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Uzbekistan - People

Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous country. Its 28 million people, concentrated in the south and east of the country, are nearly half the region's total population. Major cities are the capital -- Tashkent (pop. 2.5 million as of 2012); Samarkand (600,000); Namangan (378,000); Bukhara (350,000). Growing at a rapid rate, the population is split by ethnic and regional differences. The Russian component of the population shrank steadily in the years after independence.

Before the Soviet era, Uzbeks identified themselves by clan and by khanate rather than by nationality, which became an ethnic identifier only in 1924 with the union of the khanates in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Despite their different languages, official differentiation of Tajiks and Uzbeks occurred only when the Republic of Tajikistan was established five years later.

Uzbekistan had been one of the least developed republics of the Soviet Union; much of its population was engaged in cotton farming in small rural communities. The population continues to be heavily rural and dependent on farming for its livelihood. Uzbek is the predominant ethnic group, over 80%. Other ethnic groups include Russian 5.5%, Tajik 5%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, and Tatar 1.5%. The nation is approximately 88% Sunni Muslim. Uzbek is the official state language; however, Russian is the de facto language for interethnic communication, including much day-to-day government and business use.

The educational system has achieved 99% literacy, and the mean amount of schooling for men is 12 years and for women is 11 years. However, due to budget constraints and other transitional problems following the collapse of the Soviet Union, texts and other school supplies, teaching methods, curricula, and educational institutions are outdated and poorly kept. Although the government is concerned about this, budgets remain tight. Similarly, in health care, life expectancy is long, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union, health care resources have declined, reducing health care quality, accessibility, and efficiency. Uzbekistan continues to enjoy a highly educated and skilled labor force.

Population pressures have exacerbated ethnic tensions. In 1995 about 71 percent of Uzbekistan's population was Uzbek. The chief minority groups were Russians (slightly more than 8 percent), Tajiks (officially almost 5 percent, but believed to be much higher), Kazaks (about 4 percent), Tatars (about 2.5 percent), and Karakalpaks (slightly more than 2 percent) (see table 4, Appendix). In the mid-1990s, Uzbekistan was becoming increasingly homogeneous, as the outflow of Russians and other minorities continues to increase and as Uzbeks return from other parts of the former Soviet Union. According to unofficial data, between 1985 and 1991 the number of non-indigenous individuals in Uzbekistan declined from 2.4 to 1.6 million. The increase in the indigenous population and the emigration of Europeans have increased the self-confidence and often the self-assertiveness of indigenous Uzbeks, as well as the sense of vulnerability among the Russians in Uzbekistan.

The population of Uzbekistan is exceedingly young. In the early 1990s, about half the population was under nineteen years of age. Experts expected this demographic trend to continue for some time because Uzbekistan's population growth rate has been quite high for the past century: on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, only Tajikistan had a higher growth rate among the Soviet republics. Between 1897 and 1991, the population of the region that is now Uzbekistan more than quintupled, while the population of the entire territory of the former Soviet Union had not quite doubled. In 1991 the natural rate of population increase (the birth rate minus the death rate) in Uzbekistan was 28.3 per 1,000--more than four times that of the Soviet Union as a whole, and an increase from ten years earlier.

A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends.

These characteristics are especially pronounced in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan (the Uzbek form for which is Qoroqalpoghiston Respublikasi), Uzbekistan's westernmost region. In 1936, as part of Stalin's nationality policy, the Karakalpaks (a Turkic Muslim group whose name literally means "black hat") were given their own territory in western Uzbekistan, which was declared an autonomous Soviet socialist republic to define its ethnic differences while maintaining it within the republic of Uzbekistan. In 1992 Karakalpakstan received republic status within independent Uzbekistan. Since that time, the central government in Tashkent has maintained pressure and tight economic ties that have kept the republic from exerting full independence.

By the mid-1990s the population of Karakalpakstan was about 1.3 million people who live on a territory of roughly 168,000 square kilometers. Located in the fertile lower reaches of the Amu Darya where the river empties into the Aral Sea, Karakalpakstan has a long history of irrigation agriculture. Currently, however, the shrinking of the Aral Sea has made Karakalpakstan one of the poorest and most environmentally devastated parts of Uzbekistan, if not the entire former Soviet Union.

Because the population of that region is much younger than the national average (according to the 1989 census, nearly three-quarters of the population was younger than twenty-nine years), the rate of population growth is quite high. In 1991 the rate of natural growth in Karakalpakstan was reportedly more than thirty births per 1,000 and slightly higher in the republic's rural areas. Karakalpakstan is also more rural than Uzbekistan as a whole, with some of its administrative regions (rayony ; sing., rayon ) having only villages and no urban centers--an unusual situation in a former Soviet republic.

The growth of Uzbekistan's population was in some part due to in-migration from other parts of the former Soviet Union. Several waves of Russian and Slavic in-migrants arrived at various times in response to the industrialization of Uzbekistan in the early part of the Soviet period, following the evacuations of European Russia during World War II, and in the late 1960s to help reconstruct Tashkent after the 1966 earthquake. At various other times, non-Uzbeks arrived simply to take advantage of opportunities they perceived in Central Asia. Recently, however, Uzbekistan has begun to witness a net emigration of its European population. This is especially true of Russians, who have faced increased discrimination and uncertainty since 1991 and seek a more secure environment in Russia. Because most of Uzbekistan's population growth has been attributable to high rates of natural increase, the emigration of Europeans is expected to have little impact on the overall size and demographic structure of Uzbekistan's population.

High growth rates were expected to give rise to increasingly sharp population pressures that will exceed those experienced by most other former Soviet republics. Indeed, five of the eight most densely populated provinces of the former Soviet Union--Andijon, Farghona, Tashkent, Namangan, and Khorazm--are located in Uzbekistan, and populations continue to grow rapidly in all five. In 1993 the average population density of Uzbekistan was about 48.5 inhabitants per square kilometer, compared with a ratio of fewer than six inhabitants per square kilometer in neighboring Kazakstan. The distribution of arable land in 1989 was estimated at only 0.15 hectares per person. In the early 1990s, Uzbekistan's population growth had an increasingly negative impact on the environment, on the economy, and on the potential for increased ethnic tension.

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Page last modified: 13-03-2013 16:09:17 ZULU