Central Asia in Historical Perspective

Central Asia in Historical Perspective

Central Asia in Historical Perspective

Central Asia in Historical Perspective


Since the demise of Soviet power, the newly independent republics are redefining their identities and their relations with the world at large. In Central Asia, which lies at the crossroads of several cultures, the emerging trends are complex and ambiguous. In this volume, leading experts explore factors that have driven the region's historical development and that continue to define it today: overlapping Islamic, Russian, and steppe cultures and their impact on attempts to delimit national borders and to create independent states; the legacy of Soviet and earlier imperial rule in economic and social relations; and the competition between Uzbek, Tajik, and other group identities. The authors make few predictions, but their original and thought-provoking analyses offer readers new insight into those aspects of Central Asia's past that may shape its future.


The break-up of the Soviet Union has brought the world to look again at Central Asia, with new perspectives and new questions. For many years it had seemed unnecessary to inquire about Central Asia's place in the world. Whether willingly or not, this region made up part of two great multinational empires--the USSR in the west and the PRC in the east. The question addressed was its place in these states. For many years Soviet Central Asia was seen as a backward colonized territory, then as the 1980s progressed, it appeared as the soft underbelly of the Soviet beast.

The issue of Central Asia's relation to the former Soviet Union is not dead, but it is no longer the most important question before us. For the independent republics other relationships matter equally--those to the outside world, and those within the region itself. We must now free ourselves from the Soviet tendency to view Central Asia primarily in relation to the Russian center. Likewise, in dealing with historical processes, we must avoid the image of a revolutionary present viewed against a static past--whether it be the golden age of Central Asian achievements, or the dark night of Central Asian absolutism. To understand what is happening now in Central Asia, we must take a new look at its historical development, at the forces which have shaped its relations to the regions around it and the cultural identities of the many peoples within it. The articles in this book address these questions, covering a long historical period, from the Mongol Empire up to the present.

Events in Central Asia since the demise of the Soviet Union pose questions which are difficult to answer within the confines of Soviet studies. We need to understand for instance why the region perhaps most different from the Russian center has been one of the slowest to separate from it. Neither a continued adherence to the Islamic world nor the well-documented anti-Russian sentiments of the region have been sufficient to create a nationalism as strong as that found in more western republics. When we look at relations among the various nationalities of Central Asia, now once again of crucial importance, we see a picture far from simple, and a matter for continuing controversy. Some scholars and politicians emphasise the importance of overarching loyalties to religion or language family, while others adhere to republican or even more local identities.

To make recent events and controversies comprehensible we must turn to . . .

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