Reaching the Nations

Uzbekistan

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 447,400 square km.  Doubly landlocked in Central Asia, Uzbekistan borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.  The low elevation desert plains and sand of the Kyzyl Kum Desert occupy most the terrain, with some mountainous areas in the extreme northeast and southeast.  Continental climate occurs in most areas, characterized by hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters.   Massive irrigation schemes that began diverting water to grow cotton starting in the 1960s from the Amu Darya and other major rivers that empty into the Aral Sea has resulted in the almost entire demise of the sea by the late 2000s in what many refer to as one of the greatest environmental disasters caused by mankind.  Other environmental issues include blowing dust containing chemical pesticides and salts from the Aral Sea, water pollution, overuse of pesticides, increasing soil salinity, and nuclear and chemical contamination of the soil.  Uzbekistan is administratively divided into 12 provinces, one autonomous republic, and one city.

Population: 27,865,738 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.938% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.92 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 69.22 male, 75.44 female (2010)

Peoples

Uzbek: 80%

Russian: 5.5%

Tajik: 5%

Kazakh: 3%

Karakalpak: 2.5%

Tatar: 1.5%

other: 2.5%

Constituting the majority, Uzbeks principally reside in the most densely populated areas of the east, south, and some areas of the west bordering Turkmenistan.  Russians tend to live in the largest cities and in pockets of eastern Uzbekistan.  Tajiks are concentrated in the east near the Tajikistani border and in the historical Persian cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, whereas Kazaks are primarily found in the Tashkent area, border regions with Kazakhstan, and in central Uzbekistan.  Karakalpaks populate Karakalpakstan, located in west Uzbekistan south of the Aral Sea.  Tatars populate a small area west of Samarkand.

Languages: Uzbek (74.3%), Russian (14.2%), Tajik (4.4%), other (7.1%).  Uzbek is the official language.  Languages with over one million native speakers include Uzbek (20.7 million) and Russian (3.96 million).  

Literacy: 99.3% (2003)

History

Nomadic tribes have populated Uzbekistan for millennia.  Alexander the Great visited the region in 327 B.C. on his journey to India and married a local woman.  The Arabs invaded Uzbekistan in the eight century and introduced Islam.  Headquartered in present-day Uzbekistan, the Samanid Empire arose in the ninth century and ruled until the Mongol invasions in the early thirteenth century.  In the fourteenth century, Samarkand became the capital of an empire established by Timur which later divided into several city-states with political ties to Persia.  The Silk Road traveled through the region, bringing additional commerce and exposure to foreign influences.  The Russian Empire conquered Central Asia in the nineteenth century, placed the region under colonial administration, and encouraged Russian settlers to colonize the territory and cultivate cotton.  Uzbekistan became a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, with the historically Tajik regions of Bukhara and Samarkand being annexed to the Uzbek Republic.  Prior to independence in 1991, the Soviets took advantage of the abundant natural resources and cotton production potential.  Islam Karimov, former Secretary of the Communist Party in Uzbekistan, has been the president of Uzbekistan since independence in 1990.  The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has instigated a low-intensity insurgency since the late 1990s, resulting in several terrorist attacks in Tashkent.

A 2005 massacre at Andijan, a city in the Ferghana Valley near the Kyrgyz border, and allegations of government cover-up, continue to strain relations between Uzbekistan, Western governments, and human rights groups.  Allegations of human rights violations remain a concern, particularly with the lack of political opposition, the torture of prisoners, and the poor health conditions in prisons.[1]   The government maintains that non-democratic measures are necessary to maintain stability and check the tendency of Islamic extremism and drug trafficking from surrounding nations.  Uzbekistan has experienced relative stability in contrast to the violence and lawlessness in neighboring Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and has largely succeeded in eradicating the poppy cultivation.

In mid-2010, approximately 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks residing in Kyrgyzstan sought temporary refuge in Uzbekistan due to ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.  The Uzbek government exercised considerable restraint and was commended by the U.S. ambassador for its humanitarian efforts. 

Culture 

Uzbeks and other Turkic ethnic groups originally lived nomadic lifestyles on the steppes of Central Asia.  Islam traditionally shaped local culture and customs, but Russian and Soviet occupation have muted religious activity and participation.  A revival of faith has begun to gather momentum in recent years.  Cultural practices and attitudes often vary by ethnic group and location, with large cities exhibiting more ethnic diversity.  Breads, noodles, mutton, palov (a rice-meat-vegetable dish), Shurpa (a vegetable-meat soup), and green tea are common foods.  Several Uzbekistani athletes have competed in the Olympics and other worldwide sporting events.[2]  Alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are low.  Like many other Central Asian Muslim nations, polygamy is illegal.    

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,800 (2009) [6.% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.617

Corruption Index: 1.7

Uzbekistan posted steady economic growth in the late 2000s and possesses plentiful mineral resources and fossil fuels, namely natural gas, oil, gold, uranium, silver, copper, tungsten, molybdenum, led, and zinc. Uzbekistan benefits from a highly literate, educated populace despite limited economic development.  Tight government controls over the economy have limited economic growth, trade, and foreign investment which has reduced effects from the global financial crisis but has increased underemployment and decreased wages.  In recent years, trade opportunities have expanded with Russia, the United States, China, and South Korea.  26% of the population lives below the poverty line and many experience poor standards of living.  Services employ 36% of the labor force and generate 33% of the GDP.  Industry accounts for 20% of the labor force and generates 40% of the GDP whereas agriculture employs 44% of the labor force and generates 27% of the GDP.  Major industries include textiles, food processing, machinery, metallurgy, gold, natural gas, and chemicals.  Cotton, vegetables, fruit, grain, and livestock are agricultural products.  Primary trade partners include Russia, Ukraine, China, and South Korea. 

Transparency International ranked Uzbekistan as the seventh most corrupt nation worldwide in 2009.  Human trafficking of girls and women for commercial sexual exploitation in the region and men for forced labor in construction, cotton, and tobacco industries is a major problem.  Child labor is a serious concern, especially in cotton harvesting.  Uzbekistan is a transshipment point for illicit Afghan drugs to Europe and Russia.  The government has eradicated most of the opium poppy crops and has pledged to fight trafficking in recent years.  Corruption has worsened in the past decade, permeating all areas of society and weakening the education system.[3] 

Faiths

Muslim: 90%

Christian: 9%

other: 1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  5,000

Seventh Day Adventists  1,235  14  

Jehovah's Witnesses  less than 100  1

Latter-Day Saints  Less than 100  1

Religion

Sunni Muslims are estimated to account for 90% of the population, but many do not actively participate in their faith.  Russian Orthodox Christian constitute the majority of the remaining population.  Religious participation has increased in recent years among both religious groups, primarily among youth which account for the majority of active adherents.  Most indigenous Jews have emigrated to Israel or the United States, but today there are between 15,000 and 20,000 Ashkenazi and Bukharan Jews which principally reside in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand.  Three percent of the population follows other Christian denominations, atheism, Buddhism, the Baha'i faith, or Hare Krishna.[4]  Most non-Muslims and non-Orthodox Christians reside in the largest cities.  

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 22nd

The constitution protects religious freedom, but the government restricts this right.  The status of religious freedom continues to deteriorate.  The 1998 Religious Law permits only recognized religious groups to operate and regulates which religious groups may register with the government.  Registered religious groups may worship, establish schools, train clergy, and are granted freedom from persecution.  However, the government frequently interferes with religious activities of registered religious groups despite previous granting of approval.  Proselytism, importing or distributing religious literature, private religious instruction, the wearing of religious clothing in public places by non-clergy, and teaching religious subjects in public schools are illegal.  Religious groups must obtain a license to public or distribute religious material.  To register, religious groups must provide a list of 100 citizen members to the Ministry of Justice.  Training religious workers and clergy for registered religious groups is only permitted if a religious group has a registered central administrative body, which requires a presence in eight of the 13 administrative provinces.  The government differentiates between "illegal" and "prohibited" groups.  Participation in prohibited groups, many of which are extremist Islamic groups, is a criminal offense.  Many unregistered religious groups have been subject to harassment, raids, and imprisonment, especially those that allegedly proselyte.  The media frequently portrays some minority religious groups in a negative light.  Although the government provides little room for minority religious groups to operate, Uzbek society is generally tolerable of other religious groups.  Uzbeks which have recently converted to Christianity may experienced some social pressure, especially outside the larger cities.  Many non-traditional Christian groups are unable to register additional congregations, lose registration status for functioning congregations, or are unable to register at all.[5] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 37%

Tashkent, Namangan, Samarkand, Andižan, Nukus, Buchara, Karši, Kokand, Fergana, Margilan, Chirchiq, Urganch, Džizak, Angren, Termez, Navoi, Almalyk.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations

None of the 17 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  20% of the national population resides in the 17 largest cities. 

LDS History

The Europe East Area began administering Uzbekistan in 2000.[6]  A small group for LDS United States military personnel  began meeting in the 2000s.  In 2010, a Korean Uzbekistani LDS convert, became the first Uzbekistani to serve a full-time mission in the Korea Daejon Mission.   In late 2010, the Europe East Area directly administered Uzbekistan. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 100 (2009)

Latter-day Saint membership appears to entirely consist of American expatriates or military personnel.  There may be a couple of local Uzbek LDS converts who joined the Church abroad and returned to Uzbekistan.  

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 0 Groups: 1

There is one LDS group that meets the needs of United States military personnel.[7]  Uzbekistan has never been assigned to an LDS mission. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, Ukrainian, Armenian (East), Armenian (West)

All LDS scriptures and most materials are translated into Russian, Arabic, Korean, Ukrainian, and Armenian (East).  LDS materials translated in Uzbek are limited to the Articles of Faith.  The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, Book of Mormon selections, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are translated in the western dialect of Armenian, which is spoken outside of Armenia.  The only LDS scripture in Turkish is the Book of Mormon.  Many unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Turkish.  Kazakh LDS materials are limited to the Sacrament Prayers, a basic unit guidebook, the Articles of Faith, and hymns and children's songs.  Uzbek translations of LDS materials are limited to the Articles of Faith.  The Liahona magazine has 12 Russian, Korean, and Ukrainian issues, and four Armenian (East) issues a year.  

Meetinghouses

The group likely meets on a military base or in the privacy of a members' home.

Health and Safety

Many religious groups which do not comply with the law are heavily persecuted and have many of their members imprisoned in harsh conditions.  Health care infrastructure is moderate in large cities, but is underdeveloped in small towns and villages. Violent crime is infrequent.

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 2001, the LDS Church shipped winter clothing to Afghan refugees.[8]  No other LDS service projects have occurred in Uzbekistan as of late 2010. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Tight government control over religious freedom and the regulated operation of non-traditional religious groups severely limits any prospective Latter-day Saint presence among the indigenous population at present.  There is not realistic prospects of the LDS Church to gain recognition from the government at present due to few or no Latter-day Saint Uzbekistani citizens since religious groups must have at least 100 citizens to register.  If registered, the LDS Church would face significant challenges importing religious literature, conducting member-missionary work, and would likely be unable to place any foreign full-time missionaries even if their assignment was for humanitarian purposes.  Uzbekistani LDS converts baptized abroad returning to their homeland appear to be the only realistic means of establishing a Church presence among the native population in the face of religious freedom restrictions.  In view of the small number of Uzbek converts abroad (primarily in Russia), few of whom return to their homeland, there appear to be no realistic medium-term prospects for meeting the threshold of 100 citizen members required for registration, and it is not clear that registration would be granted even if this threshold were met.  LDS military personnel do not appear to face any major restrictions in their private worship.

Cultural Issues

Uzbeks are among the most tolerant of minority religious groups among ethnically Muslim Turkic peoples in the region.  Prospective LDS converts would likely face harassment and isolation from their local communities for a time for leaving their traditional religious groups, but these effects would likely not impact the long-term activity of LDS members.  Karakalpaks have maintained rigid observance of Islam despite past communist influence that has lessened religious activity and affiliation rates among most ethnic groups in Uzbekistan.  Karakalpaks appear to be the ethnic group which may  be most resistant to prospective Christian proselytism..  In recent years, mosque and church attendance have steadily increased due to an increase of religious interest among male youth.  Historically low religious activity rates among Muslims may favor future LDS missionary activity one day, but increasing activity rates among traditional religious groups may reduce receptivity as the population becomes more entrenched in traditional religious beliefs and practices that discourage involvement in non-traditional religions.  

National Outreach

The entire population is unreached by the LDS Church with the possible exception of the personal contacts of LDS military personnel and expatriates.  No LDS missions operate in Central Asia, which challenge efforts to extend outreach in Uzbekistan if government restrictions are relaxed one day.  In late 2010, the nearest LDS mission outreach center functioned nearly 700 kilometers away in Almaty, Kazakhstan and extended no additional outreach outside the Almaty area.  Latter-day Saints have not established an official presence due to Uzbekistan's isolation from LDS mission outreach centers, a Muslim-majority population, the tightening of restrictions of religious freedom since 1998, few LDS expatriates, and no noticeable breakthrough with Uzbekistanis joining the Church abroad in countries with LDS missions.  Tashkent will be central to future LDS mission outreach if pursued one day as it is the largest city and located close to the most densely populated areas of Uzbekistan.  Prospects for a greater LDS presence in the future will depend on greater numbers of Uzbeks joining the Church abroad, the development of a non-military LDS expatriate community, the translation of church materials and scripture into Uzbek, and improvement in religious freedom conditions for non-traditional religious groups.  The withdrawal of American military personnel prior to the development of a small group of self-sufficient local members may severely impair the Church establishing an official presence over the long term.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

There have been no LDS convert baptisms in Uzbekistan.  Member activity rates will most likely reflect those exhibited by LDS military members and in the home nations of foreign members or the nations in which local members joined the Church.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

There have been no major challenges integrating differing ethnic groups into society in recent years.  The potential for conflict appears highest between Russians and Turkic peoples due to religious, cultural, linguistic, and historical differences.  If LDS missionary activity commences one day, the Church will have to appropriately assimilate foreign and local members into the same congregation initially. 

Language Issues

As of late 2010, LDS materials in Uzbek consisted of just the Articles of Faith, which were likely translated in 2010.  Uzbek is a macro-language not only spoken in Uzbekistan but in many other Central Asian and southwestern Asian nations with 20.3 million speakers.  Prior to the translation of the Articles of Faith, Uzbek was the language with the ninth most speakers without LDS materials worldwide.  Widespread use of Russian in large cities by many may permit the use of Russian language LDS scriptures and materials initially if proselytism occurs one day. 

Missionary Service

Only one local member has served a full-time mission.  No missionary work had occurred in Uzbekistan as of 2010. 

Leadership

As most of current LDS membership is non-native US military, non-natives will likely constitute the local leadership for many years.

Temple

Uzbekistan is assigned to the Kyiv Ukraine Temple district.  

Comparative Growth

Uzbekistan is the most populous of the former Soviet Central Asian republics, yet Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian nation with an official LDS presence and full-time missionaries assigned.  Other former Soviet Republics have neither an official Church presence nor full-time missionaries assigned.  Only Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have a handful of local members whereas Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan appear to have no known native Latter-day Saints.  Azerbaijan, the only other Muslim-majority former Soviet Republic, has no LDS presence.  Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan each appear to have small groups of Latter-day Saints on United States government assignment.

Many missionary-oriented Christian denominations have gained small numbers of converts, especially among Uzbeks and Russians.  58 Korean Christian, 23 Baptist, 21 Pentecostal, and three Lutheran churches were registered in May 2008.[9]  In the late 2000s and in 2010, many of these groups reported low membership growth rates and few numbers of new converts.  Seventh Day Adventists have experienced membership and congregational decline over the 2000s.  The number of annual convert baptisms is less than half of the numbers prior to 2007.  Legal obstacles and government interference has significantly reduced the impact and reception of these religious groups by Uzbek society.  Many of these groups struggle to import, print, and distribute religious literature due to bans and tight government regulation of printed religious materials.

Future Prospects

Proselytism bans, government restrictions on religious freedom, a lack of native Latter-day Saints, no government recognition, distance from the nearest mission, and a lack of church materials in Uzbek and other Turkic languages found in the region are significant obstacles which prevent a Church establishment among the general population.  LDS missionary activity may occur one day if the government permits greater religious freedom for non-traditional religious groups, substantial numbers of Uzbekistanis join the Church abroad and return to their homeland, and a strong expatriate LDS community is permanently established in Tashkent.


[1]  "Background Note: Uzbekistan," Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, 19 August 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2924.htm

[2]  "Culture of Uzbekistan," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 24 November 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Uzbekistan

[3]  "Background Note: Uzbekistan," Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, 19 August 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2924.htm

[4]  "Uzbekistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127374.htm

[5]  "Uzbekistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127374.htm

[6]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38475/European-continent---realigned-into-three-new-areas.html

[7]  "Group Leader Locations," Military Relations, retrieved 24 November 2010.  http://lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,5463-1,00.html

[8]  "Winter clothing shipped to Afghan refugees," LDS Church News, 10 November 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40853/Winter-clothing-shipped-to-Afghan-refugees.html

[9]  "Uzbekistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127374.htm