The arid land of this autonomous republic supports a nomadic lifestyle.
Recently, the drying up of the Aral Sea has devastated the environment, causing more than 30 percent of the area's population to leave, from villages in the early 1980s and then from cities.
The Ferghana Valley in the east is the heart of Islam in Uzbekistan.Here, where the country is squeezed between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the mountainous terrain supports a continuing nomadic lifestyle, and in recent years has provided a venue for fundamentalist guerrillas.Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan also border the country.Modern Uzbeks hail not only from the Turkic-Mongol nomads who first claimed the name, but also from other Turkic and Persian peoples living inside the country's borders.The Soviets, in an effort to divide the Turkic people into more easily governable subdivisions, labeled Turks, Tajiks, Sarts, Qipchaqs, Khojas, and others as Uzbek, doubling the size of the ethnicity to four million in 1924.
Today the government is strengthening the Uzbek group identity, to prevent the splintering seen in other multiethnic states.
Some people have assimilated with seemingly little concern.
Many Tajiks consider themselves Uzbek, though they retain the Tajik language; this may be because they have long shared an urban lifestyle, which was more of a bond than ethnic labels. Many Qipchaqs eschew intermarriage, live a nomadic lifestyle, and identify more closely with the Kyrgyz who live across the border from them.
The Khojas also avoid intermarriage, and despite speaking several languages, have retained a sense of unity.
The Karakalpaks, who live in the desert south of the Aral Sea, have a separate language and tradition more akin to Kazakh than Uzbek.
Under the Soviet Union, theirs was a separate republic, and it remains autonomous. Uzbekistan's 174,330 square miles (451,515 square kilometers), an area slightly larger than California, begin in the Karakum (Black Sand) and Kyzlkum (Red Sand) deserts of Karakalpakistan.