Independent nation and former Soviet constituent republic bounded by Kazakhstan on the N and E, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on the E, and Turkmenstan and Afghanistan on the S. An early center of civilization, it was taken by Alexand er the Great in the fourth century b.c. Inhabited by nomadic peoples, it became Islamicized when Arabs conquered it in the eighth century a.d. It was later ruled by Seljuk Turks.
It fell to Genghis Khan in the 13th century and Tamerlane in the 14th century. The latter established his capital at Samarkand . The Uzbeks, descendants of the Golden Horde, who invaded in the 16th century, had a short-lived empire that soon became divided into the khanates of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand . The great cities on the main routes to China, Persia, India, and Europe—Samarkand , Bukhara, and Tashkent— were rich and highly civilized trading centers for centuries.
The Russians took the area in the 1860s and 1870s, allowing native rule to continue in Khiva and Bukhara. In 1917 the Uzbeks attempted to establish a democratic autonomous government, but by 1924 the various former states were joined into the Uzbek SSR.
In June 1990, the Uzbek parliament passed a resolution declaring the republic’s sovereignty, declared independence on August 31, 1991. Uzbekistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States and Islam Karimov, the former Communist Party leader and president of the Uzbek SSR was elected president of the new republic. Karimov began a crackdown against political opponents and religious Muslims, while enacting some free-market economic reforms. In 1995, Karimov won a referendum to remain in office until the year 2000. In 2000 Karimov was reelected to the presidency. In 2001 the United States started to use Uzbek military bases in its campaigns against Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan’s Taliban. In 2002 Karimov won another referendum (that was criticized by Western observers), extending his term of office to 2007. There continues to be some violent opposition to Karimov’s government by radical Islamic groups.