History and Government

History : The territory of modern-day Uzbekistan and its close neighbours have seen many empires rise and fall. The Sogdians, the Macedonians, the Huns, the Mongolians, the Seljuks, the Timurids and the Khanates of Samarkand, Bukhara Khiva and Khorezm all held sway here at one time or another. Central Asia really came of age with the development of the Silk Road from China to the West. Samarkand and Bukhara lay astride this, the most valuable trading route of its day. The riches that it brought were used to build fabulous mosques and madrassars, most of which were destroyed by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Much of the damage was repaired and new cities were built by Timur the Lame in the 14th century. Timur conquered all before him and, at its height, his empire stretched from Moscow and Baghdad and as far west as Ankara in Turkey.

After his death, his empire crumbled - although his grandson, Babur, went on to found the Moghul Dynasty in India - and Central Asia was split into warring Khanates. The Russians had had their eyes on the lands over their southern border since Peter the Great sent his first military mission to Khiva in 1717. It was to be another 150 years before they started to make any considerable headway. In 1865, General Kaufmann took Tashkent and signed agreements with the Khans. There were Russian client Khans in Khiva until 1920. The Bolsheviks were resisted in Central Asia by bands known as Basmachi until the 1930s; they were finally suppressed and Moscow took control.

The history of Central Asia under Soviet rule is one of exploitation. Uzbekistan was used, as it had been under the tsars, as a place of internal exile. Stalin, fearing the power of the minorities in the Soviet Union, transported thousands of people in cattle cars into Uzbekistan and the surrounding republics. These included Germans, Koreans, Meshketi Turks, Chechens and Tatars. Part of the plan was to dilute and weaken the indigenous population. Another element of this plan was to create economies dependent on Russia: Uzbekistan was turned into a cotton monoculture and most of the product was processed north of the Urals, in Russia and Ukraine. A major consequence of this policy has been an ecological catastrophe in the Aral Sea (see Economy).

Uzbekistan has been governed since 1989 by Islam Karimov when he took over as head of the Uzbek Communist party (now the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, PDPU). Uzbekistan assumed independence in 1991 upon the break up of the Soviet Union. The PRPU, with Karimov at its head, has held power continuously ever since, occasionally in alliance with allied parties such as the Progress of the Fatherland party. He has been re-elected several times, most recently in 2000, with overwhelming majorities and against nominal opposition. In April 2002, Karimov won a referendum to extend the length of his current term from 5 to 8 years, guaranteeing that he will remain in power until at least 2008. Domestic opposition is divided between secular democratic forces and Islamic parties. Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Democracy) and a third organization, Adolat (Justice), comprising the secular opposition, have combined in the Democratic Opposition Co-ordinating Council. All three are currently banned although, a more relaxed attitude on the part of the government recently has allowed them to organise openly.

The most powerful Islamic party in Uzbekistan is the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), whose allies in other former Soviet Central Asian republics have made substantial headway. There has been some armed opposition to the government from militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The Karimov government has taken an uncompromising line against any and all opposition. It has a dreadful human rights record, with political prisoners running into tens of thousands and the systematic use of torture of detainees.

The government points to the strife in neighbouring Tajikistan where a civil war was fought throughout the 1990s and where Uzbek peacekeepers have been engaged in support of the Tajik government. The Uzbek government has received welcome support from the United States - the latter has formally classified the IMU as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Uzbekistan has played a valuable role in recent American military campaigns in Afghanistan (with whom it shares a border) and Iraq: the American military now have a relatively small but permanent and growing presence in the country. This has been of some concern to the Russians, who have military bases in most of the former Soviet republics but not Uzbekistan.


Government : Under the 1992 constitution, the supreme legislative body is the 250-seat Oly Majlis. Executive power rests with the elected president. The day-to-day running of the country is carried out by the Cabinet of Ministers, which answers to the president, who is also Head of State.

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