Mainly arid desert and mountainous, Central Asia is made up of five countries: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Silk Road, an ancient trade route between China, the Middle East and Europe, once passed through the region boosting the textile industry and making hand-woven rugs from Central Asia world famous. From 1922 until 1991 the whole area, apart from Afghanistan, was part of the Soviet Union. Under communist rule the countries were partly modernized. Today, however, as independent nations they face an uncertain future. In 2001 Afghanistan was linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11 in the USA and was devastated by US–led reprisal bombings.
Much of Central Asia is covered by two hot, dry deserts: The Karakumy and the Kyzyl Kum. The rest is largely rugged mountain chains. There is a small area of farmland which has been extended by irrigation.
The name Kyzyl Kum means Read Sands. This desert region lies south of the Aral Sea, between, the rivers Syr Daria and Amu Darya, mostly in Uzbekistan. Few people apart from nomads live here. Much of it is covered by low hills and sandy wasteland.
The literal translation to Tien Shan is Heavenly Mountains. This range of ice–capped peaks runs for about 3,000 km (1,864 miles) from eastern Kyrgyzstan into China. The highest point is Pobeda Peak 7,439 m (24, 406 ft). Mountain Rivers form broad and fertile valleys which are used for farming.
Karakumskiy Ship Canal:
The Karakumskiy ship canal is being built from the Amu Darya, One of central Asia’s main rivers across the Karakumy Desert. It will link the river with the Caspian Sea 1,400 km (870 miles) away.
Most of this region is cold in winter and very hot and dry in summer. Rainfall is uniformly low which hampers farming. The mountain regions are always cooler than the lowlands and many of the peaks are permanently covered by snow and ice.
Many Central Asian people are nomads who roam the land with their animal herds, constantly searching for new pastures. They live in traditional tents usually made of animals’ skin. Their animals, mainly sheep and goats – provide them with meat, milk, skins, wool. Some of those items they sell.
Only two per cent of Turkmenistan’s arid land can be farmed. With irrigation, cotton, fruit, wheat and vegetables are produced. Many people live in nomadic tribes and there is much intertribal tension. Turkmenistan is the world’s fifth larges producer of natural gas.
Known as the wind of heaven, Akhal–Teke race – horses have been bred in the south of the Karakumy Desert for centuries. Fast, hardy and well suited to the hot, harsh climate. Akhal–Tekes compete in traditional horse races at the Ashgabat hippodrome.
For centuries, Turkmenistan has produced beautiful, velvety carpets in deep, toning shades of red, brown and maroon. Women hand–knot each carpet using fine wool from karakul sheep. They make several sizes, including khali (large), ensi (Door rug) as well as weaving curtains, sacks bags and pouches.
Capital City: Ashgabat
Area: 488,100 sq km (188,455 sq miles)
Main Languages: Turkmen, Russian
Major Religions: Islam, Eastern orthodox
This is another important country in Central Asia. Although 80 per cent of Uzbekistan is covered by dry steppe and desert, its areas of fertile land and resources of oil, gas, gold, copper and coal make it one of Central Asia’s wealthier countries. Fruit, silk cocoons and vegetables are exported to Moscow. Uzbekistan has the world’s largest single gold time.
Uzbekistan is the world fourth larges produces of cotton. However, the irrigation system used to water crops has seriously depleted the Aral Sea.
Home to 370, 000 people, the ancient city of Samarkand was once the centre for trade in silk from China. Today the manufacture of silk and cotton textiles is still the city‘s main industry. Samarkand’s Registan Square contains some magnificent 14th century Islamic architecture.
Capital City: Tashkent
Area: 447,400 sq km (172,741 sq miles)
Main Languages: Uzbek, Russian
Major Religions: Islam, Eastern orthodox
Dominated by the arid Tina Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan is a mainly rural country. Only seven per cent of the land is cultivable. Half is used for growing fodder for livestock. The rest supports vegetables, wheat, fruit, cotton and tobacco.
The population of Kyrgyzstan is made up of 57 percent Kyrgyz people. The rest are mainly Russians and Uzbeks. Many Russians are leaving as a result of the strong nationalist feelings that have grown in the country since the end of Sevier rule. Ethnic tensions also exist with the Uzbeks.
Gold and mercury are mined for export as well as smaller amounts of other minerals, including iron ore, tin lead, copper zinc and bauxite. Kyrgyzstan also has reserves of oil coal and gas and its many rivers and lakes give it great potential for hydroelectric power.
Capital City: Bishkek
Area: 198,500 sq km (76,640 sq miles)
Main Languages: Kyrgyz, Russian
Major Religions: Islam
The poorest of the former soviet republics, Tajikistan has been torn by civil war every since independence. The main conflict is between ethnic Tajiks who make up about two thirds of the population and Uzbeks who make up one – quarter. Tajikistan has rich mineral resources.
Tajikistan has 14 per cents of the world’s uranium used as unclear fuel. It is a major export, but the end of the nuclear arms race has reduced its value.
Only about six percent of Tajikistan is suitable for farming. The main farming areas are in the northwest, near khudzhand and the southwest, south of Dushanbe. Melons, Grapes and peaches are grow in fertile soils washed down from the mountains into the valleys.
Capital City: Dushanbe
Area: 143,100 sq km (55,251 sq miles)
Main Languages: Uzbek, Tajik
Major Religions: Islam
This is another important country in Central Asia. Afghanistan has a long history of war. After years of civil strife, Afghanistan was further destroyed by a US-led War on Terrorism in 2001 – 02. Pashtuns are the majority ethnic group. Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries.
An Islamic sect called the Taliban took power in 1996 and created a hard-line regime which banned many freedoms. Women suffered heavily under Taliban rule as they were forbidden to receive an education, hold a job or show their face in public. The Taliban fled power in 2001 during western war reprisals for the September 11 terrorist attacks on US.