Central Asia

Central Asia is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. It composes five states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Central Asia has always been populated by nomadic people, composed of numerous tribes and served as a crossroads between different civilizations since the earliest times. The Silk Road connected nomadic cultures of Central Asia with the people of Europe, India, and China.  Throughout centuries, Central Asia was dominated by Iranians, Turkic people, and starting from the mid-19th century by Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. Thus, it has witnessed tremendous amount of historical incidences and every major religion has passed through Central Asia, including Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism. All five states of Central Asia received its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and pursued hitherto unknown processes of nation-building and self-determination in international arena as independent states.

Newly independent states faced tremendous challenges at their time of independence. It is widely claimed that Central Asian leaders were unintentional founding fathers. Nevertheless, the leaders were aware of the highly vulnerable conditions of their nations as premature states. Economies of Central Asian countries were seriously damaged by the collapse of the USSR: the absence of central management obscured an immediate recovery of common regional systems such as water and electricity supplies. 

In addition to the disappearance of central structures, Central Asian states stopped receiving subsidies from Moscow that had long helped feed Central Asia's increasing population. The nations were left in a predicament with a choice of liberating their economies, followed by economic shocks and severe impoverishment of their populations or opting, as some Central Asia states did, to rely heavily on natural resources and take a path of gradual transition from a planned economy to an open market economy.

Almost every state has unsettled border issues with one another that increase hostile tendencies in the region. Early Soviet rule ensured that no Soviet republic would have an easy succession from the union and drew borders that did not take into account ethnicity thus creating large minorities in every country. Fergana Valley, which is shared by three countries of Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, ended up with the most complex and sensitive border delineation. Fergana Valley is a fertile and most densely populated region in Central Asia with a quarter of the region’s population amounting to more than ten million people. 

Increasingly, Central Asia finds itself in a situation that is similar to the “Great Game” of the 19th century between Great Britain and the Russian Empire. The new great game of the 21st century started after 9/11 events and Central Asia found itself between Russia, the USA, China, Turkey and to some extent Iran. For the United States and its allies, the region became a valuable supply hub for the Afghanistan war effort until 2014. For Russia, it is an arena in which to exert its traditional sphere of influence. For China, it is a source of energy and a critical partner for stabilizing and developing the restive Xinjiang province in the country’s west.