Introduction / History
The Uzbeks are a mixture of Turkic tribes that have many Mongolian and Iranian traits. The term Uzbek, meaning "master of himself," accurately describes the people. Their love of freedom and sense of restlessness have often caused conflicts with the conquerors who have invaded their homeland, the west central Asian region known as Turkestan, throughout the centuries.
Conflicts in Turkestan began with the invasion of Alexander the Great in the fourth century before Christ, followed by the Arabs and Turks in the seventh and eighth centuries, and the Mongols, under Genghis Khan, in the thirteenth century. Tamerlane's conquest in the 1300s brought the last, and perhaps finest, period of culture and learning to the Uzbeks.
Turkestan entered a long period of decline in the 1500s. By the time the Russians invaded the area between 1860 and the mid-1880s, Turkestan had broken into several warring principalities. It was then that many Uzbeks dispersed throughout Central Asia.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Uzbeks live in the rural Osh region of Kyrgyzistan, which is the eastern part of the Ferghana Valley. Traditionally, they were farmers and nomadic shepherds. Shepherds generally live close to their flocks of sheep and herds of horses, cattle, camels, and goats. City dwellers are mostly merchants and craftsmen. Many are skillful bazaar artisans (silver and goldsmiths, leather workers, woodcarvers, and rug makers). Women do much of the household work and handle many of the less skilled and manual jobs. They are often segregated from the men.
Uzbeks live in several distinctive types of houses. The usual house is built of mud bricks and often has a domed roof. Another type is an oblong, rectangular hut with rooms leading off a long, covered porch and located inside a walled compound. The central Asian yurt (circular, portable tent) is also common. This is used mostly by groups who migrate seasonally with their herds. Uzbeks live in extended families, with the father being the all-powerful head. Each village is ruled by an elder. Several villages comprise an elat, which is governed by a council of male elders. Marriages between members of allied tribes are still preferred.
Most Uzbeks, especially those in urban areas, have adopted European style clothing; some, however, still wear traditional dress. For recreation, they hunt with tazi (Afghan hounds) for desert gazelle, rabbits, and small animals.
During the time under Soviet rule, Uzbeks faced intense pressure to "become Russian." Despite the forced collective farming and anti-religious campaigns, large numbers of Uzbeks retain the many elements of the classic Central Asian culture.
Uzbeki is a vital language for all of the former soviet Central Asian republics. It is the language most understood and spoken by the greatest number of people. Uzbeki was transcribed into Arabic script in 1923, into Latin script in 1927, and replaced by Cyrillic in 1940.
What are their beliefs?
The majority of the Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims. There are also a few Shi'ite Muslims and various Sufi orders. The role of the numerous holy places of pilgrimage in Kyrgyzstan is less significant than in other regions in Central Asia where the tribal structures are still strong.
Pre-Islamic shamanism (belief that there is an unseen world of many gods, demons, and ancestral sprits) survives in an Islamic form. Today the shaman (priest or medicine man) is a practicing Muslim who combines shamanistic trances with reciting Islamic prayers, fasts, and other Islamic practices.
What are their needs?
Ministry among Muslims is a difficult task. Kyrgyzstan desperately needs prayer and additional workers.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Uzbek Muslims towards Christians.
Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies that are focusing on the Uzbek.
Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Uzbeks.
Ask the Lord to call additional people who are willing to share the Gospel in Kyrgyzstan.
Ask the Lord to raise up missionaries who can effectively minister the Gospel to Muslims and other Uzbeks.
Pray for God to raise up strong local churches among the Uzbeks.