Central Asia: Aspects of Transition

Central Asia: Aspects of Transition

Central Asia: Aspects of Transition

Central Asia: Aspects of Transition


The five central Asian States of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan stand at the crossroads of world civilization. Influenced by South Asia, Iran, China and Russia, this region which has recently burst onto the world stage once again, guards a distinct identity. This collection by established experts on the area covers the dramatic Soviet interventions of the early 20th century, and details the role of ethnicity and the contribution made by Islamic impulses in the process of building the modern nation states.


On 1 March 2002, a website focusing on Uzbek news ran two headlines: ‘Kyrgyz and Uzbeks continue talking over frontier’ and ‘Uzbek national song festival ends in Tashkent’.

The first story detailed the slow progress made in establishing the boundary between Kyrgyzstan and its southwestern neighbour. After two years of hard work, a mere 290 kilometres of the 1,400-kilometre-long frontier had been agreed. The Uzbek border was not alone in needing definition: Kyrgyzstan had only signed agreements on the delimitation of its frontier with two states, China and Kazakhstan, and even preliminary consultations had not been opened over what was likely to be its most heavily disputed flank, the border with Tajikistan.

The second story focused on Uzbekistan’s first festival of national variety songs - ‘Aziz ona yurtim navolari’ (Melodies of the Motherland) - in which participants performed modern compositions based on folk songs and classical music ‘revised’ by Uzbek poets and composers.

The news stories highlight two of the most important themes running through this collection of essays: the modern redefinition of frontiers underlines the political importance of the Soviet legacy in Central Asia; the complex methods by which identity has been negotiated during and after the region’s Soviet experience is illustrated by the contemporary need for national song festivals.

A decade old, the five states of Central Asia that emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan - are struggling still with their colonial past. The lines drawn on maps by the Soviets during the 1920s - which were initially adopted at independence in 1991 - are being redrawn, throwing into sharp relief the importance of the original Soviet methodology, its objectives and the way in which those objectives have shaped the political and economic development of the region.

Equally important to any understanding of modern Central Asia are the Soviet attempts to forge national identities in the 1920s where no nations had ever existed. Some of the same tools, and many new ones, have been taken up by the regimes that assumed control a decade ago. The science or, perhaps, art (as in the case of national folk songs) of identity construction and nation building is once again of crucial importance to the very survival and stability of the region’s states.

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