Located in the heart of Central Asia between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, Uzbekistan has a long and interesting heritage. The leading cities of the famous Silk Road--Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva--are located in Uzbekistan, and many well-known conquerors passed through the land. Alexander the Great stopped near Samarkand on his way to India in 327 B.C. and married Roxanna, daughter of a
local chieftain. Conquered by Muslim Arabs in the eight century A.D., the indigenous Samanid dynasty established an empire in the 9th century. Genghis Khan and his Mongols overran its territory in 1220. In the 1300s, Timur, known in the west as Tamerlane, built an empire with its capital at Samarkand. Uzbekistan's most noted tourist sites date from the Timurid dynasty. Later, separate Muslim
city-states emerged with strong ties to Persia. In 1865, Russia occupied Tashkent and by the end of the 19th century, Russia had conquered all of Central Asia. In 1876, the Russians dissolved the Khanate of Kokand, while allowing the Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara to remain as direct protectorates. Russia placed the rest of Central Asia under colonial administration, and invested in the
development of Central Asia's infrastructure, promoting cotton growing and encouraging settlement by Russian colonists.
In 1924, following the establishment of Soviet power, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan was founded from the territories including the Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva and portions of the Fergana Valley that had constituted the Khanate of Kokand. During the Soviet era, Moscow used Uzbekistan for its tremendous cotton growing and natural resource potential. The extensive and inefficient
irrigation used to support the former has been the main cause of shrinkage of the Aral Sea to less than a third of its original volume, making this one of the world's worst environmental disasters. Uzbekistan declared independence on September 1, 1991. Islam Karimov, former First Secretary of the Communist Party, was elected President in December 1991 with 88% of the vote; however, the election
was not viewed as free or fair by foreign observers.
Under terms of a December 1995 referendum, Karimov's first term was extended. Another national referendum was held January 27, 2002 to yet again extend Karimov's term. The referendum passed and Karimov's term was extended by act of the parliament to December 2007. Most international observers refused to participate in the process and did not recognize the results, dismissing them as not
meeting basic standards. The 2002 referendum also included a plan to create a bicameral parliament. The building to house the new parliament is currently under construction. Elections for the new bicameral parliament are tentatively scheduled to take place in December 2004 and the new representatives would begin their terms in January 2005. Several political parties have been formed with
government approval but have yet to show interest in advocating alternatives to government policy. Similarly, although multiple media outlets (radio, TV, newspaper) have been established, these either remain under government control or rarely broach political topics. Independent political parties were allowed to organize, recruit members, and hold conventions and press conferences, but have been
denied registration under restrictive registration procedures. Terrorist bombings were carried out March 28-April 1, 2004 in Tashkent and Bukhara. It is not clear yet who committed the attacks. The government reaction to the attacks, thus far, has been restrained.
Uzbekistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991. However, it is opposed to reintegration and withdrew from the CIS collective security arrangement in 1999. Since that time, Uzbekistan has participated in the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan and in UN-organized groups to help resolve the Tajik and Afghan conflicts, both of which it sees as posing threats to its own
stability. Uzbekistan is an active supporter of U.S. efforts against worldwide terrorism and joined the coalitions that have dealt with both Afghanistan and Iraq.