The Stans

(Sarosh Malik, Islamabad)

Central Asia is one of the most diverse regions in the world. After centuries of power struggles nomadic exploration cultural trade and independence today a majority of Central Asia is comprised of five countries Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan collectively known as the Stans. So how did the Stans come about and how powerful are they? Today while Central Asia has been considered the birth of international relations between the eastern and western worlds. Since the early 200s BCE the region was home to the infamous Silk Road a trade route connecting China, India, Europe and the Horn of Africa. Central Asia is also known to have been populated by nomads and later powerful war clans of nomads most notably the fearsome Mongols led by Genghis Khan. By the early 7th century lower Central Asia had been settled by the Persian Empire which today we know as Iran. This is where the modern-day name of Stans comes from. In Persian the word Stans means “land of” so Kazakhstan actually means the land of Kazakhs. An ethnic group which predates the independent country around the time of the Persian Empire. Islam took hold in Central Asia and the Middle East during a period known as a Golden Age of Islam. Over the next few centuries’ power bounced back and forth between competing ethnic groups and caliphates.Ultimately by the 19th century Central Asia ended up in the center of a massive rivalry between the Russian and British Empire's called the great game. Between 1813 and 1907 Russia slowly expanded its control south annexing major portions of Central Asia including the five Stans.But the British who controlled the Indian subcontinent to the south were vehemently against the potential threat posed by the ever growing Russian Empire.Eventually the two empires worked out their conflict and when Russia underwent a revolution in 1917 and became the Soviet Union it took much of Central Asia with it.With the collapse of the soviet union roughly seventy years later the region now established at the five stans gained independence so where are they today. Well their combined population is roughly 66 million. However nearly half live in Uzbekistan which is the only one to border all four other Stans. Each country has a majority population of the ethnic group the country is named after. Despite holding significant geo military importance as a neighbor of the greater Middle East including Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Central Asian stans are not very militarily powerful combined they only have about six hundred and seventy five thousand active troops of which 500,000 come from Kazakhstan alone. While military cooperation with the United States led to bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 by 2014 pressure from Russia and regional unrest convinced both countries to evict. The US presence the stands have a long and complicated history but their importance in the development of world history culture and modern geopolitics cannot be understated. Geographically Kazakhstan is the largest of the Stans but is relatively small in population.

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