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6: North and Central Asia

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    Re-framing North and Central Asia

    The region of North and Central Asia brings together the world’s largest country by area (the Russian Federation) with countries bordering the diverse regions of Southwest Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. This includes the countries in the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) and the “-stan” countries across the Caspian Sea from the Caucasus region. The “-stan” suffix comes from the Persian language roughly translated from “home to” or “place of”. These countries include Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (The remaining “-stan” country, Pakistan, is discussed in the South Asia region). So, Afghanistan is “the home of the Afghans”.

    It should be noted that Afghanistan is sometimes included in the South Asia region, which serves as a good reminder that the world regional boundaries are not fixed. Rather, countries can “fit” into different world regions based on what characteristics are used to define a world region, such as languages, histories, economics, or some other factor. Creating regions can often be a question of “lumpers and splitters;” who do you lump together and who do you split apart? Do you have fewer regions united by only a couple characteristics, or more regions that share a great deal in common?

    The pairing of present-day Russia with Central Asia makes sense considering the history of the Soviets in the region. The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR),  had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the provisional government that replaced the Tsar. The Soviet Union was a federation of Soviet Republics that were outwardly independent nations, but existed essentially as satellite states under the control of Russian power. The Soviet Union was dissolved by the end of 1991, resulting in 14 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) declaring their independence in the course of the years 1990–1991.

    Defining the region based on Soviet conquest can be problematic, however. World regional geographers understand that when we define a location by the people who conquered it, we are doing a disservice to the rich histories and cultures of the region prior to colonization or annexation. There’s one more consideration for this world region: Russia can refer to the Russian Federation (the country), or to the idea of a united territory in the history of the region.


    The World Geographies Atlas: Navigate each world region through maps

    For each of the world regions, our original atlas provides detailed maps to help you navigate the places discussed in this book. These maps are meant to be explored before and during the reading of this chapter. These maps are best enjoyed enlarged. Click on each map for an enlarged view, and zoom in to see the prominent biomes, physical features, and population centers of North and Central Asia. We recommend that you download these for reference as you read this chapter's content and hope that you enjoy this original compilation.

    Biome and physical features map of North and Central Asia
    Countries, capitals, and population sizes map of North and Central Asia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): [left] This physical map shows the geographic distribution of biomes in North and Central Asia and prominent physical features, like peaks, rivers, lakes, oceans, plateaus, mountains, and tectonic boundaries (CC BY-NC-SA; Wallace via Flickr). [right] This map depicts internationally recognized countries, capitals, major cities, and population distributions of North and Central Asia (CC BY-NC-SA; Sellers via Flickr).


    "Re-framing North and Central Asia" is adapted from The Soviet Socialist Republics by Lumen Learning (CC BY-SA), Unrest in the Soviet Union by Lumen Learning (CC BY-SA), and The World's Regions by Caitlin Finlayson (CC BY-NC-SA).


    6: North and Central Asia is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Waverly Ray.

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