As the center of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan has a long history of diversity. Not surprising given that traders mingled here for hundreds of years bringing goods from Southeast Asia, China, the Persian Empire, Europe and the Middle East through the region. With their goods of course came people, wives, children, servants and slaves. Then there were the conquerors who ravaged the land looking to cash in on the wealth and—before getting too far into the region’s history—you have probably the most unique melting pot of races, ethnicities and cultures in the ancient world. Uzbekistan was probably the world’s first global society.
Some of that diversity remains today. Populations of Koreans, Chinese, Russians, Persians, Turks, Nomads, Christians, Muslims and Jews live together and although the trading has moved away from silks and spices, the society functions much in the same way. A relatively sizable Jewish population still exists in Bukhara, although more and more move to Israel every year. Sephardic, the population maintains its religious piety, synagogues and community centers still exist. Tashkent even has a few Korean barbecue restaurants and a sizable Western expat population. Mixing the pot a little more, Tashkent’s lingua franca is Russian while in Western Uzbekistan the people mostly speak Karakalpak, a Turkic language.
A look at the people tells the land’s history. The Uzbek people are a complete racial mix, and its unlikely that you can pick out a predominate feature. Their features are mixed: a handful of faces topped with blond hair, seem to shout “Alexander the Great was here,” while most others, with straight black hair and distinctly Asian features are definitely relatives of the nomadic peoples that populated this area. Some look like they belong in India or Pakistan while others just defy profiling. Traditional clothing ranges from highly patterned Asian silks to sparkling velours and square hats that remind us of Turkey and other Islamic states.
Their way of life may be different than our own, but their faces tell the history of the world.