|c. 30 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Mainly Islam (predominantly Sunni), minority non-religious.
|Related ethnic groups|
The Uzbeks (Oʻzbek, pl. Oʻzbeklar) are the largest Turkic ethnic group in Central Asia. They comprise the majority population of Uzbekistan, and large populations can also be found in Afghanistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Smaller diaspora populations of Uzbeks from Central Asia, mainly from Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, are also found in North America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Western Europe. Additionally, about 170,000 ethnic-Uzbek refugees from Afghanistan were estimated by the UN in 2005 to be residing in Pakistan, though the majority of them had gone back to their home country by 2010.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Origins
- 3 History
- 4 Early Islamic period
- 5 Language
- 6 Religion
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The origin of the word Uzbek remains disputed. One view holds that it is eponymously named after Uzbeg Khan. Another states that the name means independent or the lord itself, from Oʻz (self) and the Turkic title Bek/Bey/Beg. There is another theory which holds that the pronunciation of Uz comes from one of the Oghuz Turks variously known as Uz or Uguz united with the word Bey or Bek to form uguz-bey, meaning "leader of an oguz".
Although Turko-Mongol infiltration into Central Asia had started early, as late as the 13th century AD when Turkic and Mongol armies finally conquered the entire region, the majority of Central Asia's peoples were Iranian peoples such as Sogdians, Bactrians and, more ancient, the Saka–Massagetae tribes. It is generally believed that these ancient Indo-European-speaking peoples were linguistically assimilated by smaller but dominant Turkic-speaking groups while the sedentary population finally adopted the Persian language, the traditional lingua franca of the eastern Islamic lands. The language-shift from Middle Iranian to Turkic and New Persian was predominantly the result of an elite dominance process. This process was dramatically boosted during the Mongol conquest when millions were either killed or pushed further south to the Pamir region.
The modern Uzbek language is largely derived from the Chagatai language which gained prominence in the Timurid Empire. The position of Chagatai (and later Uzbek) was further strengthened after the fall of the Timurids and the rise of the Shaybanid Uzbek Khanate that finally shaped the Turkic language and identity of modern Uzbeks, while the unique grammatical and phonetical features of the Uzbek language as well as the modern Uzbek culture reflect the more ancient Iranian roots of the Uzbek people.
The modern Uzbek population represents varying degrees of diversity derived from the high traffic invasion routes through Central Asia. Once populated by Iranian tribes and other Indo-European people, Central Asia experienced numerous invasions emanating out of Mongolia that would drastically affect the region. According to genetic genealogy testing in 2002 from a University of Oxford study, "The Uzbeks, Uyghurs, and Dungans have close genetic affinities to the populations from the Caucasus as well from East Asia and South Siberia.
Uzbeks are inhabitants of Uzbekistan, the heart of Central Asia history goes back to the earliest Bronze Age colonists of the Tarim Basin were people of Caucasoid physical type who entered probably from the north and west, and probably spoke languages that could be classified as Pre- or Proto-Tocharian, ancestral to the Indo-European Tocharian languages documented later in the Tarim Basin. These early settlers occupied the northern and eastern parts of the Tarim Basin, where their graves have yielded mummies dated about 1800 BC. They participated in a cultural world centered on the eastern steppes of central Eurasia, including modern northeastern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
The first people known to have inhabited Central Asia were Iranian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan sometime in the first millennium BC. These nomads, who spoke Iranian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhoro (Bukhara) and Samarqand (Samarkand) began to appear as centers of government and culture. By the 5th century BC, the Bactrian, Soghdian, and Tokharian states dominated the region.
As China began to develop its silk trade with the West, Iranian cities took advantage of this commerce by becoming centers of trade. Using an extensive network of cities and settlements in the province of Mawarannahr (a name given the region after the Arab conquest) in Uzbekistan and farther east in what is today China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Soghdian intermediaries became the wealthiest of these Iranian merchants. Because of this trade on what became known as the Silk Route, Bukhoro and Samarqand eventually became extremely wealthy cities, and at times Mawarannahr (Transoxiana) was one of the most influential and powerful Persian provinces of antiquity.[full citation needed]
Alexander the Great conquered Sogdiana and Bactria in 327 BC, marrying Roxana, daughter of a local Bactrian chieftain. The conquest was supposedly of little help to Alexander as popular resistance was fierce, causing Alexander's army to be bogged down in the region that became the northern part of Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. For many centuries the region of Uzbekistan was ruled by Persian empires, including the Parthian and Sassanid Empires.
Early Islamic period
The conquest of Central Asia by Muslim Arabs, which was completed in the eighth century AD, brought to the region a new religion that continues to be dominant. The Arabs first invaded Mawarannahr in the middle of the seventh century through sporadic raids during their conquest of Persia. Available sources on the Arab conquest suggest that the Soghdians and other Iranian peoples of Central Asia were unable to defend their land against the Arabs because of internal divisions and the lack of strong indigenous leadership. The Arabs, on the other hand, were led by a brilliant general, Qutaybah ibn Muslim, and were also highly motivated by the desire to spread their new faith (the official beginning of which was in AD 622). Because of these factors, the population of Mawarannahr was easily subdued. The new religion brought by the Arabs spread gradually into the region. The native religious identities, which in some respects were already being displaced by Persian influences before the Arabs arrived, were further displaced in the ensuing centuries. Nevertheless, the destiny of Central Asia as an Islamic region was firmly established by the Arab victory over the Chinese armies in 750 in a battle at the Talas River.[full citation needed]
Despite brief Arab rule, Central Asia successfully retained much of its Iranian characteristic, remaining an important center of culture and trade for centuries after the adoption of the new religion. Mawarannahr continued to be an important political player in regional affairs, as it had been under various Persian dynasties. In fact, the Abbasid Caliphate, which ruled the Arab world for five centuries beginning in 750, was established thanks in great part to assistance from Central Asian supporters in their struggle against the then-ruling Umayyad Caliphate.
During the height of the Abbasid Caliphate in the eighth and the ninth centuries, Central Asia and Mawarannahr experienced a truly golden age. Bukhoro became one of the leading centers of learning, culture, and art in the Muslim world, its magnificence rivaling contemporaneous cultural centers such as Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba. Some of the greatest historians, scientists, and geographers in the history of Islamic culture were natives of the region.
As the Abbasid Caliphate began to weaken and local Islamic Iranian states emerged as the rulers of Iran and Central Asia, the Persian language continued its preeminent role in the region as the language of literature and government. The rulers of the eastern section of Iran and of Mawarannahr were Persians. Under the Samanids and the Buyids, the rich Perso-Islamic culture of Mawarannahr continued to flourish.
The Samanid Empire
The Samanids were a Persian state that reigned for 180 years, encompassing a territory which included Khorasan (including Kabul), Ray, Transoxiania, Tabaristan, Kerman, Gorgan, and west of these provinces up to Isfahan. At the peak of their power, the Samanids controlled territory extending as far south as the Sulaiman Mountains, Ghazni and Kandahar. The Samanids were descendants of Bahram Chobin, and thus descended from the House of Mihrān, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran. In governing their territory, the Samanids modeled their state organization after the Abbasids, mirroring the caliph's court and organization. They were rewarded for supporting the Abbasids in Transoxania and Khorasan, and with their established capitals located in Bukhara, Balkh, Samarkand, and Herat, they carved their kingdom after defeating the Saffarids.
The Samanid Empire was the first native Persian dynasty to arise after the Muslim Arab conquest. The four grandsons of the dynasty's founder, Saman Khuda, had been rewarded with provinces for their faithful service to the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun: Nuh obtained Samarkand; Ahmad, Fergana; Yahya, Shash; and Elyas, Herat. Ahmad's son Nasr became governor of Transoxania in 875, but it was his brother and successor, Ismail Samani who overthrew the Saffarids and the Zaydites of Tabaristan, thus establishing a semiautonomous rule over Transoxania and Khorasan, with Bukhara as his capital.
The Samanids defeat the Saffarids and Zaydids
Samanid rule in Bukhara was not formally recognized by the caliph until the early 900s when the Saffarid ruler 'Amr-i Laith had asked the caliph for the investiture of Transoxiana. The caliph, Al-Mu'tadid however sent the Samanid amir, Ismail Samani, a letter urging him to fight Amr-i Laith and the Saffarids whom the caliph considered usurpers. According to the letter, the caliph stated that he prayed for Ismail who the caliph considered as the rightful ruler of Khorasan. The letter had a profound effect on Ismail, as he was determined to oppose the Saffarids.
The two sides fought in Balkh, northern Afghanistan during the spring of 900. During battle, Ismail was significantly outnumbered as he came out with 20,000 horsemen against Amr's 70,000 strong cavalry. Ismail's horsemen were ill-equipped with most having wooden stirrups while some had no shields or lances. Amr-i Laith's cavalry on the other hand, were fully equipped with weapons and armor. Despite fierce fighting, Amr was captured as some of his troops switched sides and joined Ismail.
Isma'il thereafter sent an army to Tabaristan in accordance with the caliph's directive. The area at that time was then controlled by the Zaydids. The Samanid army defeated the Zaydid ruler and the Samanids gained control of the region.
Turkification of Transoxiana
In the ninth century, the continued influx of nomads from the northern steppes brought a new group of people into Central Asia. These people were the Turks who lived in the great grasslands stretching from Mongolia to the Caspian Sea. Introduced mainly as slave soldiers to the Samanid Dynasty, these Turks served in the armies of all the states of the region, including the Abbasid army. In the late tenth century, as the Samanids began to lose control of Transoxiana (Mawarannahr) and northeastern Iran, some of these soldiers came to positions of power in the government of the region, and eventually established their own states, albeit highly Persianized. With the emergence of a Turkic ruling group in the region, other Turkic tribes began to migrate to Transoxiana.
The first of the Turkic states in the region was the Persianate Ghaznavid Empire, established in the last years of the tenth century. The Ghaznavid state, which captured Samanid domains south of the Amu Darya, was able to conquer large areas of Iran, Afghanistan, and northern India during the reign of Sultan Mahmud. The Ghaznavids were closely followed by the Turkic Qarakhanids, who took the Samanid capital Bukhara in 999 AD, and ruled Transoxiana for the next two centuries. Samarkand was made the capital of the Western Qarakhanid state.
The dominance of Ghazna was curtailed, however, when the Seljuks led themselves into the western part of the region, conquering the Ghaznavid territory of Khorazm (also spelled Khorezm and Khwarazm). The Seljuks also defeated the Qarakhanids, but did not annex their territories outright. Instead they made the Qarakhanids a vassal state. The Seljuks dominated a wide area from Asia Minor to the western sections of Transoxiana, in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq in the eleventh century. The Seljuk Empire then split into states ruled by various local Turkic and Iranian rulers. The culture and intellectual life of the region continued unaffected by such political changes, however. Turkic tribes from the north continued to migrate into the region during this period. The power of the Seljuks however became diminished when the Seljuk Sultan Ahmed Sanjar was defeated by the Kara-Khitans at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141.
In the late twelfth century, a Turkic leader of Khorazm, which is the region south of the Aral Sea, united Khorazm, Transoxiana, and Iran under his rule. Under the rule of the Khorazm shah Kutbeddin Muhammad and his son, Muhammad II, Transoxiana continued to be prosperous and rich while maintaining the region's Perso-Islamic identity. However, a new incursion of nomads from the north soon changed this situation. This time the invader was Genghis Khan with his Mongol armies.
The Mongol invasion of Central Asia is one of the turning points in the history of the region. The Mongols had such a lasting impact because they established the tradition that the legitimate ruler of any Central Asian state could only be a blood descendant of Genghis Khan.
The Mongol conquest of Central Asia, which took place from 1219 to 1225, led to a wholesale change in the population of Mawarannahr. The conquest quickened the process of Turkification in some parts of the region because, although the armies of Genghis Khan were led by Mongols, they were made up mostly of Turkic tribes that had been incorporated into the Mongol armies as the tribes were encountered in the Mongols' southward sweep. As these armies settled in Mawarannahr, they intermixed with the local populations which did not flee. Another effect of the Mongol conquest was the large-scale damage the soldiers inflicted on cities such as Bukhoro and on regions such as Khorazm. As the leading province of a wealthy state, Khorazm was treated especially severely. The irrigation networks in the region suffered extensive damage that was not repaired for several generations. Many Iranian-speaking populations were forced to flee southwards in order to avoid persecution.
Rule of Mongols and Timurids
Following the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, his empire was divided among his four sons and his family members. Despite the potential for serious fragmentation, Mongol law of the Mongol Empire maintained orderly succession for several more generations, and control of most of Mawarannahr stayed in the hands of direct descendants of Chaghatai, the second son of Genghis. Orderly succession, prosperity, and internal peace prevailed in the Chaghatai lands, and the Mongol Empire as a whole remained strong and united.[full citation needed]
In the early fourteenth century, however, as the empire began to break up into its constituent parts, the Chaghatai territory also was disrupted as the princes of various tribal groups competed for influence. One tribal chieftain, Timur (Tamerlane), emerged from these struggles in the 1380s as the dominant force in Mawarannahr. Although he was not a descendant of Genghis, Timur became the de facto ruler of Mawarannahr and proceeded to conquer all of western Central Asia, Iran, Asia Minor, and the southern steppe region north of the Aral Sea. He also invaded Russia before dying during an invasion of China in 1405.
Timur initiated the last flowering of Mawarannahr by gathering in his capital, Samarqand, numerous artisans and scholars from the lands he had conquered. By supporting such people, Timur imbued his empire with a very rich Perso-Islamic culture. During Timur's reign and the reigns of his immediate descendants, a wide range of religious and palatial construction projects were undertaken in Samarqand and other population centers. Timur also patronized scientists and artists; his grandson Ulugh Beg was one of the world's first great astronomers. It was during the Timurid dynasty that Turkic, in the form of the Chaghatai dialect, became a literary language in its own right in Mawarannahr, although the Timurids were Persianate in nature. The greatest Chaghataid writer, Ali Shir Nava'i, was active in the city of Herat, now in northwestern Afghanistan, in the second half of the fifteenth century.
The Timurid state quickly broke into two halves after the death of Timur. The chronic internal fighting of the Timurids attracted the attention of the Uzbek nomadic tribes living to the north of the Aral Sea. In 1501 the Uzbeks began a wholesale invasion of Mawarannahr.
By 1510 the Uzbeks had completed their conquest of Central Asia, including the territory of the present-day Uzbekistan. Of the states they established, the most powerful, the Khanate of Bukhoro, centered on the city of Bukhoro. The khanate controlled Mawarannahr, especially the region of Tashkent, the Fergana Valley in the east, and northern Afghanistan. A second Uzbek state, the Khanate of Khiva was established in the oasis of Khorazm at the mouth of the Amu Darya. The Khanate of Bukhoro was initially led by the energetic Shaybanid Dynasty. The Shaybanids competed against Iran, which was led by the Safavid Dynasty, for the rich far-eastern territory of present-day Iran. The struggle with Iran also had a religious aspect because the Uzbeks were Sunni Muslims, and Iran was Shia.[full citation needed]
Near the end of the sixteenth century, the Uzbek states of Bukhoro and Khorazm began to weaken because of their endless wars against each other and the Persians and because of strong competition for the throne among the khans in power and their heirs. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Shaybanid Dynasty was replaced by the Janid Dynasty.
Another factor contributing to the weakness of the Uzbek khanates in this period was the general decline of trade moving through the region. This change had begun in the previous century when ocean trade routes were established from Europe to India and China, circumventing the Silk Route. As European-dominated ocean transport expanded and some trading centers were destroyed, cities such as Bukhoro, Merv, and Samarqand in the Khanate of Bukhoro and Khiva and Urganch (Urgench) in Khorazm began to steadily decline.
The Uzbeks' struggle with Iran also led to the cultural isolation of Central Asia from the rest of the Islamic world. In addition to these problems, the struggle with the nomads from the northern steppe continued. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Kazakh nomads and Mongols continually raided the Uzbek khanates, causing widespread damage and disruption. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Khanate of Bukhoro lost the fertile Fergana region, and a new Uzbek khanate was formed in Quqon.
In the nineteenth century, Russian interest in the area increased greatly, sparked by nominal concern over British designs on Central Asia; by anger over the situation of Russian citizens held as slaves; and by the desire to control the trade in the region and to establish a secure source of cotton for Russia. When the United States Civil War prevented cotton delivery from Russia's primary supplier, the southern United States, Central Asian cotton assumed much greater importance for Russia.[full citation needed]
As soon as the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was completed in the late 1850s, the Russian Ministry of War began to send military forces against the Central Asian khanates. Three major population centers of the khanates—Tashkent, Bukhoro, and Samarqand—were captured in 1865, 1867, and 1868, respectively. In 1868 the Khanate of Bukhoro signed a treaty with Russia making Bukhoro a Russian protectorate. Khiva became a Russian protectorate in 1873, and the Quqon Khanate finally was incorporated into the Russian Empire, also as a protectorate, in 1876.
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 nineteenth century, the Russian population of Uzbekistan grew and some industrialization occurred.
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 liberalized atmosphere of the Soviet Union under Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in power 1985–91) 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. When the Supreme Soviet of Uzbekistan reluctantly approved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Karimov became president of the Republic of Uzbekistan. On August 31, 1991, Uzbekistan declared independence, marking September 1 as a national holiday.
The Uzbek language is a Turkic language of the Karluk group. Modern Uzbek is written in wide variety of scripts including Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic. After the independence of Uzbekistan from the former Soviet Union, the government decided to replace the Cyrillic script with a modified Latin alphabet, specifically for Turkic languages.
Uzbeks come from a predominantly Sunni Muslim background, usually of the Hanafi school, but variations exist between northern and southern Uzbeks. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, Uzbekistan's population is 96.3% Muslim. The majority of Uzbeks from the former USSR came to practice religion with a more liberal interpretation due to the official Soviet policy of atheism, while Uzbeks in Afghanistan and other countries to the south have remained more conservative adherents of Islam. However, with Uzbek independence in 1991 came an Islamic revival amongst segments of the population. People living in the area of modern Uzbekistan were first converted to Islam as early as the 8th century AD, as Arabs conquered the area, displacing the earlier faith of Zoroastrianism. The Arab victory over the Chinese in 751, at the Battle of Talas, ensured the future dominance of Islam in Central Asia.
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