I love when the random number generator sends me to the opposite side of the world from where I was – from last month in the Caribbean, we’re now going to Central Asia! This month I’ll be learning more about Uzbekistan.
So, what do I know off the top of my head about Uzbekistan?
- It may be the “stan” country I know the least about, though I know it was one of the five Central Asian countries that formed after the breakup of the USSR, and that they’ve all faced challenges with governance, stability, and corruption to varying degrees of success.
- I know that it’s a Muslim country, and that Uzbek is a Turkic language. I’m not sure how ethnically homogeneous Uzbekistan is, or how culturally related or distinct it is from other Central Asian countries.
- I know that the capital is Tashkent, and that the great historical city of Samarkand is in modern-day Uzbekistan. It was a huge hub on the Silk Road and is one of those cities that is spoken about almost in mythical terms – I’d love to learn more about it.
- I know generally that the territory that is now Uzbekistan has passed through many hands – Persian, Mongol, and Russian, and I’m assuming many more as well. Learning more about Uzbekistan’s history will probably give me a better understanding of Central Asia as a whole.
- I know that what is left of the Aral Sea is shared between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and it has been shocking to watch sheer dramatic scale of a whole sea vanishing during my lifetime.
- I have a feeling the food will be nice and hearty for cold November days – a cursory search shows big meat stews and rice dishes with lots of spices. There’s at least one Uzbek restaurant in Toronto, I’ll try to stop by if I can get there this month.
- By a nice coincidence, last week’s Economist had an article on recent political developments in Uzbekistan – focusing on the country’s shift away from authoritarianism after the death of autocrat Islam Karimov in 2016 and the progress towards free (well, freer) elections and press and a more open economy.
- Also from that article, I had no idea that Uzbekistan has such a huge population – 34 million, almost as big as Canada! The other “stan” countries have populations closer to 6-9 million, and Kazakhstan, which is physically much larger, has 18 million people. Why is Uzbekistan so much more densely populated?