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Central Asia

Nowruz with many spellings and pronouncements is celebrated in various forms in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as well as in Afghanistan. Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north. It is also sometimes referred to as Middle Asia and is within the scope of the wider Eurasian continent.

Various definitions of its exact composition exist, and no one definition is universally accepted. Despite this uncertainty in defining borders, it does have some important overall characteristics. For one, Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road. As a result, it has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, West Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.

In modern contexts, all definitions of Central Asia consensually include these five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan (pop. 16.0 million), Kyrgyzstan (5.5 million), Tajikistan (7.3 million), Turkmenistan (5.1 million), and Uzbekistan (27.6 million), for a total population of 61.5 million as of 2009. Other areas often included are Mongolia, Afghanistan, northern and western Pakistan, northeastern Iran, Kashmir, and sometimes Xinjiang in western China and southern Siberia in Russia.

During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was a predominantly Iranian region that included sedentary Sogdians, Chorasmians and semi-nomadic Scythians, Alans. The ancient sedentary population played an important role in the history of Central Asia. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for many Turkic peoples, including the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs, and Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan. The borders of Central Asia are subject to multiple definitions.

Central Asia is an extremely large region of varied geography, including high passes and mountains (Tian Shan), vast deserts (Kara Kum, Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan), and especially treeless, grassy steppes.

by Said Atabekov - Kazakhs << Previous Next >>

March 25, 2011, Kazgurt region of Southern Kazakhstan. A rider-kokparshi prays before the beginning of the kokpar competition. Kokpar is a traditional game that is considered sacred. Before the games begin they summon the oldest and most respected men, who come from all over Kazakhstan as well as from other Central Asian republics and Russia. They read prayers and bless the riders so the games will proceed without serious injury or conflict between the players. Sometimes there are traumatic injuries or even the death of a player; knowing that risk the players go into the games, honoring the traditions of their ancestors.

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