Meaning of CENTRAL ASIA in English

region of Asia, located in the centre of the Eurasian landmass and extending from the Caspian Sea in the west to the border of western China in the east. To the north lies Russia, and to the south are Iran, Afghanistan, and China. Central Asia consists of the republics of Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These states, all former republics of the Soviet Union, became independent in 1991. Central Asia occupies an area of 1,542,200 square miles (3,994,400 square kilometres), or almost half the area of the United States. The Central Asian countries range in size from Kazakstan, with an area of 1,049,200 square miles, to Tajikistan, at 55,300 square miles. Mountain ranges ringing the southern and southeastern border act as a barrier blocking moisture flowing north across India and Pakistan from the Indian Ocean. The rain-shadow effect contributes to the dry desert conditions characteristic of Central Asia. About three-fifths of the region's territory consists of desert land. The arid and semiarid climate contributes to a highly uneven population-distribution pattern, as water is a scarce and unevenly distributed resource. Most of the people of the region are concentrated along the banks of the major river systems and their tributaries or in the foothills of the mountains to the south and southeast. Thus, Uzbekistan has the largest population, followed by Kazakstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. The cultural geography of the Central Asian region is one of similarity in language and religion but of considerable diversity in ethnic background. The Aral Sea basin in the southern half of Central Asia has experienced countless nomadic invasions by a variety of different peoples. The most notable of these were by the Arabs in the 8th and 9th centuries and by the Mongols in the 13th century. The sparsely populated northern steppes stretching from central Russia in the west to Mongolia in the east also were subjected to centuries of nomadic conquests, which characteristically left little in the way of permanent settlements. After many centuries of intermarriage, the different ethnic groups in Central Asia cannot be readily distinguished from one another. Indeed, before the final conquest of the region by tsarist Russia in the latter half of the 19th century, the Central Asian cultures were virtually indistinguishable. It has been only since 1936 that the Central Asians have identified themselves with politically defined areas and have been recognized by others as ethnically and culturally distinct. All the languages spoken in Central Asia, with the exception of Tajik, are members of the Turkic subfamily of the Altaic language family. Tajik is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The principal unifying cultural trait of the peoples of the region is religion. As a result of Arab conquests of the sedentary peoples living along the river systems, especially in the southern half of Central Asian territory, most Central Asians identify with Islam, although the strength of their religious commitment may vary. Despite any differences in ethnic origin or language, this sense of shared religion produces a strong sense of unity among most Central Asians. central region of Asia, extending from the Caspian Sea in the west to the border of western China in the east. It is bounded on the north by Russia and on the south by Iran, Afghanistan, and China. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Area 1,542,000 square miles (3,994,000 square km). Pop. (1993 est.) 53,612,000. Physical and human geography. Central Asia's landscape can be divided into the vast grassy steppes of Kazakstan in the north and the Aral Sea drainage basin in the south. About 60 percent of the region consists of desert land, the principal deserts being the Karakum, occupying most of Turkmenistan, and the Kyzylkum, covering much of western Uzbekistan. Most of the desert areas are unsuitable for agricultural use except along the margins of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river systems, which wind their way northwestward through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and eastern Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan after rising in mountain ranges to the south and east. These two major rivers drain into the Aral Sea and provide most of the region's water resources, though northern Kazakstan is drained by rivers flowing north into Russia. On the east and south Central Asia is bounded by the western Altai and other high mountain ranges extending into Iran, Afghanistan, and western China. Central Asia experiences very dry climatic conditions, and inadequate precipitation has led to heavy dependence on the Syr Darya and Amu Darya for irrigation. The region as a whole experiences hot summers and cool winters, with much sunshine and very little precipitation. The scarcity of water has led to a very uneven population distribution, with most people living along the fertile banks of the rivers or in fertile mountain foothills in the southeast; comparatively few live in the vast arid expanses of central and western Kazakstan and western Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The five largest ethnic groups in Central Asia are, in descending order of size, the Uzbek, Kazak, Tajik, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz. All these groups speak languages related to Turkish except for the Tajik, who speak a language related to Persian. Islam is the dominant religion, with most adherents belonging to the Sunnite branch. As a result of the region's historical incorporation into Russia and then the Soviet Union, large numbers of Russians and Ukrainians give it a distinctive multiethnic character. Population growth in Central Asia has been quite rapid in the 20th century owing to high birth rates and Soviet health measures that brought down mortality rates. The region experienced environmental problems in the late 20th century owing to the effects of rapid agricultural development, overdependence on irrigation, and the effects of Soviet nuclear-weapons testing in some areas. Central Asia's economic activity is centred on irrigated agriculture in the south and on heavy and light industry and mining in Kazakstan. Under Soviet rule the area supplied most of the U.S.S.R.'s cotton and was a major supplier of coal and other minerals for industrial use. Irrigated cotton-growing is dominant in the east and southeast, while there is some dry farming of wheat in the far northern provinces of Kazakstan, where the Soviets' Virgin and Idle Lands program of the 1950s brought much steppe under the plow for the first time. Additional reading Broad geographic overviews are found in Paul E. Lydolph, Geography of the U.S.S.R., 5th ed. (1990), a regional approach, and Geography of the USSR: Topical Analysis (1979). On the region itself, useful works include Robert A. Lewis (ed.), Geographic Perspectives on Soviet Central Asia (1992); William Fierman (ed.), Soviet Central Asia: The Failed Transformation (1991); Geoffrey Wheeler, The Peoples of Soviet Central Asia (1966); Jo-Ann Gross (ed.), Muslims in Central Asia (1992); Leslie Dienes, Soviet Asia: Economic Development and National Policy Choices (1987); Boris Z. Rumer, Soviet Central Asia (1989), on the economy; Shirin Akiner (ed.), Political and Economic Trends in Central Asia (1994); Richard Pomfret, The Economies of Central Asia (1995); Andreas Kappeler et al. (eds.), Muslim Communities Reemerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics, and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (1994); Dilip Hiro, Between Marx and Muhammad: The Changing Face of Central Asia (1994); Beatrice F. Manz (ed.), Central Asia in Historical Perspective (1994), discussing ethnic relations; Michael Mandelbaum (ed.), Central Asia and the World (1994), focusing on political issues; Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, Russia and the New States of Eurasia: The Politics of Upheaval (1994); Boris Rumer (ed.), Central Asia in Transition: Dilemmas of Political and Economic Development (1996); Ahmed Rashid, The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism (1994); Mehrdad Haghayeghi, Islam and Politics in Central Asia (1995); Graham E. Fuller, Central Asia: The New Geopolitics (1992); Andr Gunder Frank, The Centrality of Central Asia (1992); Hafeez Malik (ed.), Central Asia: Its Strategic Importance and Future Prospects (1994), on foreign relations; Peter Ferdinand (ed.), The New States of Central Asia and Their Neighbours (also published as The New Central Asia and Its Neighbours, 1994); Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner (eds.), The New Geopolitics of Central Asia and Its Borderlands (1994); Martha Brill Olcott, Central Asia's New States: Independence, Foreign Policy, and Regional Security (1996); Olaf Caroe, Soviet Empire: The Turks of Central Asia and Stalinism, 2nd ed. (1967); and special issues of Canadian Slavonic Papers, vol. 17, no. 23 (1975). Further studies of the peoples can be found in the bibliography to the article Central Asian people. Edward Allworth David Roger Smith Gavin R.G. Hambly Denis Sinor

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