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Uzbekistan

(1,322 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation A long-gone grand civilization of Muslim culture is evoked for most Westerners by naming Uzbekistan’s ¶ cities Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Even during the Soviet era, when Uzbekistan was often combined with several other “-stans” as central Asia, tourists were shown a tent (urta) commemorating the well where Job of the OT had lived. Much of the country’s terrain is desertlike; in recent decades the rapid drying up of the Aral Sea on its western border contributed to an economic crisis, already severe following the breakup of…

Ukraine

(3,128 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
In Christian history the Ukraine played a central role during the Slavicization of Eastern Christianity. It also played a key formative role as home of the largest and most active Greek, or Eastern Rite (Uniate), Catholic Church. Since Ukraine’s reemergence as a sovereign country in August 1991, there has been a struggle within Orthodoxy between those asserting an autocephalous patriarchate for Ukraine (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kievan Patriarchate [UOC-KP], led since 1995 by Patriarch Filar…

Kyrgyzstan

(2,362 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation The present independent state of Kyrgyzstan was established in 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist (Soviet Union). Thereafter the former Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic began a process of transformation into a secular Islamic state. Kyrgyzstan is located on the western end of the Tian Shan mountain range (which extends into northwestern China), and 85 percent of its land is higher than 1,500 m. (5,000 ft.) above sea level. Ethnic Kyrgyz (also Kirghiz, Khirgiz, or Qyrgyz) total close to 60 percent of the total population, and Russians, 22 …

Georgia

(2,095 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
Situated at the crossroads of empires on the plateau south of the Caucasian mountain range, eastern and western Georgia, as well as Armenia, has experienced a long and dramatic Christian history. Having managed to maintain, over against the Roman and Persian empires, a distinctive identity since the 5th century, Georgian culture after the 11th century was further shaped by the influence of Byzantium and the Arab caliphates. Then, as the united Georgian kingdom at its apogee in the 12th and 13th …

Belarus

(1,841 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General The Belarusians, who include the ancient Krivichi and Dregovichi of the central and western regions of Kievan Rus, have often been overlooked but yet have achieved remarkable influence. Usually part of some larger political state, though retaining their own language or four basic dialects, the Republic of Belarus finally came into being in 1991 and became a member ¶ of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Its capital, Minsk, also became the capital of the CIS. Geographically, Belarus has a largely flat terrain. Belarusian became the of…

Kazakhstan

(3,250 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation In the fifth century a.d. the territory now called Kazakhstan was part of Transoxiana, or the region north of the Oxus (modern Amu Dar’ya) River, an area north of the Himalayas along the middle of the famous Silk Road, which extended from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea to China. The population changed several times as Asiatic tribes migrated westward. The Kazakhs are now traced to nomads who were part of a Turkic khanate in the sixth century. In the modern era Russian and Soviet policy sought to make the nomadic Kazakhs sedentary by fostering…

Turkmenistan

(1,014 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation Turkmenistan, in west-central Asia, borders the Caspian Sea to the west. Its neighbors are Kazakhstan (northwest), Uzbekistan (north and northeast), Afghanistan (southeast), and Iran (south). The Kara-Kum (Garagum) Desert, covering 80 percent of the country, extends from the Caspian to the Amu Darʾya (ancient Oxus) River in the east. Dunes rise to the Kopet-Dag Mountains in the south; the eastern part of the country is plateau. Only 4.5 percent of the land is arable. Turkmenistan is an important supplier of natural ga…

Tajikistan

(844 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation The Republic of Tajikistan, in central Asia, has its longest border with Afghanistan to the south. It also borders China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and Uzbekistan to the west. The Pamirs and the Tian Shan Mountains dominate the country, with more than half its territory lying above 3,000 m. (10,000 ft.). Only 6 percent of its land is arable. Economically, it is the poorest member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Ethnically, about 65 percent of the population are Tajiks, speaking an eastern dialect of Persian. One-quarter of the p…

Moldova

(1,418 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General Situation In June 1990 a “bridge of flowers” was formed between Moldovia and Romania, as all 12 crossing points across the long-closed border were opened. The former renamed itself Moldova, declaring its sovereignty on August 27, 1991. When the USSR was dissolved at the end of 1991, Moldova became an independent state but remained part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which all but the Baltic republics of the former USSR eventually joined (Soviet Union). Politically and economically, Moldova has continued to hover between post-Communist R…