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Articles in Central Asia

Xinjiang, China: Ethnicity and Economic Development

By Martin W. Lewis | April 22, 2013 | 7 Comments

An impressive map of China’s per capita GDP by prefecture, reposted here, appeared in late 2012 on the website Skyscraper City, posted by user “Chrissib” Cicerone.  According to the map, the two poorest parts of China are in southern Gansu province, an area demographically dominated by Han Chinese, and in southwestern Xinjiang, an area demographically dominated by Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, …

Zoï’s Fantastic Central Asia Water Map, and Turkmenistan’s Geo-Engineering Projects

By Martin W. Lewis | March 19, 2013 | 9 Comments

The Geneva-based Zoï Environment Network has created some detailed and well-designed environmental maps. Available through flickr photostream along with many other images, the maps are not very well catalogued. Regardless of such organizational problems, the site is well worth exploring. The map that I have posted here, moreover, is the best presentation of the Central Asia’s water crisis that I …

Russian Military Bases and Other Geopolitical Maneuverings in Tajikistan

By Martin W. Lewis | July 19, 2012 |

After much wrangling, Tajikistan and Russia recently agreed to a 49-year extension of Russia’s military base in the strategically situated Central Asian country. The roughly 6,000 Russian troops stationed in the country, constituting Moscow’s largest foreign deployment, will thus remain in place. As Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin framed the issue, “The forces of NATO in Afghanistan are not eternal but Russia will be an eternal partner of these countries and if, God forbid, the situation deteriorates for security and the people of the countries, they will remember Russia.”

The South Korean Push into Central Asia

By Martin W. Lewis | March 31, 2012 |

The governments of Kazakhstan and South signed an investment deal this week worth US$ 7 billion, focused on petrochemicals, electric power generation, machine building, and construction. South Korea is now the top investor in the country’s state-led industrial development program.

Turkmenistan’s Renewed Personality Cult

By Martin W. Lewis | March 1, 2012 | 2 Comments

The death of Turkmenistan’s president Saparmurat Niyazov in 2007 was widely viewed as a boon for his country but a loss for comedians worldwide. Niyazov, or “Turkmenbashi” (Leader of the Turkmens) had constructed a personality cult so lavish that it verged on self-parody.

Hazara Exodus from Quetta

By Martin W. Lewis | February 10, 2012 | 3 Comments

A recent UN report indicates that the Hazara people of Quetta Pakistan are living in such terror that the entire community may abandon the country.

The Defeat of Anti-Bride-Abduction Legislation in Kyrgyzstan

By Martin W. Lewis | |
Bride Kidnapping Kyrgyzstan Film Poster

The forcible abduction of women for the purpose of marriage has long been common in Kyrgyzstan. According to a recent article, almost half of all wives in some provincial towns were “non-consensually kidnapped.

The Complex and Contentious Issue of Afghan Identity

By Martin W. Lewis | November 19, 2011 | 26 Comments
Map showing different definitions of the term

“Afghanistan” is an oddly constructed place name. It is usually said to be a Persian word meaning “land of the Pashtuns.” The widely used suffix “stan” is Persian for “place of” or “land of,” cognate with the English “stead” (as in “homestead”) and ultimately with “stand.” “Afghan” is usually considered synonymous with “Pashtun.” From the Pashtun perspective, “Afghanistan” is an …

The Afghan “Graveyard of Empires” Myth and the Wakhan Corridor

By Martin W. Lewis | November 9, 2011 | 3 Comments
Map of Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

The idea that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” a country that perennially entices imperial conquerors only to humiliate and expel them, is often encountered.  This potent cliché has been thoroughly debunked, yet it refuses to die. An October 7, 2011 Time magazine article, for example, opens with the provocative headline, “Afghanistan: Endgame in the Graveyard of Empires.” And as …

The Korea-Uzbekistan Connection

By Martin W. Lewis | June 7, 2010 | 2 Comments

Both North and South Korea are among the most ethnically homogenous and strongly nationalist countries in the world, but that does not mean that they are nation-states, in the strict definition of the term. In an ideal nation-state, the state and the nation cover the same territory, but the land of the Korean nation is

The Tragedy of Karakalpakstan and the Fall of Khwarezm

By Martin W. Lewis | April 23, 2010 | One Comment

The destruction of the Aral Sea has disproportionally hit one ethnic group, the Karakalpak, a people roughly half a million strong whose name means “black hats.” The Karakalpak homeland is the region where the Amu Darya River once flowed into the Aral Sea. The Karakalpak traditionally farmed the fertile delta soils, fished in the river

The Death, and Partial Rebirth, of the Aral Sea

By Martin W. Lewis | April 22, 2010 |

After touring the remains of the Aral Sea by helicopter in April 2010, U.N. secretary general Ban-Ki Moon expressed shock at the scale of devastation. “It is clearly one of the worst environmental disasters of the world,” he reported. “It really left with me a profound impression, one of sadness that such a mighty sea

The Cold War Between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan

By Martin W. Lewis | April 21, 2010 | 2 Comments

In August 2008, the New York Times described Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as being locked in a “cold war.” Recently, the conflict has warmed up. In early 2010, Uzbekistan imposed a partial blockade on Tajikistan, a much poorer country poorly tied into global transportation networks. Uzbek authorities have been holding freight cars at the border, stifling

Ethnic Strife and the Reinvention of Uzbek Identity

By Martin W. Lewis | April 20, 2010 | One Comment

Ethnic conflicts have periodically broken out in former Soviet Central Asia. Clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the Fergana Valley took hundreds of lives in 1990, and discord between Uzbeks and Tajiks in Uzbekistan continue to simmer. Yet ethnic strife of this sort is not a long-standing feature of the region. Central Asia’s various peoples

Bakiyev’s Gambit and Kyrgyzstan’s Geographical Division

By Martin W. Lewis | April 19, 2010 |

After being forced out of the capital city of Bishkek in early April, 2010, Kyrgyzstan’s president Kurmanbek Bakiyev sought refuge in the south, first in the city of Osh and later at his family compound near Jalal-Abad. A southerner, Bakiyev hoped to rally local supporters, even at the risk of inciting civil war. While some

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