Uzbekistan occupies the heart of the area of Central Asia historically known as Turkestan. Some of the earliest known inhabitants of this region were Indo-Iranians, who are thought to have migrated to the region around the second millennium b.c. By the 4th century b.c., after the campaigns of Alexander the Great, trade along the Silk Road increased, and the area emerged as an important trading center; cultural contact intensified, and a variety of religions flourished.
After the Arab campaigns of the 7th and 8th centuries, Islam replaced Buddhism as the dominant religion, and by the 10th century the area had become an important center in the Muslim world. The Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, invaded in the 13th century and caused great destruction. During this time, migrations of nomadic Turks from the northern steppe areas increased. In the late 14th century the tribal prince Timur (Tamerlane) created a vast empire with Samarkand as its capital, but the political stability he established crumbled after his death. Shaibani Khan, in the early 1500s, led a major invasion by Uzbek tribes from the north. From this time on, Uzbeks dominated the political life of central Turkestan. Three independent khanates, centered in Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand, dominated Turkestan between the 16th and the 19th century. But by the second half of the 19th century, Russian forces had subjugated the khanates, which were annexed or made into protectorates. Toshkent became the administrative center of Turkestan, and a colonial relationship was established. Cotton began to supplant other crops.
Dissatisfaction with Russian rule manifested itself in anticzarist revolts, often led by religious figures, while a group of urban intellectual reformers, known as jadids, sought to improve the life of the local people through secular education. In the years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, the economic and political situation drastically deteriorated, and in the summer of 1916, major disturbances shook the region.
Upon seizing power, the new Bolshevik leaders promised an end to Russia's colonial treatment of Turkestan; however, they demonstrated no willingness to allow meaningful political participation by the native population. Consequently, in November 1917, indigenous leaders convened an extraordinary congress in the city of Kokand, at which they proclaimed the autonomy of southern Central Asia. But in February 1918, Bolshevik troops sent from Tashkent brutally crushed the fledgling Kokand government. Over the next few years a guerrilla opposition movement of basmachi fighters struggled against the Bolsheviks but was ultimately defeated. Meanwhile, the traditional rulers of Bukhara and Khiva were removed, and new states under strong Bolshevik influence were established there.
In 1924 Uzbekistan was created as part of a "national delimitation" that redivided Turkestan, Bukhara, and Khiva into new national republics. This effectively blocked the Central Asian andTatar nationalists, who sought to create a state uniting Turks and other Muslim peoples of the former Russian empire, Bukhara, and Khiva. Consequently, the common histories, languages, traditions, and populations of the area were parceled out to individual local nationalities.
Although the Bolsheviks introduced some economic and social reforms in the early 1920s, the pace of change rapidly accelerated with the launching of the First Five-Year Plan (FYP) in 1928. By 1932 about three-fourths of the republic's farm households had been gathered into collective farms. Cotton farming was greatly expanded at the expense of other crops, particularly food. During the First FYP the Bolsheviks inaugurated massive campaigns to combat Islam, "liberate" women, and raise literacy. The literacy campaign coincided with a shift of the Uzbek language from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet.
In their first decade in power the Bolsheviks were obliged to govern through an alliance with indigenous nationalist forces, many of them jadids or influenced by them. Russians and other European nationalities also occupied important posts. By the end of the 1920s, however, as part of korenizatsiia (nativization), Moscow sought to replace European cadres with Central Asians. This was especially difficult, since by the late 1920s the Bolsheviks had become less tolerant of their better-educated allies, who possessed prerevolution educations. Despite the opposition of most Europeans living in Uzbekistan, during korenizatsiia many poorly educated natives were promoted into positions of ostensible authority. The financial and social costs of this policy were extremely high, and after 1934 korenizatsiia was quietly forgotten.
The purges of the mid-1930s decimated the Communist party and state apparatus. During these purges virtually all of the republic's leaders were removed on trumped-up charges, including allegations of nationalism and efforts to secede from the USSR. Many of Uzbekistan's leaders were executed along with a large proportion of the cultural intelligentsia.
Beginning in the middle of the 1930s, cultural and language policies stressed russification. Traditional art forms, dress, and customs were discouraged, and many Uzbek words of Arabic, Persian, and Turkic origin were replaced by Russian ones. In 1940 the Uzbek writing system shifted from the Latin alphabet to the Cyrillic.
The generation of republican leaders who rose during the purges was entirely dependent on Moscow. Although their authority within the republic was very high, in fact all major policy decisions were made in Moscow.
World War II had a profound effect on the republic by bringing women and children into the work force to replace the men who had left to fight the war. The war increased industrialization within the republic, which also experienced a large influx of refugees from the European part of the Soviet Union.
The CPUz's new first secretary, Islam Karimov, introduced major policy changes designed to enhance his party's legitimacy. This seems to have been done with the blessing of Moscow, which by this time had realized the futility of any attempt to reassert centralized Russian control. Among the changes introduced by Karimov were a more conciliatory policy toward Islam and a higher status for the Uzbek language. He also demanded from Moscow ecological and economic policies more favorable to Uzbekistan. Gradually and simultaneously with leaders in other republics, Karimov began to make demands for more regional control of the republic's own affairs.
A new policy consistent with national interests began to form when Islam Karimov took the lead in the national government.
Karimov was elected President of Uzbekistan at the 1st Session of the Supreme Council of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in March 1990.
Presidential decrees, acts, resolutions of the Supreme Council and the government, and finally, the Declaration of Independence were all designed to secure political and economic independence and the national revival of Uzbekistan. In 1989 Uzbek was made the official language of the new state, and a package of measures was drafted to address the most urgent economic problems, such as the monoculture of cotton, and to assist revival of Uzbek culture.
On 31 August, the 6th Extraordinary Session of the Supreme Council declared the political independence of the country, which was officially named the Republic of Uzbekistan. 1 September was proclaimed Independence Day.
Overwhelming popular support for independence and the government line was expressed during presidential elections and a referendum on political sovereignty (29 December 1991). Islam Karimov won 86% of the vote and became the first President of the new Uzbek state; 98.2% of the population voted for independence.
From September 1991 to July 1993 the Republic of Uzbekistan was officially recognised by 160 states. On 2 March 1992 the country joined the United Nations.
Since independence, an era of free development began in the history of the Uzbek people.