Central Asian History
Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Asia and the Indian subcontinent all meet here in a unique intersection of geography and cultures. Dry, desert basins cover most of the southern part of the region, stretching from the Caspian Sea across Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and southern Afghanistan, whose eastern border soars suddenly into the Hindu Kush. This mountainous terrain dominates the countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before giving way to the northern steppe of Kazakhstan.
It was this vast steppe, stretching from Eastern Europe to mainland China, that served as the overland trade route between East and West along the famous Silk Road. Powerful nomadic tribes inhabited the steppe and swept west on horseback in periodic waves, conquering and dispersing populations in their wake. The Huns, Göktürks and Kublai Khan’s Mongols all dominated the region at various times. Turkic tribes such as the Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Turkmen migrated to the region from Central Asia, Mongolia and Siberia over the course of centuries, eventually adopting Islam after becoming subjects of the Muslim caliphates in the 7th century.
The southern nations, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, while also overwhelmingly Muslim, are much more closely related in language and ethnicity to neighboring Iran than the predominantly Turkic north. The Pashtun (or Afghan) people of Afghanistan are among the area’s most ancient inhabitants, although their origins are unclear. Their language, Pashto, traces its roots to a common ancestor of modern Persian. The Tajiks represent a sizable minority in Afghanistan in addition to their majority status in Tajikistan. They are historically and linguistically more closely related to modern Iranians, due to the expansion and influence of the Persian Empire. The Hazara of Afghanistan owe much of their identity to the Mongol invaders of the 13th century. Although most today speak Persian, a dwindling few still speak Mogholi, descended from Mongolian.