Demographics of Central Asia

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The ethnolinguistic patchwork of Central Asia in 1992
Map of the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan (occasionally included), the Caspian Sea, and surrounding countries

Central Asia is a diverse land with many ethnic groups, languages, religions and tribes. The nations which make up Central Asia are five of the former Soviet republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, which have a total population of about 76 million.[1][2] Afghanistan is not always considered part of the region, but when it is, Central Asia has a total population of about 122 million (2016); Mongolia and Xinjiang (part of China) is also sometimes considered part of Central Asia due to its Central Asian cultural ties and traditions, although geographically it is East Asian. [1][2] Most central Asians belong to religions which were introduced to the area within the last 1,500 years, such as Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Ismaili Islam, Tengriism, and Syriac Christianity.[3] Buddhism, however, was introduced to Central Asia over 2,200 years ago, and Zoroastrianism, over 2,500 years ago.[4]

Ethnic groups[edit]

The below are demographic data on the ethnic groups in Central Asia[3]

Ethnic Group Center of population in Central Asia Total roughly estimated population in Central Asia
Uzbek Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan 29,000,000
Tajik Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It includes the Pamiri people, who are officially categorized as Tajiks in Tajikistan. 25,000,000[5]
Kazakh Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan 16,500,000
Kyrgyz Kyrgyzstan 4,900,000[6]
Mongolians Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan 3,237,000
Russians Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan 4,000,000 [7][8][9][10]
Koreans Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan 500,000 [11]
Ukrainian Northern Kazakhstan 250,000 [7][9][10]
Turkmen Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran 6,500,000
Volga German Kazakhstan 200,000[9][10]
Uyghur Northwest China, Eastern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan 13,000,000
Dungan or Hui Northwest China, Kyrgyzstan 10,500,000
Bukharian Jew Uzbekistan 1,000
Tatar Uzbekistan 700,000
Karakalpaks North western Uzbekistan 500,000
Bashkirs Kazakhstan 30,000
Meskhetian Turks Kazakhstan 200,000
Armenians Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan 100,000
Altai Northern Kazakhstan 10,000
Pashtun Afghanistan, Northwest Pakistan and Razavi Khorasan in Iran[12] 12,500,000
Hazara Central Afghanistan 3,500,000
Aimak Central and Northwest Afghanistan 1,500,000
Nuristani Far eastern and northern Afghanistan 200,000+
Belarusians Northern Kazakhstan 100,000-200,000 [10]
Romanians Kazakhstan 20,000
Greeks Kazakhstan 30,000
Mordvins Kazakhstan 20,000
Moldovans Kazakhstan 25,000
Chechens Kazakhstan 40,000
Poles Northern Kazakhstan 50,000-100,000
Azeri Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan 100,000
Chuvash Northern Kazakhstan 35,000

Genetic history[edit]

Full genome analysis of Central Asian ethnic groups reveals predominantly East-Eurasian (East Asian-related) ancestry.

The ancestry of modern Central Asian populations is significantly derived from the Indo-Iranian and Turkic expansions. Most modern populations can be aligned with either Indo-Iranian or Turkic descent, with ancestry corresponding well with ethnic boundaries.[13] The majority of modern Central Asians is characterized by predominant East Asian-related ancestry, with the only exception being Tajiks, which derive most of their ancestry from Iranian-related groups, which were subsequently replaced by the Turkic expansion.[14]

Archaeogenetic studies on the remains from Iron Age Pazyryk culture burials suggest that after the end of the Indo-Iranian (Scythian) expansion, beginning in c. the 7th century BC, there was a gradual east-to-west influx of East Eurasian admixture to the Western steppes, including Paleosiberian peoples, and more recent Northeast Asian groups.[15]

Populations of farmers and nomadic pastoralists coexisted in Central Asia since the Chalcolithic (4th millennium BC). The two groups differ markedly in descent structure, as pastoralists are organized in exogamous patrilineal clan structures, while farmers are organized in extended families practicing endogamy (cousin marriage). As a consequence, pastoralists have a significantly reduced diversity in patrilineal descent (Y-chromosome) compared to farmers.[16]

The Turkic expansion spread Turkic languages along with 'Northeast Asian' ancestry westwards, throughout Central Asia, as well as parts of Europe.[17]

Bronze Age Central Asia was largely populated by West-Eurasian Iranian-speaking peoples, as well as a minority of East Asian-related Paleosiberian peoples from further East. Since the Iron Age, significant migrations from Eastern Asia and Eastern Siberia took place, mostly associated with the expansion of Turkic peoples from a region corresponding to modern day Mongolia, transforming Central Asia from a region with largely West-Eurasian ancestry, to a region with primarily East Asian ancestry.[18]


Religion[3] Approximate population Center of population
Sunni Islam 103,000,000[19][20][21][22][23][24] South and East of region: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Eastern Xinjiang and Southern Kazakhstan.(most dense in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan)
Buddhism 9,084,000[25][26][27][28][29] 500,000 in Russia, 8.44 million in Xinjiang, 140,000 people in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan; (Mongols, Koreans, Daur, Mongour, Tungusic peoples, Tibetans, Tuvans, Yugur)
Shia Islam 4,000,000 Hazaras, Central Afghanistan
Eastern Christianity 4,000,000 Mainly in northern Kazakhstan, significant communities are also located in the other four Soviet republics in the region.
Atheism and Irreligion 2,500,000+ Throughout the region
Western Christianity 510,000 Kazakhstan
Judaism 27,500 Uzbekistan
Zoroastrianism 10,000 Historically Afghanistan

See also[edit]


  • Guarino-Vignon, P., Marchi, N., Bendezu-Sarmiento, J. et al. Genetic continuity of Indo-Iranian speakers since the Iron Age in southern Central Asia. Sci Rep 12, 733 (2022).


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