Uzbekistan

Today Uzbekistan with its numerous ancient monuments, rich nature, and the present-day rapid progress attracts the whole world's attention. For centuries the country was at the intersection of the Great Silk Road routes along which merchants, geographers, missionaries, and later tourists travelled. It is striking how the history, traditions and cultures of the nationalities populating the present-day Uzbekistan have been entangled with the history of Great Silk Road.Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, where cultural and spiritual values had been long since concentrated, outstanding scientific centres and schools were established, architecture, craftsmanship, and applied art were flourishing, played the role of main urban centres. Creative work and various scientific achievements of the local scientists, thinkers, and poets have proved to be a valuable contribution to the development of the world civilization. Abu Ali ibn Sino, al-Khorezmiy, Mirzo Ulugbek, Bakhouddin Nakshband, al-Bukhoriy, at-Termeziy, Abu Raikhon Beruniy, Alisher Navoiy - this is but a short list of names of prominent figures of Uzbekistan.

Samarkand
The monuments of Samarkand are majestic and wonderful. In this town one can feel the breath of history itself. It can be traced in the ancient ruins as well as in the medrassahs, mausoleums, and minarets, which have been decorating the city until now. In 1370 Amir Timur (Tamerlan) designated Samarkand as the capital of his great state that spread from Mongolia and Siberia to Syria and India. From his campaigns he brought many skilful architects and craftsmen whose works of art have outlasted the ages. The legendary Samarkand square of Registan has up to now been considered to be one of the main architectural sights of Central Asia.

Bukhara
Since old times Bukhara was the centre of a densely populated oasis. Archaeologists noted that the city was constantly growing, both in width and in height. Ruins of dwellings, public buildings, and defence structures dating back to different periods of the city's history were found in the earth stratum at the depth of 20 meters. There are more than 140 monuments of ancient architecture in Bukhara altogether. Minaret Kalyan, the striking symbol of the city, towers over it. Everyone who has seen "Great Minaret" built in 1127 will long keep in memory the impression of its greatness and original beauty.
Khiva
Khiva is the only town of the period of the Great Silk Road, which has remained fully undamaged till now. Time seems to go centuries back here. That is why the town has rightly gained fame of "the museum in the open". In Khiva with its narrow alleys where legends of old times seem to have been reflected in stone and wood, you can easily imagine the life of former generations which will not repeat itself but has left us old traditions, legends, and precepts.Most of architectural monuments of Ichan-Kala complex in Khiva date back to the late 18th - first half of the 19th centuries. But the excavations on its territory revealed much more ancient layers dating back to the 3rd and even earlier centuries B.C. Ichan-Kala is surrounded by a thick wall which is 2100 meters long and has several gates. The silhouette of the huge Islam-Khodzha minaret stands out over the town.
Tashkent
Tashkent, the capital of the present-day Uzbekistan, is one of the biggest cities of Central Asia and is called "Star of the Orient" and "Messenger of Peace". These names amazingly reflect the very essence of the city, which for more than 20 centuries has been symbolically illuminating with the light of peace and kindness the lives of both its inhabitants and the road for travellers.

 

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is one of the world's six independent Turkic states (along with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan is officially a democratic parliamentary republic. A revolution in April 2010 overthrew the former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and resulted in the adoption of a new constitution and the appointment of an interim government. Recent presidential elections were held in November 2011.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the six independent Turkic states. It is one of the active members of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. The national language, Kyrgyz, is also closely related to the other Turkic languages, with which it shares strong cultural and historical ties.

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It lies between latitudes 39° and44° N, and longitudes 69° and 81° E. It is farther from an ocean than any other country in the world although it does not contain the absolute farthest point from any ocean.

The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country (Kyrgyzstan is occasionally referred to as "the Switzerland of Central Asia", as a result), with the remainder made up of valleys and basins. Issyk-Kul Lake in the north-eastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. The highest peaks are in the Kakshaal-Too range, forming the Chinese border. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 m (24,406 ft), is the highest point and is considered by geologists (though not mountaineers) to be the northernmost peak over 7,000 m (22,966 ft) in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also used for hydro-electricity.

Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold and rare earth metals. Due to the country's predominantly mountainous terrain, less than 8% of the land is cultivated, and this is concentrated in the northern lowlands and the fringes of the Fergana Valley.

Bishkek in the north is the capital and largest city, with approximately 900,000 inhabitants (as of 2005). The second city is the ancient town of Osh, located in the Fergana Valley near the border with Uzbekistan. The principal river is the Kara Darya, which flows west through the Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan. Across the border in Uzbekistan it meets another major Kyrgyz river, the Naryn.

The confluence forms the Syr Darya, which originally flowed into the Aral Sea. As of 2010, it no longer reaches the sea, as its water is withdrawn upstream to irrigate cotton fields in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan. The Chu River also briefly flows through Kyrgyzstan before entering Kazakhstan.

Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions. A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims, with 86.3% of Kyrgyzstan's population adhering to Islam. During Soviet times, state atheism was encouraged. Today, however, Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, although Islam has exerted a growing influence in politics. For instance, there has been an attempt to arrange for officials to travel on hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) under a tax-free arrangement. Kyrgyzstan is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation and adheres to the Hanafi school of thought.

While Islam in Kyrgyzstan is more of a cultural background than a devout daily practice for many, public figures have expressed support for restoring religious values. For example, human rights ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir-Ulu noted, "In this era of independence, it is not surprising that there has been a return to spiritual roots not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in other post-communist republics. It would be immoral to develop a market-based society without an ethical dimension."

Additionally, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of Askar Akayev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan, stated during a July 2007 interview that Islam is increasingly taking root across the nation. She emphasized that many mosques have recently been built, and that the Kyrgyz are increasingly devoting themselves to Islam, which she noted was "not a bad thing in itself. It keeps our society more moral, cleaner."[73] There is a contemporary Sufi order present which gives a somewhat different form of Islam than the orthodox Islam.

The other faiths practiced in Kyrgyzstan include Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox versions of Christianity, practiced primarily by Russians and Ukrainians respectively. A small minority of ethnic Germans are also Christian, mostly Lutheran and Anabaptist as well as a Roman Catholic community of approximately 600.

A few Animistic traditions survive, as do influences from Buddhism such as the tying of prayer flags onto sacred trees, though some view this practice rooted within Sufi Islam. There are also a small number of Bukharian Jews living in Kyrgyzstan, but during the collapse of the Soviet Union most fled to other countries, mainly the United States and Israel.

On 6 November 2008, the Kyrgyzstan parliament unanimously passed a law increasing the minimum number of adherents for recognizing a religion from 10 to 200. It also outlawed "aggressive action aimed at proselytism", and banned religious activity in schools and all activity by unregistered organizations. It was signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on 12 January 2009.

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