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Uzbekistan facts

News; Uzbekistanion.

The former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan is in central Asia, surrounded by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, just west of China.

Uzbekistan was born as a nation in 1924, but has been shaped over 2,500 years.

From the second century BC cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva have been at the heart of trading empires, religious and cultural struggles and the development of art, architecture and philosophy.

Samarkand fell to Alexander the Great as he moved east from Macedonia in 329BC. His regime dominated for another 200 years until the first routes were opened up to carry Chinese silk to Rome. Trade was vulnerable to the nomadic empires which stormed the area including that of the ferocious King Attila in the fifth century.

Some of the bloodiest fighting took place in the 13th century as the Mongolian nomad Genghis Khan swept from China to the Caspian, laying waste great cities in his path.

The infamous Tamerlane followed in the 14th century, killing some 17M people in his brutal and barbaric romp around the region. Under his harsh rule, Islam thrived as did culture, art and crafts. He is considered a hero because of the cultural and architectural legacy of his regime.

Russia began its move into central Asia in the 19th century and modern Uzbekistan was created in 1924 after Joseph Stalin carved up the Sovietised Turkestan region.

The Communist regime destroyed 95% of the nation's mosques as Islam was repressed. Uzbekistan suffered as its capital Tashkent became a centre of Soviet corruption until the regime's collapse in 1991.

For Uzbeks today, life is hard. Cotton production is the major export with vast areasof the parched desert cultivated with help from massive Soviet inspired irrigation systems. The water hungry crop thrives, though at some cost to the ever depleting Aral Sea from which much water is drawn.

Lack of funding and an unconvertible currency prevent further exploitation of the nation's wealthy gas deposits.

With help from world funding bodies, UNESCO and the World Tourist Organisation, the country is restoring its historic treasures and slowly putting in place the infrastructure necessary to attract the outside world.

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