History of Uzbekistan

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The history of Uzbekistan, the country of Bukhara and Samarkand, main stages of the Silk Road that still fascinate the mind of every dreamer today


Although the earliest human records date back to 70,000 BC, it can undoubtedly be said that Uzbekistan was born with the construction of Bukhara and Samarkand. Nomadic Iranian tribes arrived here starting from the first millennium BC. and, by building a long series of canals, they made life available here. The two centers immediately became essential stops on the Silk Road, which immediately increased their prestige and value, so much so that the Sogdian merchants in the area became among the richest and most prestigious in the world.


The region was conquered by Alexander the Great in 324 BC, but the impact of the great Macedonian was less significant than elsewhere, so much so that in a short time it became independent and began to clash with the Chinese. The horses of the Fergana Valley, in particular, were so coveted by the Han dynasty that they even started a two-year war to ensure their supply. In 565 these territories will become part of the Göktürk Khanate, thus giving way to a process of Turkification of the region.

Arabs and Turks

With the arrival of the Arabs, Uzbekistan and Bukhara experienced a real cultural renaissance, becoming one of the most important centers in the world together with Baghdad, Cairo and Cordova, uniting their Turkish-Persian identity with Islam and giving life to some of the most prestigious figures in world history. From the ninth century the Samanids will reign here, a Persian dynasty that will commission extraordinary works such as the first version of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. With the fall of the latter, Bukhara will be conquered by the Karakhanids, a Turkish population who will dominate the Transoxiana for a long time, first autonomously and then as a vassal of the Seljuks, another great Turkish people who will dominate these places for a long time.


Their end will in fact begin only with the battle of Qatwan, during which the Seljuks and Karakhanids will be defeated by the Kara Khitan, which will initiate the inevitable collapse marked by the Mongol advance.

Mongols and Timurids

The arrival of Genghis Khan will mark a real turning point for the region, bringing news that for centuries will have a fundamental impact on its inhabitants. In addition to greatly speeding up the turchification process, the decision to destroy most of the canals and cities will prove decisive for the whole of Central Asia, which from that moment will never fully recover. Finally, the power of Genghis Khan will ensure that, from that moment on, anyone who could claim descent from the great Mongolian would have the right to claim the throne for himself, a not exactly idyllic prospect for those who hope for peace. On the death of the great Khan, the dominions of today’s Uzbekistan will mostly pass to the Khanate Chagatai, entrusted to his second son.


Tamerlane was born in 1336, a sovereign destined to change the history of the world forever and, specifically, that of Bukhara and Samarkand. Although not related to Genghis Khan, the great leader managed to deserve the command of these lands, starting to conquer many others as well. His territories will in fact expand west to Aleppo and east to Delhi, in the last years of his life the great sultan will also prepare for the conquest of China, but a sudden illness did not allow him to reach the goal of he. However, Timur’s impact was immense also from an artistic point of view, as the greatest artists of the conquered centers had to go and reside in Bukhara and Samarkand, which in a short time led them to experience a real renaissance. Once the great leader died, however, the Empire quickly fell into serious political turmoil, which attracted the Uzbeks, who had previously settled north of the Aral Sea.


Starting in 1510, the Uzbeks of the Shaybanid dynasty definitively took possession of these areas, giving way to what will be a slow collapse. The dynasty, in fact, won against Babur and the Timurids, but lost the decisive clash with the Safavids and this precluded them from being able to have contact with the rest of the Islamic-Sunni world, which, combined with an ever less centrality of the Silk Road , will lead the country to a slow isolation that with time will become more and more present.

Muhammad Shaybani Khan

In the 16th a new khanate was born: that of Khiva, which in a short time will occupy the territories of today’s Khorasmia and Karakalpakstan and which will last until the Russian arrival. The Khanate of Bukhara was instead controlled, starting from the 17th century, by the Janide dynasty and then, when this was wiped out by the arrival of Nader Shah in 1741, by the Maghit dynasty. Starting from 1709 the Kokand Khanate will also be formed, which will bring a stable Uzbek domination over the Fergana valley as well.

The arrival of the Russians

Starting in the 18th century, the Russians had persistently taken their first steps in Central Asia; initially this was done for simple foreign trade and influence but, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, it also became a requirement. In fact, Moscow depended on the US for its cotton supplies and the conflict made it much rarer and more expensive. For this reason they decided to aim with increasing enthusiasm towards the territories of Central Asia, managing to place all of today’s Uzbekistan under their control starting from 1876.

Muhammad Alim Khan, the last emir of Bukhara

Initially the Russians will leave a great deal of autonomy to the locals, going de facto to occupy only the production of cotton, but over time their presence became more and more invasive. Starting from the last decade of the 19th century, in fact, with the construction of the railways, more and more Russian peasants came here, which increased their influence exponentially and gradually pushed the Uzbeks to prefer cotton to food; this will do serious damage in the future, fueling the resistance.

Jadids and Basmachi

Between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, a new current of thought was born throughout the Russian Islamic world: that of the Jadids. These were modernists who intended to revolutionize the educational system within Islamic society, now more and more anchored to a sterile memorization of the holy Koran, and to do so they went against both the local and the dominant society. In their view, in fact, the entire Islamic world should have evolved from a scholastic point of view, which led them several times to clash with the Ulama and the old clerical class, which from their point of view was mostly in full decay and voted to tacit collaboration with the occupier.

Some members of Jadidism

1917 will be a fundamental year for the history of the Russian world and, consequently, also for the Uzbek and Jadid world. With the victory of the Bolsheviks, the panturco movement of the Basmachi was created, which managed to resist the Soviets until 1924, the year in which the latter definitively took control of Bukhara and Khiva.

Communist Uzbekistan

In 1929 Uzbekistan became an autonomous Soviet Republic by separating from Tajikistan and forming the current borders. The first secretary of the local Communist Party will be Fayzulla Khodzhayev, a former Jadidist who strengthened agricultural collectivization policies while trying to bring more Uzbeks into Soviet political life. This was intended by Stalin as an act aimed at making Uzbekistan independent and, for this reason, with the Great Purges the Georgian leader had him and all the Uzbek members of the party executed, replacing them with men he trusted and mainly Russians. This coupled with a growing Russian presence and anti-veil campaigns increased the unpopularity of the Soviets in the country, making it the most conservative republic of all in the entire Union.

Sharof Rashidov

Not surprisingly, with the death of Stalin and the rise to power of Khrushnev, decidedly more open than his predecessor, many Uzbeks returned to “personalizing” politics. In a short time, a large part of the political system of clans and families was restored, which reached its peak with Sharof Rashidov and the Great Cotton Scandal. He was at the head of the local Communist Party from 1959 to 1983, years in which Russia needed cotton more than ever for both commercial and war purposes. For this reason Rashidov promised Moscow to use any means to bring him 5.5 tons of Uzbek cotton a year, a truly amazing result. The fact, however, is that it was not really technically possible to produce so much cotton in Uzbekistan, but, even once the problem was discovered, the local government decided not to communicate anything, passing off more and more empty loads for miraculously full and accumulating more and more money. The latter was then passed on to the other figures who were part of the “pyramid of fraud”, thus going to finance a large part of the local corruption system. It seems that when this was made public, in 1983, Rashidov committed suicide out of shame, but it is still unclear how much was his decision and how much a command came from Moscow.

Islam Karimov and independent Uzbekistan

Rashidov’s death was followed by a new political purge, which, combined with the other problems ever present in the country, dramatically increased the discontent of the inhabitants, which forced the Soviets to appoint a new local leader: Islam Karimov. It will be he who will manage the transition between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the birth of today’s Uzbekistan and, as always in these cases, he will take advantage of it very much. In a short time, in fact, more and more powers will be attributed to himself, centralizing them more and more in his hands and in his tax accounts. Unlike all the other leaders of Central Asia, however, Karimov will be the only one willing to create a real regional hegemony, for example by putting a series of mines on the border with Tajikistan or by making his voice heard about it. to the tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Karimov’s greatest enemy, however, will be the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a radical group which, due to poverty and the gray future, will take root particularly in the country.

Islam Karimov

Specifically, in 1999 there was the Tashkent bombing, which killed 16 people and gave way to ever stronger violence between Karimov and the Islamists; it must be said that the dynamics of the latter have never been very clear and many observers have doubts that it was organized by Karimov himself to have the “free hand”. Not surprisingly, from that moment on there was no longer any scruple to incarcerate anyone who opposed him, putting him in prison or even executing him on charges of religious extremism. The most infamous action of the entire Karimov era is linked to this mood: the Andijan massacre. On May 13, 2005, on the wave of the “Color Revolutions”, several citizens gathered in Andijan, in the Fergana Valley, to protest against the unjust imprisonment of 23 local businessmen. In the morning, many civilians began to gather in Babur square, also reassured by some rumors that Karimov himself wanted to go to the square to announce his resignation. Between 17.00 and 18.00 the police closed the square with all its Protestants, starting to fire on the defenseless population with no way of escape. According to army estimates, about 187 people died, but according to a deserter, at least 1,500 and their bodies were thrown into a mass graves to make it less sensational.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev

In 2016 Islam Karimov died and was succeeded by Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Even if the latter is deeply linked to his predecessor, to the point of citing him as “teacher” and taking up the spirit of the “electoral campaigns”, he is immediately very different and this both in terms of domestic and foreign politics. First of all, it proved to be really good from an economic point of view, so much so that already in the first year it created more than 300,000 jobs and improved the country’s exports by about 15%. Not only this, however, he lashed out against corruption, made peace with the World Trade Organization and in 2019 he also closed the infamous Jaslyk prison.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev

From the foreign point of view, it immediately launched reconciliation campaigns with the other neighboring countries, managing to start peace processes that now seemed destined to have no future. Obviously, we are still talking about a country in which there is no real democracy and / or political debate, but there are many who compare the figure of Mirziyoyev to that of Gorbachev or Xiaoping, which is certainly better than in the recent past.

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