1. Kazakhstan (2,724,900 km2)
Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country largely located in Central Asia with the most western parts of it being located in Eastern Europe. It is the world's largest landlocked country, and the ninth-largest country in the world, with an area of 2,724,900 square kilometres (1,052,100 sq mi). Kazakhstan is the most dominant nation of Central Asia economically, generating 60% of the region's GDP, primarily through its oil and gas industry. It also has vast mineral resources.
Kazakhstan is officially a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with a diverse cultural heritage. Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and also adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea. It does not border Mongolia, although they are only 37 kilometers apart. The terrain of Kazakhstan includes flatlands, steppe, taiga, rock canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. Kazakhstan has an estimated 18.8 million people as of 2020. Its population density is among the lowest, at less than 6 people per square kilometre (15 people per sq mi). Since 1997, the capital is Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana. It was moved from Almaty, the country's largest city.
The territory of Kazakhstan has historically been inhabited by nomadic groups and empires. In antiquity, the nomadic Scythians inhabited the land and the Persian Achaemenid Empire expanded towards the southern territory of the modern country. Turkic nomads, who trace their ancestry to many Turkic states such as the First and Second Turkic Khaganates, have inhabited the country throughout its history.
In the 13th century, the territory was subjugated by the Mongolian Empire under Genghis Khan. By the 16th century, the Kazakh emerged as a distinct group, divided into three jüz (ancestor branches occupying specific territories). The Russians began advancing into the Kazakh steppe in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century, they nominally ruled all of Kazakhstan as part of the Russian Empire. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, and subsequent civil war, the territory of Kazakhstan was reorganised several times. In 1936, it was made the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Soviet Union.
Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence during the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first president of Kazakhstan, was characterised as an authoritarian, and his government was accused of numerous human rights violations, including suppression of dissent and censorship of the media. Nazarbayev resigned in March 2019 but was made the Kazakh Security Council's chairman-for-life. He had the capital's name changed to his first name.
Senate chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev succeeded Nazarbayev as president. In the 21st century, Kazakhstan has worked to develop its economy, especially its dominant hydrocarbon industry. Human Rights Watch says that "Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion." Other human rights organisations regularly describe Kazakhstan's human rights situation as poor.
According to the 2009 census, Kazakhstan's 131 ethnicities include Kazakhs (65.5% of the population), Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, and Uyghurs. Per 2009 census, Islam is the religion of about 70% of the population, with Christianity practised by 26%. Kazakhstan officially allows freedom of religion, but religious leaders who oppose the government are suppressed.
The Kazakh language is the state language, and Russian has equal official status for all levels of administrative and institutional purposes. Kazakhstan is a member of the United Nations (UN), WTO, CIS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union, CSTO, OSCE, OIC, CCTS, and TURKSOY.
2. Turkmenistan (491,210 km2)
Turkmenistan, also known as Turkmenia, is a sovereign country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest and the Caspian Sea to the west. Ashgabat is the capital and largest city of the country. The population of the country is 6 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics. Turkmenistan is one of the most sparsely populated nations in Asia. Citizens of Turkmenistan are known as Turkmenistanis.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1925, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. From 1993 to 2017, citizens received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
The sovereign state of Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Turkmenbashi) until his death in 2006. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was elected president in 2007 (he had been vice-president and then acting president previously). According to Human Rights Watch, "Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries. The country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal." After the suspension of the death penalty, the use of capital punishment was formally abolished in the 2008 constitution.
3. Uzbekistan (448,978 km2)
Uzbekistan, officially the Republic of Uzbekistan (Uzbek: Oʻzbekiston Respublikasi), is a country in Central Asia. It is surrounded by five landlocked countries: Kazakhstan to the north; Kyrgyzstan to the northeast; Tajikistan to the southeast; Afghanistan to the south and Turkmenistan to the south-west. Along with Liechtenstein, it is one of two doubly landlocked countries.
As a sovereign state, Uzbekistan is a secular, unitary constitutional republic. It comprises 12 provinces (vilayats) and one autonomous republic, Karakalpakstan. The capital and largest city of Uzbekistan is Tashkent.
What is now Uzbekistan was in ancient times part of the Iranian-speaking region of Transoxiana and Turan. The first recorded settlers were Eastern Iranian nomads, known as Scythians, who founded kingdoms in Khwarazm (8th–6th centuries BC), Bactria (8th–6th centuries BCE), Sogdia (8th–6th centuries BCE), Fergana (3rd century BCE – 6th century CE), and Margiana (3rd century BCE – 6th century CE). The area was incorporated into the Iranian Achaemenid Empire and, after a period of Macedonian Greek rule, was ruled by the Iranian Parthian Empire and later by the Sasanian Empire, until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century. The Muslim conquest in the 7th century converted the majority of the population, including the local ruling classes, into adherents of Islam. During this period, cities such as Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara began to grow rich from the Silk Road, and witnessed the emergence of leading figures of the Islamic Golden Age, including Muhammad al-Bukhari, Al-Tirmidhi, Ismail Samani, al-Biruni, and Avicenna. The local Khwarazmian dynasty, and Central Asia as a whole, were decimated by the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. After the Mongol Conquests, the area became increasingly dominated by Turkic peoples. The city of Shahrisabz was the birthplace of the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who in the 14th century established the Timurid Empire and was proclaimed the Supreme Emir of Turan with his capital in Samarkand, which became a world centre of science under the rule of Ulugh Beg, giving birth to the Timurid Renaissance. The territories of the Timurid dynasty were conquered by Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century, moving the centre of power from Samarkand to Bukhara. The region was split into three states: Khanate of Khiva, Khanate of Kokand and Emirate of Bukhara. Conquests by Emperor Babur towards the East led the foundation of India's proto-industrialised Mughal Empire. It was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century, with Tashkent becoming the political center of Russian Turkestan. In 1924, after national delimitation, the constituent republic of the Soviet Union known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan on 31 August 1991.
Uzbekistan has a diverse cultural heritage due to its storied history and strategic location. Its constitutional official language is Uzbek, a Turkic language written in a modified Latin alphabet and spoken natively by approximately 85% of the population. Russian has widespread use as an inter-ethnic communication language and as a language of governance. Uzbeks constitute 81% of the population, followed by Russians (5.4%), Tajiks (4.0%), Kazakhs (3.0%) and others (6.5%). Muslims constitute 79% of the population while 5% of the population follow Russian Orthodox Christianity and 16% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. A majority of Uzbeks are non-denominational Muslims. Uzbekistan is a member of the CIS, OSCE, UN and the SCO. While officially a democratic republic, by 2008 non-governmental human rights organisations defined Uzbekistan as "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights".
Following the death of Islam Karimov in 2016, the second president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, started a new course, which was described as a A Quiet Revolution and Revolution from Above. He stated he intended to abolish cotton slavery, systematic use of child labour, and exit visas, and to introduce a tax reform and create four new free economic zones and he has amnestied some political prisoners. Relations with the neighbouring countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan drastically improved. However, the Amnesty International report on human rights in the country for 2017/2018 described continued repressive measures, including forced labour in cotton harvesting, and restrictions on the movement of 'freed' prisoners.
The Uzbek economy is in a gradual transition to the market economy, with foreign trade policy being based on import substitution. In September 2017, the country's currency became fully convertible at market rates. Uzbekistan is a major producer and exporter of cotton. With the gigantic power-generation facilities of the Soviet era and an ample supply of natural gas, Uzbekistan has become the largest electricity producer in Central Asia. Renewable energy constitutes more than 23% of the country's energy sector, with hydroelectricity and solar energy having 21.4% and 2% respectively. As of late 2018, the republic was given a BB- rating by both Standard and Poor (S&P) and Fitch. Strengths indicated by Brookings Institution include Uzbekistan having large liquid assets, high economic growth and low public debt. Among the constraints holding the republic back are low GDP per capita, something the government could influence by changing how it accounts for sectors of the economy not currently included.
4. Kyrgyzstan (199,951 km2)
Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic and also known as Kirghizia is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country with mountainous terrain. It is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and southwest, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan's recorded history spans over 2,000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Since independence, the sovereign state has officially been a unitary parliamentary republic, although it continues to endure ethnic conflicts, revolts, economic troubles, transitional governments and political conflict. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Turkic Council, the Türksoy community and the United Nations.
Ethnic Kyrgyz make up the majority of the country's 6.5 million people, followed by significant minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Kyrgyz is closely related to other Turkic languages, although Russian remains widely spoken and is an official language, a legacy of a century of Russification. Ninety percent of the population are Muslims, with the majority being Sunni. In addition to its Turkic origins, Kyrgyz culture bears elements of Persian, Mongolian and Russian influence.
5. Tajikistan (143,100 km2)
Tajikistan, officially the Republic of Tajikistan, is a mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia with an area of 143,100 km2 (55,300 sq mi) and an estimated population of 9,537,645 people. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. The traditional homelands of the Tajik people include present-day Tajikistan as well as parts of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
The territory that now constitutes Tajikistan was previously home to several ancient cultures, including the city of Sarazm of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age and was later home to kingdoms ruled by people of different faiths and cultures, including the Oxus Valley Civilisation, Andronovo Culture, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Vedic religion, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Islam. The area has been ruled by numerous empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid Empire, Sasanian Empire, Hephthalite Empire, Samanid Empire and the Mongol Empire. After being ruled by the Timurid dynasty and the Khanate of Bukhara, the Timurid Renaissance flourished. The region was later conquered by the Russian Empire and subsequently by the Soviet Union. Within the Soviet Union, the country's modern borders were drawn when it was part of Uzbekistan as an autonomous republic before becoming a full-fledged Soviet republic in 1929.
On 9 September 1991, Tajikistan became an independent sovereign nation when the Soviet Union disintegrated. A civil war was fought almost immediately after independence, lasting from 1992 to 1997. Since the end of the war, newly established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country's economy to grow. Like all other Central Asian neighbouring states, the country, led by President Emomali Rahmon since 1994, has been criticised by a number of non-governmental organizations for authoritarian leadership, corruption and widespread violations of human rights, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, an increasing lack of religious freedom and other civil liberties, and worsening political repression.
Tajikistan is a presidential republic consisting of four provinces. Most of Tajikistan's population belongs to the Tajik ethnic group, who speak Tajik (a dialect of Persian). Russian is used as the inter-ethnic language. While the state is constitutionally secular, Islam is practiced by 98% of the population. In the Gorno-Badakhshan oblast, despite its sparse population, there is large linguistic diversity where Rushani, Shughni, Ishkashimi, Wakhi and Tajik are some of the languages spoken. Mountains cover more than 90% of the country. It has a transition economy that is highly dependent on remittances, aluminium and cotton production. Tajikistan is a member of the United Nations, CIS, OSCE, OIC, ECO, SCO and CSTO as well as an NATO PfP partner.