Facts and Factoids
- Uzbekistan is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. A doubly landlocked country is one that is landlocked by other landlocked countries.
- Uzbekistan's constitution restricts the presidency to two consecutive terms in office. President Karimov was re-elected for a third term but he died in office on 2 September 2016. A joint session of both houses of the Supreme Assembly of Uzbekistan appointed Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev as interim president on 8 September 2016.
- Handshakes are only acceptable between two men. The way to greet an Uzbek woman is to bow with your right hand placed over your heart.
- The national dish is plov - rice pilaff
Uzbekistan - A Very Brief History
The first settlers in the region now known as Uzbekistan were Eastern Iranian nomads. Over the centuries, the area was subsumed into the Iranian Achaemenid, Macedonian rule, Iranian and Sasanian Empires. Next, the Muslims arrived and they and the subsequent Samanid Empire converted most of the people, to Islam. This was when the Silk Road developed and cities such as Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara began to grow rich. The Mongols invaded in the 13th century, allowing the emergence of Timur (Tamerlane) from Shahrisabz, in the 14th century. He established the Timurid Empire, from whence came most of the great buildings we see in Uzbekistan today, with his capital in Samarkand.
The Timurid dynasty were conquered in their turn by Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century, moving the centre of power to Bukhara. They split the region into three states: the Khanates of Khiva and Kokand, and the Emirate of Bukhara. Conquests by Emperor Babur towards the east, around Kokand, led to the foundation of the Mughal Empire in India.
All of Central Asia was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century. Tashkent became the political centre of Russian Turkestan and in 1924, the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic became an independent republic within the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1991.
Is Uzbekistan Part of Russia?
Uzbekistan was a Soviet socialist republic from 1924 until 1991 and has maintained diplomatic relations with Russia. Uzbekistan remained within the rouble-zone until November 1993, but has since moved politically away from the Russian Federation.
Is Uzbekistan a Poor Country?
Uzbekistan is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, though it is fast developing. 28% of the population work on the land, but many of these people work part time on tiny plots, a subsistence living. Cotton and wheat are major crops,. The extraction of mineral wealth, including gold is increasing.
Is Uzbekistan Safe to Visit?
Violent crime against foreigners is rare, theft and mugging more common. The FCO warn against tensions on all borders and also the possibility of land mines. My visits were entirely peaceful.
Getting into Uzbekistan - A La John Le Carre
I spend most of the day at airports and on planes, trying not to dwell on the number of planes that have gone down lately. However, the journey is without incident, except that there is a family with three young children across the plane aisle from me. They cry in concert, if not in harmony, the whole trip.
Tashkent Airport is just like a bad spy novel. It's very grey, cables hang from the ceiling and the immigration booths are ramshackle. The baggage takes an age to arrive and the handlers alternate haphazardly between two ancient creaky belts, just to keep us on our toes. Customs try to appear to be doing a thorough job, but in essence the little guy just puts rings round everything on my form.
The officers mumble in strongly accented English. I am warned that there will be dire consequences if I leave the country with more money than I take in. Unlikely that I will become an oligarch in two weeks, though as they don't actually inspect my money they won't know. The arrivals hall is in the open air outside the airport and although it's seven in the evening (I'm back in time four hours again) it's 100 degrees. And I'm immediately surrounded by taxi drivers touting for business and trying to grab my bag. Fortunately, after taking a deep breath I spot a little Sundowners notice waving at the back. That's my tour.
What To See in Uzbekistan?
If you want splendid buildings, set pieces, mausoleums and minarets, then look no further, Uzbekistan is Central Asia's main draw in this department.:
- Uzbekistan - The Silk Road - Tashkent and the Fergana Valley
- Uzbekistan - The Golden Road - Samarkand and Bukhara
- Uzbekistan - By Golden Eagle Luxury Train
Getting Out of Uzbekistan
What's the difference between the Middle East and Central Asia I wonder? The Middle East sounds as if it ought to be further away to me. Departing Central Asia is a feat in itself. I don't recommend Tashkent airport at 5 in the morning. In fact I'm nominating this place for worst airport in the world:
1 Queue (throughout I use the word queue loosely - substitute shoving, jostling throng) to get in the airport entrance gate and have passport checked
2 Subsidiary queue to have ticket checked
3 Long queue to get in departures door
4 Queue to get all baggage scanned
5 Discover my flight time has been changed and no one has told me. Fortunately, put back rather than forward. Wait for check in to open.
6 Queue at check in. Arrive at desk to be told my visa needs to be checked at immigration service. I say I don't need a visa. He says I still need to go.
7 Eventually find immigration desk and queue. When I get to the front the man looks at my passport and says I don't need to be checked
8 Back to desk and get checked in
9 Queue for custom control where I again have to fill in a form to say I have less money than I arrived with. Hand bags are screened again.
10 Queue for passport check where I have to show the receipts for all the hotels I have stayed in (hotels also have to see these as you go along or they won't let you stay).
11 Queue to have passport and ticket checked by security control
12 Queue to have hand baggage screened for the third time
' The Wonderful World of Entertainment' on Uzbekistan Airlines only shows movies in Uzbek. There are about three of them, circa 1976.