Located in the heart of Central Asia between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, Uzbekistan has a long and interesting heritage. The leading cities of the famous Silk Road-- Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva--are located in Uzbekistan, and many famous conquerors passed through the land. Alexander the Great stopped near Samarkand on his way to India in 327 B.C. and married Roxanna, daughter of a local chieftain. Conquered by Muslim Arabs in the eigth century A.D., the indigenous Samanid dynasty established an empire in the 9th century. Its territory was overrun by Genghis Khan and his Mongols in 1220. In the 1300's, Timur, known in the west as Tamerlane, built an empire with its capital at Samarkand. Uzbekistan's most noted tourist sights date from the Timurid dynasty. Later, separate Muslim city-states emerged with strong ties to Persia.
Russian trade with this region grew during the 16th and 17th centuries and, in 1865, Russia occupied Tashkent. By the end of the 19th century, Russia has conquered all of Central Asia. During this time, hostilities between Russia and Great Britain were prevented by Afghanistan, which served as a buffer state between the two empires, and through an agreement that East Turkestan was to be under Chinese rule.
In 1876, the Russians dissolved the Khanate of Kokand, while allowing the Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara to remain as direct protectorates. Russia placed the rest of Central Asia under colonial administration, and invested in the development of Central Asia's infrastructure, promoting cotton growing, and encouraging settlement by Russian colonists.
In 1924, following the establishment of Soviet power, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan was founded from the territories of the Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva and portions of the Fergana Valley that had constituted the Khanate of Kokand.
During the Soviet era, Moscow used Uzbekistan for its tremendous cotton-growing and natural resource potential. The inefficient irrigation used to support the former has been the main cause of shrinkage of the Aral Sea to half its former volume, making this one of the world's most important environmental disasters.
Uzbekistan declared independence on September 1, 1991. Islam Karimov, former First Secretary of the Communist Party, was elected President in December 1991 with 88% of the vote; however, the election was not viewed as free or fair by foreign observers. Most government leaders are former Soviet or Communist officials; the dominant political party, the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, is the former Communist Party.