Islamic History in Russia and Central Asia Term Paper

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Islamic History In Russia and Central Asia

The collapse of the Soviet Union is perhaps one of the most influential events in world history, with political and economic consequences that reverberated across the world.

The once-great nation's southern region, now divided into eight independent republics, have been attempting to enter democratic society, but the transition from republic to democracy has been difficult at best -- and in some cases has failed outright.

The Struggle for Dominant Nationalities

One of the largest impediments to true democracy in central Asia has been the unequal ethnic makeup of the new republics.

In Uzbekistan, for instance, many of the cities had been known since ancient times for their multiculturalism and multi-linguism -- even the capital city of Tashkent.

However, with the formation of this republic, the second-largest cultural group in these cities, the Tajiks, was betrayed; unable to form a territorial state of their own (Touraj 39).

Turkmenistan posed an even bigger ethnic barrier, in language, citizenship and political rights.

The country's first elected president, Saparmurad Niyazov, proposed and passed legislation that prohibited any non-Turkmen from holding a high-ranking public office, successfully excluding the large contingent of Russian denizens of the republic.

Furthermore, Turkmen was soon declared the official national language, forcing the Russian population to learn it or risk losing citizenship.

As a final blow to cultural integration, though Niyazov's government insisted to the contrary, efforts were made to eject native Russians from the country.

Even now, Russians living in Turkmenistan report that the government's promises of citizenship are nearly impossible dreams (Anderson).

The republic of Kazakhstan poses an unusual ethnic dilemma: 57% of the population is comprised of 'minority' groups.

This lack of national unity makes Kazakhstan, the country which originally showed the most promise in the successful execution of a democratic state, a poor candidate for reform.

With the language barriers, the strong possibility of tribal warfare, and the general inapproachability of such a vast unifying attempt, Kazakhs have experienced trouble in their struggle to remain a country at all (Bremmer).

Many of these republics have held a long history of widespread diversity.

In the 1920's, the area known as Turkistan was comprised of a cacophony of cultures.

According to Steven Sabol:

Among the major national groups living in Turkistan, the Uzbeks made up over 41% of the population, followed by the Kazaks, who made up about 19% of the population.

The Kyrghyz were [the] third largest group and lived mainly around Bishkek, Farghana, Osh, and Pamir; Tajik lived generally in Samarqand and Farghana; Turkmen lived mainly in Transcaspia; and Karakalpaks around the Amu-Darya district.

In Bukhara, Uzbeks constituted just over 50% of the population.

Tajiks were the next largest national group at 32% and concentrated in the eastern mountainous region.

In Khwarazm Uzbeks made up over 79% of the population.

Turkmen were just under 15%. (Touraj, 38)

Today, this ethnic scattering is just as prevalent, if not more so, in the republics of central Asia (Touraj 38).

A unified nationality is necessary if the process of democratic restructuring is to be successful.

II. The Problems with Democracy

Though the eight republics of former south Russia have all attempted democratic reform, few have met with success. In fact, some newly established governments have disintegrated, falling further away from their objective of democracy and lapsing into authoritarian states -- or the lack of state entirely.

Perhaps the most striking example of this crumbling reform is present in Turkmenistan. To all outward appearances, this country seems to have enjoyed the most success in maintaining civil peace and staying afloat in a markedly declining economy, but recent discoveries suggest that this tranquil surface is the result of the limited release of factual government information.

Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurad Niyazov, was elected by a suspect 99.5% of the vote following a brief "election" campaign (Anderson, 512). The president's following grew rapidly to cult proportions, and Niyazov's personality, speeches and appearances soon took over. The citizens and the media began to refer to him as Turkmenbashi (leader of the Turkmen people), and he was lauded as a national hero with the power to save Turkmenistan from the imminent collapse facing the remnants of the Soviet Union. (Anderson)

However, Niyazov's control over the government expanded until the people were powerless to stop it. The governmental structure was originally…

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