With 28.1 million people, Uzbekistan is the most populous of the Central Asian republics. At 447,400 square kilometres (half the size of New South Wales), however, it is smaller in area than both neighbouring Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It also shares borders with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Along with Liechtenstein it is one of the world's only two doubly landlocked countries (that is, all of its neighbours are also landlocked). The landscape ranges from sandy desert with dunes to intensely irrigated river valleys along the course of the Amu (Oxus), Syr and Zarafshon Rivers. High mountains surround the fertile Fergana Valley in the east. Tashkent is the capital and largest city, with a population of 2.2 million.
A large majority (80%) of Uzbekistan's population identify as ethnic Uzbeks. There are minority populations of Russians (5.5%), Tajiks (5%), Kazakhs (3%) and others. Sunni Islam is the country's major religion, with about 88% of the population nominally adhering. Russian Orthodoxy is the largest of the minority religions (9%). Bukhara was historically an important Jewish centre, but Jewish presence in the country is now slight. The state itself is avowedly secular.
Uzbek, a Turkic language, is the country's sole official language and the first language of about three quarters of the population. Russian is designated as a language of inter-ethnic communication and is important for everyday technical, scientific, government and business use. It is the first language of about 14% of the population. Tajik, a variant of Persian, is spoken in Bukhara and Samarkand.
Uzbekistan declared independence from the Soviet Union on 31 August 1991. It is a member of the United Nations (UN), Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It maintains the largest armed forces of all the Central Asian republics.
Uzbek tribes conquered much of the area of modern Uzbekistan during the sixteenth century, and the country has played host to a long history of ancient and medieval civilisations. Alexander the Great entered Sogdiana and Bactria in 327 BC, and Tamurlane (Timur) ruled a vast empire from Samarkand in the late fourteenth century. As a result, Uzbekistan enjoys a rich cultural heritage that is particularly evident in its Timurid-eraarchitecture.
Modern Uzbekistan's population is very young: the median age is 25 years and over a quarter of the population is under 14.
Uzbekistan is a presidential republic and power rests almost entirely with President Islam Karimov. Karimov has been president of Uzbekistan since independence from the Soviet Union, having formerly been president of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. According to a 2002 amendment to Uzbekistan's constitution, the president is popularly elected for a seven-year term. The most recent presidential elections were held in 2007. President Karimov received 88.1% of votes cast. The president appoints a cabinet of ministers, including a prime minister who is formally head of government. Since January 2008, the prime minister has been Rustam Azimov.
Uzbekistan's constitution provides for a bicameral parliament called the Supreme Assembly or Oliy Majlis. The upper house or Senate has 100 members, 84 of which are elected by regional governing councils and 16 appointed by the President. The lower house or Legislative Chamber has 135 members elected by popular vote, and 15 further seats are reserved for the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan. All parties represented in the Supreme Assembly support President Karimov. There are no significant opposition parties or pressure groups operating in Uzbekistan. Elections were last held in 2010.
Uzbekistan's Government has been described by the US Department of State as having' imited civil rights'. In 2011, Transparency International ranked Uzbekistan 177th out 182 countries on its index of perceptions of corruption.
After a period of decline following independence, Uzbekistan's economy began to recover in 1995. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), between 1998 and 2003 Uzbekistan's GDP grew an average 4 per cent a year, reaching 7 to 9 per cent until 2008. Growth slowed with the Global Financial Crisis, but the IMF forecasts 6 to 7 per cent growth for coming years. In 2009, GDP per capita was US$1,190—significantly less than neighbouring Kazakhstan (US$9,008). About one quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.
Uzbekistan's economy is highly dependent on world commodity prices. Exports include natural gas, petroleum, gold and cotton. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Uzbekistan is the world's fifth-largest cotton producer. Uzbekistan's major export markets are China (21.8%), Russia (18.1%), Turkey (14.5%), Kazakhstan (8.5%) and Bangladesh (8.5%). Its major import sources are Russia (25.4%), the Republic of Korea (17.3%), China (13.9%), Germany (8.3%) and Kazakhstan (5.3%).
Agriculture accounts for about 22% of Uzbekistan's GDP and a similar proportion of the labour force. Major crops are wheat, cotton, sugar, vegetables, potatoes, rice, maize and grapes. Some international companies have boycotted the use of cotton from Uzbekistan owing to allegations of unpaid child labour being used in the fields.
Australia's Relationship with Uzbekistan
Australia and Uzbekistan enjoy a modest but cordial relationship, with potential for growth. In 2011, two-way trade was less than $1 million. In September 2011, Austmine, the Australian industry body for mining equipment, technology and services, led a delegation to Uzbekistan to promote Australia-Uzbekistan cooperation in the mining sectors.
Australia has also provided aid and development funding for Uzbekistan-based projects through the OSCE. These have aimed to strengthen the ability of Uzbekistan's public officials to combat money-laundering and terrorist operationsin the country.
The Australian Ambassador in Moscow is also accredited to Uzbekistan, and pays regular visits to the country. Uzbekistan's ambassador to Australia is accredited from Uzbekistan's Embassy in Singapore.
The Uzbek community in Australia is small. In 2010, 102 Uzbeks were enrolled for study in Australian educational institutions.