
Main article: Communications in Uzbekistan
Main article: Transportation in Uzbekistan