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The Uzbeks (O‘zbek, pl. O‘zbeklar) are a Turkic people in Central Asia. They comprise the majority population of Uzbekistanmarker, and large populations can also be found in Afghanistanmarker, Tajikstanmarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker, Turkmenistanmarker, Kazakhstanmarker, Russiamarker and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Chinamarker. Smaller diaspora populations of Uzbeks from Central Asia are also found in Iranmarker, Turkeymarker, North America, and Western Europe.


The origin of the name Uzbek remains disputed. One view holds that it is eponymously named after Uzbeg Khan. Another states that the name means independent or the lord itself, from O'z (self) or one of the Oghuz Turks various known as Uz and Bek/Bey (a noble title of leadership).

Contemporary indigenous sources usually used the term Uzbek to refer to nomads and rural peasants.


Although Altaic infiltration into Central Asia had started early, as late as the 13th century AD when Turkic and Mongol armies finally conquered the entire region, the majority of Central Asia's peoples were Iranic peoples such as Sogdians, Bactrians and, more ancient, the SakaMassagetae tribes. It is generally believed that these ancient Indo-European-speaking peoples were linguistically assimilated by smaller but dominant Turkic-speaking groups while the sedentary population finally adopted the Persian language, the traditional lingua franca of the eastern Islamic lands. The language-shift from Middle Iranian to Turkic and New Persian was predominantly the result of an elite dominance process. This process was dramatically boosted during the Mongol conquest when millions were either killed or pushed further south to the Pamir region.

The modern Uzbek language is largely derived from the Chagatai language, an Eastern Turkic language which gained prominence in the Timurid Empire. The position of Chagatai (and later Uzbek) was further strengthened after the fall of the highly Persianized Timurids and the rise of the Shaybanid Uzbek Khaqanate that finally shaped the Turkic language and identity of modern Uzbeks, while the unique grammatical and phonetical features of the Uzbek language as well as the modern Uzbek culture reflect the more ancient Iranic roots of the Uzbek people.

Genetic origins

Uzbek students with the Uzbekistan flag
The modern Uzbek population represents varying degrees of diversity derived from the high traffic invasion routes through Central Asia. Once populated by Iranian tribes and other Indo-European people, Central Asia experienced numerous invasions emanating out of Mongoliamarker that would drastically impact the region. According to recent Genetic genealogy testing from a University of Chicago study, the Uzbeks cluster somewhere between the Mongols and the Iranian peoples.
From the 3d century B.C., Central Asia experienced nomadic expansions of Altaic-speaking oriental-looking people, and their incursions continued for hundreds of years, beginning with the Hsiung-Nu (who may be ancestors of the Huns), in ~300 B.C., and followed by the Turks, in the 1st millennium A.D., and the Mongol expansions of the 13th century.
High levels of haplogroup 10 and its derivative, haplogroup 36, are found in most of the Altaic-speaking populations and are a good indicator of the genetic impact of these nomadic groups.
The expanding waves of Altaic-speaking nomads involved not only eastern Central Asia—where their genetic contribution is strong, as is shown in figure 7d—but also regions farther west, like Iran, Iraq, Anatolia, and the Caucasus, as well as Europe, which was reached by both the Huns and the Mongols.
In these western regions, even though the power of these invaders was sometimes strong enough to impose a language replacement, as in Turkey and Azerbaijan (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994).
The difference could be due to the population density of the different geographical areas.
Eastern regions of Central Asia must have had a low population density at the time, so an external contribution could have had a great genetic impact.
In contrast, the western regions were more densely inhabited, and it is likely that the existing populations were more numerous than the conquering nomads, therefore leading to only a small genetic impact.
Thus, the admixture estimate from northeast Asia is high in the east, but is barely detectable west of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek population, according to this study, shows substantial Northeast Asian admixture. The Uzbeks display a much closer genetic relationship with their Turkic roots traits than with Iranic populations to the south and west. Another study out of Uzbekistan corroborates this genetic evidence as to the origins of the modern Uzbeks and other regional Turk peoples:

These migrations are reflected in the DNA, too, and it is clear that despite the majority of modern Central Asians speaking Turkic languages, they derive much of their genetic heritage from the conquering Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan.

The Turkic people as a whole share common languages and many common cultural traits, but do not have common origins. The Uzbeks are descended to a large degree from Turkic invaders whose invasions span literally millennia from the first millennium AD with the early migrations of the Göktürks to later invasions by the Uzbeks themselves during the early and mid period of the 2nd millennium. Throughout the centuries, these migrating Altaic peoples began to outnumber the native Iranian people of Central Asia and appear to have assimilated the vast majority through intermarriage, while mainly the Tajiks survived albeit with some Turk intermingling as well. Thus, in the case of Uzbekistan and most other Central Asian states, it was not only a process of language replacement, such as what took place in Turkey and Azerbaijan, but also a mass migration and population replacement that helped to shape the modern Turkic people of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states.


Ancient History

In ancient times, various Altaic-speaking tribes began to move to the area between the Amu Daryamarker (Oxus in Greek) and Syr Daryamarker (Jaxartes in Greek) rivers. Some of these early tribes included the Huns who eventually occupied this region around the 3rd century BC and continued their conquests further south and west.

13th-16th Century

Following Arab incursions into the region, Islam supplanted Buddhism and other religions in Central Asia, while local Iranian languages survived into the 2nd millennium . What drastically changed the demographics of Central Asia was the invasion of the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Numerous native populations were wiped out by the Mongols and a process of population replacement began in earnest. During this period numerous Turkic tribes began to migrate and ultimately replace many of the Iranian peoples who were largely killed, absorbed by larger Turco-Mongolian groups, and/or pushed further south and Central Asia came to be known as Turkestan. Much of modern Uzbekistan took shape during the reign of Tamerlane, a prominent Turkic conqueror who reigned over a vast empire from his capital at Samarkandmarker . Baraq Khan with his war-like Uzbegs forced Olug Moxammat, Kepek and Devlet-Berdi flee and enthroned himself as the Khan of Golden Horde in Sarai in 1422. After the murder of Borak, the Uzbegs, which is known as the Shaybanids sometimes, under Abu'l-Khayr Khan became the dominant power in the White Horde. Later, between the 15th and 16th centuries, various nomadic tribes arrived from the steppes including the Kipchaks, Naymans, Kanglis, Kungrats, Manġits and others and these tribes were led by Muhammad Shaybani who was the Khan of the Uzbeks. This period marked the beginnings of the modern Uzbek nationality and formation of an Uzbek state in what is today Uzbekistan , as these tribes were the first to use the name 'Uzbek' . This early Uzbek state challenged the Safavids and Mughals, for control over the land that is now modern Afghanistan.

19th and early 20th century

Uzbek children (2006)
Within a few generations of Shaybani Khan's death, the Uzbek state broke up into three major khanates based in Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand until the early 19th century. The Russian Empiremarker eventually infiltrated Central Asia and the Khanates were annexed to the empire during the mid to late 19th century. Until 1924, the bulk of the settled Turkic population of Russian Turkestan, who were of very heterogeneous descent, were known as Sarts by the colonial authorities, and only those groups speaking Kipchak dialects who had arrived in the region with Muhammad Shaybani Khan were called 'Uzbeks'. In 1924, when the new Uzbek SSR was created, the Soviets abolished the term 'Sart' and decreed that all settled Turkic speakers would henceforth be known as Uzbeks. As such, the current term 'Uzbek' includes many more peoples than the historical 'Uzbek' identity. Uzbekistan, under Russian and then later Soviet administration, became multi-ethnic as populations from throughout the former Soviet Union moved (or were exiled) to Central Asia.


The Uzbek language is an Altaic language and is part of Karluk group of Turkic languages. Modern Uzbek bears the closest resemblance to Uyghur, less to Turkmen and to Turkish. Modern Uzbek is written in wide variety of scripts including Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic. After the independence of Uzbekistan from the former Soviet Unionmarker, the government decided to replace the Cyrillic script with a modified Latin alphabet, specifically for Turkic languages.

Modern Uzbek has also absorbed a considerable vocabulary and - to a much lesser degree - certain grammatical elements from non-Turk languages, most of all from Persian as well as Arabic and Russian among others.



Uzbeks come from a predominantly Sunni Muslim background, usually of the Hanafi school, but variations exist between northern and southern Uzbeks. The majority of Uzbeks from the former USSRmarker came to practice religion with a more liberal interpretation due to the official Soviet policy of atheism, while Uzbeks in Afghanistan and other countries to the south have remained more conservative adherents of Islam. However, with Uzbek independence in 1991 came an Islamic revival amongst segments of the population. People living in the area of modern Uzbekistan were first converted to Islam as early as the 8th century AD, as Arab troops invaded the area, displacing the earlier faiths of Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. The Arab victory over the Chinese in 751, at the Battle of Talasmarker, ensured the future dominance of Islam in Central Asia.

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