Uzbekistan country profile

  • 2 September 2016
  • From the section Asia

The land that is now Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the ancient Silk Road trade route connecting China with the Middle East and Rome. The country spent most of the past 200 years as part of Russia, and then the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent nation in 1991.

Under President Islam Karimov, in power since 1989, Uzbekistan has boasted of steady economic growth based on exports like cotton, gas and gold. But the political system is highly authoritarian, and its human rights record widely decried.

There is no legal political opposition and the media is tightly controlled by the state. A UN report has described the use of torture as "systematic".


Republic of Uzbekistan

Capital: Tashkent

  • Population 28.1 million

  • Area 447,400 sq km (172,700 sq miles)

  • Major languages Uzbek, Russian, Tajik

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 66 years (men), 72 years (women)

  • Currency Uzbek som


Interim President: Shavkat Mirziyoyev

Image copyright Getty Images

Shavkat Mirziyoyev was named Uzbekistan's acting president by a joint session of parliament in September 2016.

Mr Mirziyoyev, a former regional governor and Uzbekistan's prime minister since 2003, was widely tipped as the favourite to succeed Islam Karimov, the authoritarian leader who ruled the country since its independence from the Soviet Union.

The 59-year-old Mr Mirziyoyev had been the most visible member of the Uzbek elite since Mr Karimov's death earlier in September, acting as chief mourner at his funeral and receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin several days later.

Under the constitution, the interim presidency should have passed to the chairman of the senate, Nigmatilla Yuldashev. However, official media say Mr Yuldashev stepped aside in Mr Mirziyoyev's favour, saying the prime minister "enjoyed the respect of the people".

Mr Mirziyoyev, who is reported to have close links with Russian oligarchs, has been in charge of the key agricultural sector. This includes the cotton industry, which has been criticised internationally for its use of child and forced labour. He has also been dogged by claims that he mistreated subordinates, which he has denied.

The constitution requires a presidential election to be held within three months, and Mr Mirziyoyev is widely expected to win.


Image copyright Huriyat
Image caption Uzbek media operate under tight restrictions

The state tightly controls the media. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the law punishes journalists for "interference in internal affairs" and "insulting the dignity of citizens".

Foreign media have been gradually expelled since the 2005 Andijan uprising, RSF adds.

BBC News has been banned from reporting from inside Uzbekistan since 2005. The BBC Uzbek website is blocked in the country.

In 2014, Freedom House said "the Karimov regime has all but eradicated free media in Uzbekistan. The few independent journalists who remain are subjected to harassment and detention."

Human Rights Watch says at least three dozen journalists, activists, writers, and intellectuals are behind bars because of their work.


Some key dates in Uzbekistan's history:

1st century BC - Central Asia, including present-day Uzbekistan, forms an important part of the overland trade routes known as the Great Silk Road linking China with the Middle East and imperial Rome.

13th-14th centuries - Central Asia conquered by Genghis Khan and becomes part of Mongol empire.

18th-19th centuries - Rise of independent emirates and khanates of Bukhara, Kokand and Samarkand. But in 1865, Russians take over Tashkent and establish it as the capital of Turkestan, incorporating vast areas of Central Asia. They also annex emirate of Bukhara and khanates of Samarkand, Khiva and Kokand.

1989 - Islam Karimov becomes leader of Uzbek Communist Party and remains in power beyond independence.

1991 - Independence.

2001 - Uzbekistan allows US to use its air bases for action in Afghanistan.

2005 - Troops open fire on demonstrators in city of Andijan, killing an unknown number. European Union consequently imposes sanctions.

2016 - Long-term leader Islam Karimov dies in office.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Trans-Caspian Railway, connecting the Caspian Sea to Uzbekistan, was built in the 19th century, during the Russian Empire's expansion into Central Asia

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