Fast Facts

Population:
26,444,000
Capital:
Tashkent; 2,155,000
Area:
447,400 square kilometers (172,742 square miles)
Language:
Uzbek, Russian, Tajik
Religion:
Muslim, Eastern Orthodox
Currency:
Uzbekistani sum
Life Expectancy:
70
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $2,600
Literacy Percent:
99
Flag: Uzbekistan
Map: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, a landlocked country dominated by the Qizilqum desert, is Central Asia's most populous country. About 80 percent of the country is flat desert, with mountain ranges rising in the far southeast and northeast. The Fergana Valley in the northeast is the country's most fertile region, containing many cities and industries.

The ancient oasis cities of Tashkent, Samarqand, and Bukhara all evoke the old Silk Road to China. Uzbeks, third largest ethnic group of the former Soviet Union (after Russians and Ukrainians), descend from Turkic people and are rooted in the Sunni Muslim faith.

Most of the population lives in rural areas, where cotton crops, imposed by Soviet planners at horrendous cost to the environment, made Uzbekistan one of the world's top five producers. The Aral Sea, fed by rivers extensively tapped for irrigation, has shrunk to a fraction of its 1960s extent—and may become a vast desert by the year 2018.

Economic growth and living standards are among the lowest in the former Soviet Union. Uzbekistan is still one of the largest exporters of cotton, and the world's largest open-pit gold mine is at Muruntau in the Qizilqum desert—some geologists claim it is the Earth's largest gold deposit. However, the economic climate is poor because of smothering state control. The government is authoritarian and is becoming more rigid as it is threatened by Islamist groups. The country faced a wave of violence from suicide bombings in 2004.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Textiles, food processing, machine building, metallurgy, natural gas
  • Agriculture: Cotton, vegetables, fruits, grain; livestock
  • Exports: Cotton, gold, energy products, mineral fertilizers, ferrous metals

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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