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The emerging post-Soviet ‘stan’ countries

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran by renowned author Dilip Hiro is about Central Asia’s republics, most of which were vassal entities under dominance of the Soviet Union. In engrossing language and style, the author provides well-researched short histories of the five Central Asian states, (apart from Turkey and Iran), about early times, the period under Tsarist rule and the decades as part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The main focus however, is on how these states gained their independence from the crumbling the Soviet empire, triggered after its own economic collapse.

The author traces their subsequent emergence as nations, the efforts to finally assert their own ethnicity and national identities, and the initiatives to reconcile differences, both cultural and religious, between the various ethnic groups and tribes.

There are insights about the various heads of government and the many political figures with their own narrow allegiances, quite a few of them harkening back to old Soviet-style politicking, striking a balance in their dealings with the US and Russia, while at the same time keeping a wary eye on their nearest neighbour, China. There is Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan and his style of rule bordering on the megalomaniacal, who has anointed himself as Turkmenbashi (head of all Turkmen), and has even installed a tall gold statue of himself that rotates every hour! There is the factionalism behind the Tajikistan civil war, and the widespread corruption of Kazakhstan. The author also traces the emergence or re-emergence of Islam and the various Islamic movements in the region. This is where the chapters on Turkey and Iran gain significance. While Turkey has limited influence in the region, strongly Shiite Iran shares a common concern with these republics which happen to be largely secular in outlook, over the rise of the radical and violent Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The only probable oversight is the author did not bring in the most important player in the Central Asian theatre, Russia, which still makes furtive attempts to influence and disrupt lives and economies of the region in its quest for hegemony over the region.

Inside Central Asia
By Dilip Hiro
HarperCollins Publishers
Price Rs.599


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