Geography is an important discipline owing to the fact that it provides us with maps that enable one to understand local and global events. In addition, maps do enhance our understanding of immediate surrounding by displaying significant land marks such as water bodies as well as illustrating national borders (Saunders 2010, p. 45).
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The above notion implies that maps enable us to form imaginary divisions of the world in our visual mind upon which we are able to understand the world beyond our borders. For instance, by studying the map of Central Asia shown below, one is able to see that Uzbekistan is a landlocked country sharing common border with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.
In addition, the map of Central Asia also aids in understanding the region’s physical features such as river-fed oasis, sweeping grasslands, deserts and high mountains (Hanks 2005, p. 85). Nonetheless, Lewis & Wigen (1997, p. 37) downplay this tendency of dividing regions solely on geographical borders because it undermines political, social, economic and cultural aspects that set out each nation from its neighbors.
Most meto-geographers tend to assume that nations that border each other are homogenous. However, they definitely miss the mark because Central Asia nations despite sharing Soviet Union. It is imperative to note that they adopted independent development paths after independence in an attempt to establish their national identities in terms of economic, political, social and cultural criterion (Hanks 2005, p. 85).
For instance, the reason why Iran and Pakistan are not part of Central Asia is because they do not have any shared or common history with the rest (Lewis & Wigen 1997, p. 37). Most importantly, to show their homogeneous history, the central Asian states names end with the ‘stan’ suffix which means ‘land of’.
For example, Uzbekistan means land of Uzbeks.This exemption concur with Lewis & Wigen (1997, p. 142) suggestion that regional grouping should be based on socio-spatial elements rather than geographical borders.
What is wrong with metageographical classification of Central Asian Region?
As the name suggests, Central Asia is located right in the middle of what is geographically mapped as Asian continent. The Turkic ancestry consisted of four major groups namely; Kazakhs, the Kirghiz, the Uzbeks and the Turkmen. Moreover, due to this historical background, Turkic language is still widely spoken in Soviet Central Asia although dialects vary from one state to another.
Apparently, the region exhibited a homogeneity status in terms of religious, cultural and linguistics before the issue of geopolitical borders came into existence and classified Russia, China and Afghan Turkestan as independent nations (Saunders 2010, p. 45). Before this advent, the Muslim religion played the most significant role in unifying these regions (Hanks 2005, p. 85).
However, although this geopolitics succeeded to set these regions apart, they were unable to uproot the tenets of Islamic religion among the larger population. This is because in as far the Central Asian region was under Soviet rule for a long time, the authorities saw no need to prohibit Islamic religion (Hanks 2005, p. 85).
As a matter of fact, they utilized Islamic concepts to their advantage and by so doing they accelerated its spread to the interior communities who were initially unaware of its tenets. Saunders (2010 p. 45) underscore that Soviet power lead to the gradual re-acquaintance of Islamic religion tenets because the Orthodox Russians did not see the need to deny the locals their native religion.
On the same note, Hanks (2005 p. 85) also regards classification of geographical region in terms of geographical blocks as an oversimplification that ignores diversification elements such as political, social, cultural and economical that lie within the borders of each region.
For instance, classifying Uzbekistan under the wider Central Asian block overlooks, the uniqueness of the nation which mostly arises from its distinct historical and political background (Lewis & Wigen 1997, p. 37). The fact that countries are found within the same geographical boundaries does not create homogeneity.
Saunders (2010, p. 45) further adds that although countries in Central Asia lie on the same geographical plane and by extension some of them share Soviet past, this should not be interpreted to mean that they are homogenous. The above notion can be clearly illustrated by analyzing unique factors that make Uzbekistan stand out from the rest Central Asian States.
Population size and composition
Uzbekistan it the most populous country in Central Asia. Census statistics in 2008 approximated its population at 26 million which translates to a third of the entire region population (Hanks 2005, p. 85). The composition of this population is also unique in that most of the people are below 25 years and over 61.6% reside in rural areas with only 38.4% living in urban areas (Hanks 2005, p. 85).
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Moreover, Uzbekistan population is the most literate in Central Asia and statistics in 1998 indicate that over 99.15% of her population have acquired at least mid level education (Saunders 2010, p. 45). Hanks (2005 p. 85) also underscores that ethnic diversity makes Uzbekistan stand out from her neighbors in Central Asia. It hosts over 130 ethnic communities, but Uzbeks represents over 75%.
In addition, Uzbekistan people have unique cuisine culture that sets the nation apart for its neighbors (Saunders 2010, p. 45). Historically, Uzbeks are farmers as compared to their neighbors who mainly practice nomadic culture.
Uzbekistan has extensively utilized diverse symbols that further promote its uniqueness in Central Asian region. Most of the symbols that glorify its rich past are displayed on their multicolored flag (Saunders 2010, p. 45). For instance, their flag adorn twelve stars that symbolize major divisions of the country. In addition, most of the state seals are adorned with cotton plant to portray their major source of wealth (Saunders 2010, p. 45).
Hanks, R. R., 2005. Central Asia: a global studies handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC- CLIO.
Lewis, M. W., & Wigen, K., 1997. The myth of continents: a critique of metageography. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Saunders, R. A., 2010. A Forgotten Core? Mapping the Globality of Central Asia. Global Studies Journal, 16, 44-56.