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    Central Asia

    • Central Asia
      Map of Central Asia
      Area 4,003,451 km2 (1,545,741 sq mi)
      Population 67,986,864
      Density 16.6/km2 (43/sq mi)
      Countries Kazakhstan
      Kyrgyzstan
      Tajikistan
      Turkmenistan
      Uzbekistan
      Regional Center Kazakhstan
      Nominal GDP (2012) $295.331 billion
      GDP per capita (2012) $6,044

      Central Asia or Middle Asia is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. It is also colloquially referred to as "the 'stans" (as the six countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of") and is within the scope of the wider Eurasian continent.

      In modern contexts, all definitions of Central Asia include these five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan (pop. 17 million), Kyrgyzstan (5.7 million), Tajikistan (8.0 million), Turkmenistan (5.2 million), and Uzbekistan (30 million), for a total population of about 66 million as of 2013–2014. Afghanistan (pop. 31.1 million) is also sometimes included.

      Various definitions of Central Asia's exact composition exist, and not one definition is universally accepted. Despite this uncertainty in defining borders, the region does have some important overall characteristics. For one, Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road. As a result, it has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.

      During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was a predominantly Iranian region that included the sedentary Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians and Chorasmians, and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Parthians. The ancient sedentary population played an important role in the history of Central Asia. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for many Turkic peoples, including the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, and other extinct Turkic nations; Turkic languages largely replaced the Iranian languages spoken in the area. Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan.


      Country Area
      km²
      Population
      (2016)
      Population density
      per km2
      Nominal GDP
      millions of USD (2015)
      GDP per capita
      in USD (IMF 2015)
      HDI (2015) Capital Official languages
       Kazakhstan 2,724,900 17,067,216 6.3 216,036 9,796 0.788 Astana Kazakh, Russian
       Kyrgyzstan 199,950 5,940,743 29.7 7,402 1,113 0.655 Bishkek Kyrgyz, Russian
       Tajikistan 142,550 8,628,742 60.4 9,242 922 0.624 Dushanbe Tajik, Russian
       Turkmenistan 488,100 5,417,285 11.1 47,932 6,622 0.688 Ashgabat Turkmen
       Uzbekistan 447,400 30,932,878 69.1 62,613 2,121 0.675 Tashkent Uzbek
      City Country Population Image Information
      Astana  Kazakhstan 835,153
      (2014)
      Central Astana on a Sunny, Snowy Day in February 2013.jpg The capital and second largest city in Kazakhstan. After Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, the city and the region were renamed Aqmola. The name was often translated as "White Tombstone", but actually means "Holy Place" or "Holy Shrine". The "White Tombstone" literal translation was too appropriate for many visitors to escape notice in almost all guide books and travel accounts. In 1994, the city was designated as the future capital of the newly independent country and again renamed to the present Astana after the capital was officially moved from Almaty in 1997.
      Almaty  Kazakhstan 1,552,349
      (2015)
      Almaty, Kok-tobe exposition 3.jpg It was the capital of Kazakhstan (and its predecessor, the Kazakh SSR) from 1929 to 1998. Despite losing its status as the capital, Almaty remains the major commercial center of Kazakhstan. It is a recognized financial center of Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region.
      Bishkek  Kyrgyzstan 865,527
      (2009)
      E7904-Bishkek-Ala-Too-Square.jpg The capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is also the administrative center of Chuy Region, which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the region, but rather a region-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
      Osh  Kyrgyzstan 243,216
      (2009)
      Osh 03-2016 img28 view from Sulayman Mountain.jpg The second largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Osh is also the administrative center of Osh Region, which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the region, but rather a region-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
      Dushanbe  Tajikistan 780,000
      (2014)
      Dushanbe panorama 07.jpg The capital and largest city of Tajikistan. Dushanbe means "Monday" in Tajik and Persian, and the name reflects the fact that the city grew on the site of a village that originally was a popular Monday marketplace.
      Ashgabat  Turkmenistan 909,000
      (2009)
      PresidentialPalaceAshgabat.jpg The capital and largest city of Turkmenistan. Ashgabat is a relatively young city, growing out of a village of the same name established by Russians in 1818. It is not far from the site of Nisa, the ancient capital of the Parthians, and it grew on the ruins of the Silk Road city of Konjikala, which was first mentioned as a wine-producing village in the 2nd century BCE and was leveled by an earthquake in the 1st century BCE (a precursor of the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake). Konjikala was rebuilt because of its advantageous location on the Silk Road, and it flourished until its destruction by Mongols in the 13th century CE. After that, it survived as a small village until the Russians took over in the 19th century.
      Bukhara  Uzbekistan 237,900
      (1999)
      Uzbekistan 2007 092 Bukhara.jpg The nation's fifth-largest city and the capital of the Bukhara Region of Uzbekistan. Bukhara has been one of the main centers of Persian civilization from its early days in the 6th century BCE, and, since the 12th century CE, Turkic speakers gradually moved in. Its architecture and archaeological sites form one of the pillars of Central Asian history and art.
      Kokand  Uzbekistan 209,389
      (2011)
      KokandPalace.jpg Kokand (Uzbek: Qo‘qon / Қўқон; Tajik: Хӯқанд; Persian: خوقند‎‎; Chagatai: خوقند; Russian: Коканд) is a city in Fergana Region in eastern Uzbekistan, at the southwestern edge of the Fergana Valley. It has a population of 192,500 (1999 census estimate). Kokand is 228 km southeast of Tashkent, 115 km west of Andijan, and 88 km west of Fergana. It is nicknamed "City of Winds", or sometimes "Town of the Boar".
      Samarkand  Uzbekistan 596,300
      (2008)
      Samarkand view from the top.jpg The second largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of Samarqand Region. The city is most noted for its central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, and for being an Islamic center for scholarly study.
      Tashkent  Uzbekistan 2,180,000
      (2008)
      International Business Center. Tashkent city.jpg The capital and largest city of Uzbekistan. In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, the town and the region were known as Chach. Tashkent started as an oasis on the Chirchik River, near the foothills of the Golestan Mountains. In ancient times, this area contained Beitian, probably the summer "capital" of the Kangju confederacy.
      Kabul  Afghanistan 3,895,000
      (2011)
      Kabul Skyline.jpg The capital and largest city of Afghanistan. The city of Kabul is thought to have been established between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE. In the Rig Veda (composed between 1700–1100 BCE), the word Kubhā is mentioned, which appears to refer to the Kabul River.
      Mazar-e Sharif  Afghanistan 375,181
      (2008)
      Mi-17 helicopter flies over the northern Afghan city-101113-N-5006D-582.jpg The fourth largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Balkh province, is linked by roads to Kabul in the southeast, Herat to the west and Uzbekistan to the north.

      • To the North, the steppe allowed for rapid mobility, first for nomadic horseback warriors like the Huns and Mongols, and later for Russian traders, eventually supported by railroads. As the Russian Empire expanded to the East, it would also push down into Central Asia towards the sea, in a search for warm water ports. The Soviet bloc would reinforce dominance from the North and attempt to project power as far south as Afghanistan.
      • To the East, the demographic and cultural weight of Chinese empires continually pushed outward into Central Asia since the Silk road period of Han Dynasty. However, with the Sino-Soviet split and collapse of Soviet Union, China would project its soft power into Central Asia, most notably in the case of Afghanistan, to counter Russian dominance of the region.
      • To the Southeast, the demographic and cultural influence of India was felt in Central Asia, notably in Tibet, the Hindu Kush, and slightly beyond. From its base in India, the British Empire competed with the Russian Empire for influence in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.
      • To the Southwest, Western Asian powers have expanded into the southern areas of Central Asia (usually Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan). Several Persian empires would conquer and reconquer parts of Central Asia; Alexander the Great's Hellenic empire would extend into Central Asia; two Islamic empires would exert substantial influence throughout the region; and the modern state of Iran has projected influence throughout the region as well. Turkey, through a common Turkic nation identity, has gradually increased its ties and influence as well in the region. Furthermore, all Central Asian Turkic-speaking states are together with Turkey part of the Turkic Council.
      • Russia continues to dominate political decision-making throughout the former SSRs; although, as other countries move into the area, Russia's influence has begun to wane though Russia still maintains military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
      • The United States, with its military involvement in the region and oil diplomacy, is also significantly involved in the region's politics. The United States and other NATO members are the main contributors to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and also exert considerable influence in other Central Asian nations.
      • China has security ties with Central Asian states through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and conducts energy trade bilaterally.
      • India has geographic proximity to the Central Asian region and, in addition, enjoys considerable influence on Afghanistan. India maintains a military base at Farkhor, Tajikistan, and also has extensive military relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
      • Turkey also exerts considerable influence in the region on account of its ethnic and linguistic ties with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and its involvement in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Political and economic relations are growing rapidly (e.g., Turkey recently eliminated visa requirements for citizens of the Central Asian Turkic republics).
      • Iran, the seat of historical empires that controlled parts of Central Asia, has historical and cultural links to the region and is vying to construct an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.
      • Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic state, has a history of political relations with neighboring Afghanistan and is termed capable of exercising influence. For some Central Asian nations, the shortest route to the ocean lies through Pakistan. Pakistan seeks natural gas from Central Asia and supports the development of pipelines from its countries. According to an independent study, Turkmenistan is supposed to be the fifth largest natural gas field in the world. The mountain ranges and areas in northern Pakistan lie on the fringes of greater Central Asia; the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan lies adjacent to Tajikistan, separated only by the narrow Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Being located on the northwest of South Asia, the area forming modern-day Pakistan maintained extensive historical and cultural links with the central Asian region.
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