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Uzbekistan officially Republic of Uzbekistan (1994 estimated population 22,609,000), 173,552 square miles (449,500 square kilometers), central Asia, formerly a constituent republic of the USSR. It borders Afghanistan (South); Turkmenistan (South West); Kazakhstan (West, North); and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (East). The northwest is largely part of the Kyzyl Kum desert and borders the Aral Sea in the extreme north; the southeast has fertile loess soil and touches on the Tian Shan mountains. The Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers pass through the country, providing irrigation for its farms. The Uzbek, a Turkic-speaking people, make up the majority of the population; other groups include Russians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, and Tatars. Sunni Islam is the predominant religion, and the Orthodox Church is the largest non-Islamic faith. Uzbek is the official language, but Russian and other ethnic languages are also spoken.

Toshkent city (1992 estimated population 2,133,000) is the capital of Uzbekistan in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains. The largest central Asian city, and among the oldest, it is the economic heart of the region. First mentioned in the 1st century BC, Toshkent came under Arabic rule (7th century AD) and passed to Khorezm (12th century). It fell (13th-15th century) to Jenghiz Khan, Timur, and the Uzbeks. Under Russian rule after 1865, it was the capital of the Turkistan Autonomous SSR (1918-24) and replaced (1930) Samarkand as the capital of the Uzbek SSR (independent as Uzbekistan since 1991). A major earthquake in 1966 heavily damaged the city.

The ancient Persian province of Sogdiana, the region was ruled (4th-15th century) by Alexander The Great, Arabs, the Seljuk Turks of Khorezm, Jenghiz Khan, Timur, and the Timurids. The cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Toshkent, situated on trade routes to China, India, Persia, and Europe, were centers of prosperity, culture, and luxury. In the early 16th century, the Uzbek invaded from the northwest. A remnant of the empire of the Golden Horde, they took their name from Uzbeg Khan (d. 1340), from whom their rulers claimed descent. Later in the 16th century, the Uzbek domain was extended over parts of Persia, Afghanistan, and Chinese Turkistan, but the empire soon broke into separate principalities. These fell under Russian control largely between 1865 and 1873.

In 1918, after a failed attempt to form a Western-style democratic republic, the region became part of the USSR; the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1924. Following the failed hard-line coup against Soviet President Gorbachev, Uzbekistan declared (1991) its independence from the USSR and later joined the Commonwealth Of Independent States. The former Communist party retained its hold on power. In 1991 Islam Karimov, in power since 1990, was elected president, but major opposition parties were not allowed to run candidates in the election. Opposition groups have since been suppressed.