Abu Nasr Parsa – Sufi spiritual leader and lecturer in Herat, Afghanistan during the 15th century.
Adobe- compacted earth used as building material, very common in Central Asia.
Ali b. Abi Talib – Cousin and son in-law of the prophet Muhammed; viewed by Sunni Muslims as the fourth Rashidun and considered by Shi’a Muslims as the first Imam.
Alisher Navoi – Historical figure who was claimed by the Uzbeks as their national poet.
Altishahr – Altishahr (meaning six-cities) was comprised of the Muslim Uyghur towns of Yarkand, Kashga, Khotan, Aksu, Uch-Turfan and Yangi Hisar. The Qing dynasty’s attempt to eradicate the Zunghars brought them into Alishahr, and full exercised political and military control over the region in 1759, creating Xinjinag.
Amir –meaning king, ruler or high ranking official, used in the Turkish and Arab world. Spelled emir in English, and used in the word Emirate, which means principality, Amir is more common and accurate in the Central Asian context.
Amu Darya – the largest river in Central Asia. Formerly called the Oxus, it forms the southern border of Transoxiana. The source of the Amu Darya is in the Pamir mountains in Afghanistan, and flows into the Aral sea.
Astrakhan – Historically a Tatar Khanate located on the Volga river near the Caspian sea, with the capital city of Astrakhan. The Khanate was absorbed into Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Currently, Astrakhan is an oblast within Russia which is home to 70,000 Tatars, with the capital of Astrakhan, about 8 miles from the historic city of Astrakhan.
Badakhshan – a remote and mountainous region located in present day northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan.
Baha al-Din Naqshband- Mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, built in the Shaybanid period, about 1544.
Baha al-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318 – 1389) – founder of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, who was born near Bukhara and active throughout his life in Transoxiana.
Balkh- A northern province of Afghanistan, but historically a major city that was almost entirely destroyed during the Mongol empire.
Batraks – meaning landless poor.
Biy – Nomadic judges in Kazakstan.
Bolshevik Revolution- or Russian Revolution, was led by Lenin and took place in a series of key events in February and October, 1917 and continued on into 1918, when the Bolsheviks seized control of power, executed the imperial family and withdrew Russia from the First World War. The provisional government was replaced with Soviets, councils of workers who wanted equal distribution of property and wealth. Civil war broke out between the Reds, made up of revolutionaries, and Whites, who were the remains of the aristocracy, liberals, and remnants of the monarchy. The revolution lasted until 1923, when the Red Army succeeded in defeating the White army and putting down the various uprisings and revolts. In Central Asia, the turmoil in Russia led to attempted uprisings throughout Turkestan.
Bukhara- The present-day capital of Uzbekistan, Bukhara was once a key locale for trade and travel along the Silk Road and a great center of religious and intellectual thought in the Muslim world.
Caliph – word meaning successor to the prophet Muhammad, the term now denotes the title of leader in an Islamic community.
Caravansary- warehouse for wholesale products.
Catherine II – Known as Catherine the Great, she ruled as empress of Russia from 1762 – 1796. Her rule included massive expansion of the empire to include a great number of Muslim subjects, and incorporated Muslim clergy into the administrative bureaucracy.
Central Asia - most often refers to the 5 Soviet-created republics (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan). “Central Asia” can also mean the Muslim-majority parts of the region regardless of political boundaries, including northeast Iran (the region called Khurasan), northern (non-Pashtun) Afghanistan and Xinjiang Province of western China. Central Asia can also be thought of as two very different but interacting human environments: the settled oases of Khwarezm, Bukhara, Herat, Samarkand, Kashghar and Urumchi, and the nomadic steppelands of the Desht-i Qipchak east into Mongolia.
Continental climate – generally dry and cold but subject to rapid changes in weather and short hot summers.
Charsu – meaning bazaar or market.
Chinggis Khan (1162-1227)– Called Genghis Khan in the west, his conquest of Central Asia and wholesale slaughter of the population has had long lasting social and political implications. In 1220, Bukhara, the largest city in Central Asia and the center Islamic culture, was almost totally destroyed by Chinggis Khan and the Mongol horde.
Chinggisid Period – period during the reign of Chiggisid Khan, who lived from 1162-1227. The Mongol Empire continued to expand after Chingis left his empire to his son Ogedei. Although the Mongol Empire began to fracture by 1264, it remained powerful and ruled vast parts of Eurasia and China until 1368, and the Mongol Empire is still the largest contiguous empire in history.
Compound house – Typical Central Asian style house consisting of a main courtyard to which all rooms and ground level windows face.
Communal Housing – Soviet ideology included the idea of redistribution of land and wealth, requiring massive population relocation plans. Farmers, peasants and nomads were forced to communal living arrangements, usually concrete apartment blocks, to which Central Asians were not accustomed. Apartment blocks brought running water, electricity and access to work and education, but also radically changed the way of life for millions of people.
Cossack – refers one of several ethnic groups living in Russian and the Ukraine since the 13th century. Cossacks are known for their relative social autonomy within the Russian empire in exchange for military service along the imperial borderlands. Both Cossaks and Kazaks adopted their names from the same Turkish root word ‘qazaq’, which means ‘free’. Both Cossaks and Kazaks held similar status of horseback warriors, but have very different ethno-linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The Cossaks primarily have European ethnic and cultural origins, and during the Soviet Union, chose to associate themselves with white European ethnic groups rather than Central Asian ethnic groups.
Dialect – a sub-language that shares characteristics with a parent language and may be mutually understandable with the parent language, but is recognized as being distinct in some way.
Diaspora – a group of people with a common ethnic identity who live far away from their ethnic or historic settled territory. Diaspora communities often do not assimilate into the host culture, but rather retain their ethnic identity through the reproduction of traditions, culture and language.
Dungan – Muslim people of Chinese origin who live throughout Central Asia.
Eastern Turkestan Republic (ETR) – one of many names for the short lived for the independent republic of Turkestan in Xinjiang. Also called Eastern Turkestan Islamic Republic, Republic of Uyghuristan and the Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan.
Emir – a ruler who does not have genealogical ties to Chingis Khan’s Golden Kin is called an emir rather than a khan.
Endogamous -preferring to marry within ones own tribe.
Exogamous - marrying only outside ones tribe.
Farsi – refers to the Persian language, dialects of which are spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Farsi has had an influence on neighboring Turkic languages of Central Asia, most notably the Uzbek language. It was the predominant language of culture, bureaucracy and trade in Bukhara and throughout large parts of Central Asia. Farsi speaking people were called Tajik before the Soviet national territorial delimitation.
Fayzabad – Major city located in the northeast of Afghanistan.
Ferghana Valley – Central Asian region is located in present day Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is characterized by fertile soil and relative isolation due to the surrounding mountain ranges. Major cities include Andijan, Namangan, Ferghana, Osh, Jalala-Abad (located in present day Kyrgyzstan), Kara-Suu and Kokand and Khojent (sometimes spelled Khujand).
Gulag – Labor camps used by the Soviet Union as a prison for political exiles and as enimies of the state, the Gulag system was also free labor used to build massive infrastructure projects.
Guomingdang - (GMD) also spelled Kuomintang (KMT) -Chinese Nationalists who founded and now are the ruling party in the People’s Republic of China.
Gur-i Amir – Mausoleum of Timor located in Samarqand.
Guzar – neighborhoods ancient Central Asian walled cities, each with a mosque and marketplace.
Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam. During much of Soviet times, pilgrimage to Mecca was forbidden.
Hawili or howli house – see compound house.
Herat – Province in Western Afghanistan near the border with Iran.
Hujum – Translates as ‘the assult’, this was the Communist party’s program to eradicate the use of the veil and liberate Muslim women in the early years of the Soviet Union. The program included campaigns against brideprice, bride abduction, child marriage, the seclusion of women from public life, and polygyny.
Inorodtsy – Subjects f the Russian empire but treated differently than Slavic subjects. For example, they were barred from military conscription and normal taxation rules. This status applied to Central Asians during imperial times.
Islam – religion that most Central Asians identify with. Islam arrived in Central Asia with the Arab conquest during the 8th century. Bukhara became the center of Islamic learning and thought for the entire world. Some of the most important figures in Islamic civilization originated from Central Asia. Sunni Muslims hold six compilations of hadith to be authoritative. Two of the six compilers, Abu Isma‘il al-Bukhari (810-870) and Abu ‘Isa Muhammad al-Tirmidhi (825-892) were from Transoxiana.
Ismail Bey Gaspirali – Founder of the Jadid movement in 1880.
Inner Asia - usually refers to the Buddhist areas to the east of the Tien Shan/Pamir mountain barrier: Inner and Outer Mongolia, Tibet, the Manchu area north of Beijing and the regions of Altay, Tuva, Buriatia and Amur that are part of southeast Siberia in today’s Russian Federation. Sometimes “Inner Asia” refers to the entire area under Chinese cultural influence, and so can include Xinjiang Province.
Inner Eurasia - refers to the large interior plain of the Eurasian continent, roughly bounded by Pripyat Marshlands of Belarus/W. Ukraine to the west, the southern seas and mountain ranges from the Caucasus to the Himalya, and the Amur and Manchuria regions north of Beijing. The Eurasian continent is the enormous landmass that includes Europe, the Middle East, Siberia and East Asia to the Pacific coast.
Ivan IV – Tsar from 1533 – 1584, nicknamed Ivan the Terrible. During his reign the Russian empire expanded to include large areas of land including the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and Sibir.
Jadids - intellectual reformers beginning in 1880 who wanted to use Western-style education to raise a generation of Turkestanis who were strong enough to restore independence from the Russians.
Jubilee/s - anniversaries of the births or deaths of historically significant figures. Jubilees are typically major events in Central Asia.
Kariz- system of irrigation using underground tunnels
Kashgaria – named after the prominent city Kashgar, Kashgaria is the former name of present day Xinjiang. Kashgar is accessible to Kyrgyzstan via the Togart Pass.
Kazak – Turkic pastoral nomads of the steppes of Central Asia. During the Soviet Union, the Kazakh SSR was delineated according to ethnographic data by Soviet anthropologists. In 1991, the Kazakh SSR became the independent country of Kazakhstan. Significant Kazak minorities live in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Iran and Russia.
Khan- meaning king or ruler with ties to Chingis Khan’s Golden Kin.
Khanates – Political unit that is governed by a Khan.
Kazan – A city on the Volga river and former capital of the Khanate of Kazan, a major Tatar empire. Kazan is presently the capital of Tatarstan, an administrative district within Russia.
Khanah – means room or simple house.
Khiva – Historic Uzbek city and former Khanate.
Khorezm – the Khorezmid empire of the 12th century centered around the Amu Darya river delta east of the Aral sea, with the capital at Old urgench. In the 17th century, Khorezm became known as the Khanate of Kiva, with the capital at Kiva. When the Khan, under pressure form the Soviet Union, abdicated the throne in 1920, Kiva became the Khorezm Socialist Soviet Republic. This lasted only until 1925, when the Central Asia was divided into autonomous republics as part of the Soviet plan to create nationalities. The Khorexm SSR was divided among the Uzbek SSR, Turkmen SSR and the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast.
Khurasan Province – Administrative district in modern day Iran that comprises of roughly half of the historic Kurasan region, usually called greater Kurasan, which stretched into Afghanistan and Uzbekistan and included Heart, Kabul, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kiva, Khojent and Merv.
Khwahjah ‘Abd Allah Ansari – Holy man honored as a saint in Afghanistan.
Kipchak – Ancient Turkick pastorial warriors. The Khazaks, Kyrgyz and some Tatars are descendent of the Kipchaks.
Koshchi – unions of poor farmers organized by the Communist party under Stalin.
Kokand – Area now part of modern Uzbekistan that once existed as a Khanate, then an independent State.
Kyrgyz – Nomadic people of Central Asia typically living in mountainous regions. Closely resembling the Kazaks in language, culture and origins, the a Kazakh SSR was separated from the Kyrgyz SSR during Soviet times and the two separate nations were created and given distinct histories.
Lenin, Vladimir – Leader of the Russian Revolution and first head of the Soviet Union. Lenin argued strongly for national autonomy for ethnic groups within the Soviet Union, as long as they submitted to the will of the Soviet Union. Following Lenin’s death, the idea of preserving ethnic identity gave way to a greater push towards assimilation.
Leningrad – name for the city of Saint Petersburg from 1924–1991. Also called Petrograd between 1917-1924.
Madrasa – a Muslim school or place of learning.
Manchus – nomads living north of the Beijing region who founded the Qing dynasty that controlled China beginning in 1644. Although only distanly related to Mongols, the Manchus used Mongol techniques to control the Han Chinese they ruled.
Maymanah – (sometimes Meymaneh) Is the fifth largest city in Afghanistan located northwest of Kabul near the Turkmen border.
Mazar-i Sharif – The capital of the Balkh province and fourth largest city in Afghanistan. This predominantly Tajik city is know for its architectural wonders.
Mecca – a city in present day Saudi Arabia which contains the Masjid al-Haram, the largest mosque in the world and the holiest site in Islam. The Masjid al-Haram houses the Kaaba, a black cube shaped building believed to have been built by Abraham. Muslims pray towards Mecca, and one of the five pillars of Islam is a pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj, where worshipers walk around the Kaaba.
Mosque – a place of worship for Muslims.
Mikrorayon (micro-region) – a self sufficient Soviet neighborhood consisting of block apartments, schools, markets, theaters and libraries.
Mır-‘b – water superintendent
Mughal Empire – Muslim dynasty which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from approximately 1526- 1725.
Nomad – one engaging in a non-sedentary lifestyle, not staying in the same place, moving from place to place. While often though of as a wanders, Central Asian nomads typically move between two distinct places, a summer pasture and a winter shelter community. Central Asian nomads usually have a sense of territoriality but not of property ownership.
Osman Batur – Kazak freedom fighter who sought independence for an independent Eastern Turkestan. He was captured and beheaded by the Chinese in Urumchi in 1951.
Pastoralism - Herding sheep or goats from summer to winter pastures within a loosely-bounded territory.
Pashtun – Iranian speaking people that make up less than half of the population of Afghanistan and about a quarter of the population of Pakistan. Pashtun’s are Sunni Muslims and speak Pashto, a Persian dialect.
Paranji – Veil like headdress worn by some Central Asian women. Common among Uzbeks, this head dress was often times less conservative (covering only the hair) before contact with Slavic settlers and their liberal culture, which included prostitution.
Persian – refers to Persian people (present day Iran), or the Persian language, also called Farsi, spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Petrograd – the name of the city of Saint Petersburg from 1914–1924. The city was also called Leningrad from 1924–1991.
Qal’a – residential fortress, or house with large exterior walls for protection.
Qanat – system of irrigation using underground tunnels
Rayon – Administrative district within the Soviet Union, formerly called and used. Some Rayons had ethnic titles associated with them, but these had less political autonomy than state republics.
Red Yurts – Program implemented by the Communists during the early days of the Soviet Union to bring education and civilization to the people of the steppe. The goal was to teach literacy and Communist ideology.
Rigistan –open square plazas typical of Chinggisid era Central Asian cities, often used as a market on market day. Samarkand and Bukhra are famous for their large and decorative registan areas.
Saint Petersburg – Capital of the Russian empire between 1713 and 1918 (except for 1728 to 1732). Saint Petersburg was named Petrograd from 1917-1924, and named Leningrad from 1924-1991).
Samarqand – The second largest city in Uzbekistan and one of the greatest cities in Central Asia. The City was destroyed by Chinggis Kahan in 1220 and only a small portion of the population survived. In 1370 Samarkand became the capital of the empire of Amir Timur, and the city grew to become a center for art and culture.
Samovars – Iconic Russian water boiler used for making tea.
Safavid empire – Dynasty which ruled Persia from approximately 1501- 1722, establishing Shia Islam in the region.
Scythians - Iranian-speaking nomads who inhabited a vast area of Eurasia including areas North of the Black, the Caspian region and the Aral sea and most of present day Central Asia. They were bordered by Turkic tribes to the East and Indian kingdoms to the south. They are known for their rich and decorative grave goods which date from 900BC to the end of classical antiquity.
Steppe – steppe is typically characterized by vast grassland plains that cannot support trees. The Great Steppe or the Eurasian steppe is the largest steppe in the world, located in Russia, the Ukraine and parts of Central Asia. It is a semi-arid region with a continental climate; winters are very cold and summers are very hot, with a wide difference in temperatures between day an night.
Sharia – Islamic law that deals with all aspects if life for Muslims derived from the writings found in the Koran and the Sunnah. Sharia also uses Islamic courts, consensus of judges, judicial interpretation, use of preceding rulings, logic and reasoning. It is similar in most respects to common and civil law in structure and process, and may have even inspired English Common Law.
Siberia – name for the vast portions of Eastern Russia, constituting the majority of Northern Asia. The area came under the control of the Russian empire in the 1600s. Geographic Siberia stretches from the Ural mountains to the Pacific Ocean, while within the Russian Federation, certain administrative districts are specifically called Siberia.
Sibir – The Khanate of Sibir was a Tatar Khanate that became part of Russia during the rule of Ivan the Terrible.
Stalin, Josef – Leader of the Soviet Union beginning in 1928 until 1953. After Lenin’s illness and death, Soviet ethnic groups began to be formed based on ethnic territorial unites largely dictated by Stalin’s ideology. Each national republic was given its own government structure and communist party, common language and alphabet, and continuous history, distinct “folk” music and dance traditions, and national literatures and opera in the Western mold. Such a national structure was not congruent with the multi-ethnic and linguistic realities on the ground. Likewise, the Communists under Stalin aggressively eliminated Islamic institutions, destroying mosques and killing Imams and Muslims who resisted the regime. Nomadic groups were forced to settle.
Suffa – raised platform on which carpets are placed.
Syr Darya – a major river in Central Asia which flows from Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Kzakstan to the Aral sea. It marks the northern border of the Transoxiana region and the northnermost edge of Alexander the Great’s conquests.
Tajik – originally a name given to Farsi-speaking Central Asians who had adopted Islam, the Soviets created and ethno-territorial unit with the same name. The boundaries of the Tajik SSR and Tajikistan and are not congruent with the whole of the Farsi-speaking peoples of Central Asia. Tajiks make up a large percentage of the population in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
Takht – throne
Tamerlane – Western name for Amir Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire centered in Samarkand. Amir Timur is now a revered historical figure in Uzbekistan.
Taqs – arcade or gallery, part of a market
Tashkent – Former administrative center of Russian Turkestan and currently the capital of Uzbekistan. Tashkent was a prominent city during the Russian colonial era and remains a center of influence today in Central Asia.
Tatar – Diverse Turkic ethnic group living today in Russia and Central Asia and the northernmost Muslim population in the world. While the name originally applied to all Mongol invaders of Europe, Tatars are a distinct ethnic group. Tatars have assimilated partially into European and other communities, but retain their own ethnic identities. Tatars played a predominant role in Chingis Khan’s Golden Horde and in Russian imperial administration in Turkestan.
Teke – a Turkmen tribe.
Transoxiana – the region between the Amy Darya river to the south and the Syr Darya river to the north.
Trans-Siberian Railroad – Enormous system of rails that connects European Russia with the Russian Far East, China, Mongolia and Japan. The entry of railway systems into Central Asia in 1885 increased Russian power, and rail connecting Russian built in 1895 hastened European settlement in the region.
Tribe – a legal community who have determined to solve conflicts peacefully.
Turkestan – Refers to the Turkic speaking region of Central Asia. After conquest in 1867 by the Russian empire, Tsar Alexander II approved organizing a Governor-Generalship called Turkestan with the capital of Tashkent. After the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Bolsheviks to power, the Soviet Union created at Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist republic. In 1924 Turkestan ASSR was divided into independent republics within the Soviet Union, which became independent states upon the collapse of the USSR. Today, many people refer to Central Asia as Turkestan, meaning ‘Land of the Turks’, although a collective sense of identity or political movement has not formed.
Ubayd Allah Ahrar –
Ulugh Beg – Great scholar, scientist and ruler, he settled in Samarkand and eventually became ruler of an entire district. He was the grandson of Amir Timur and focused on making Samarkand the intellectual capital of the empire.
Uezd – An administrative subdivision of land used in imperial Russia. Uzeds were renamed rayons in Soviet times.
Uyghurs (pronounced ‘ooygur’, although often pronounced ‘weegur’)– Turkic speaking Muslims living predominantly, but not exclusively, in the Xinjiang region of China. This are is part of the cultural and linguistic Central Asia but was not part of the Soviet Union and therefore is not included part of former Soviet Central Asia. There are large Uyghur communities living in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and trade between Soviet Central Asia and China has created new connections with the Uyghurs living in Xinjiang.
Uzbek – Turkic speaking Muslim population in Central Asia, typically sedentary. Uzbeks were historically settled Central Asians who spoke Kipchak dialects, but in 1924 the Uzbek SSR was created, encompassing a diverse multi-lingual population. All people within that territory thus became know as Uzbek, and the Soviet Union created a distinctly Communist history. Present day Uzbekistan retains the Soviet ethnic and national delineation of people based on territory, language and sedentary lifestyle.
Waqf – endowment or fund in the Islamic system.
Xinjiang – Western province of the People’s Republic of China that borders Soviet Central Asia. Xinjiang is home to a large Turkic speaking Muslim population called the Uyghurs. The region was formerly called Kashgaria after the city Kashgar. Kashgar is accessible to Kyrgyzstan via the Togart Pass. The present day capital and largest city is Urumchi, is about 550 miles from Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.
Yaqub Beg – Military chief from Kokand who took over most of Xinjiang and enforced Islamic law.
Young Bukharans/Young Khivans - name for pro-revolutionary Central Asians. These groups of secular activists formed during the rise of Bolshevik power and the overthrow of the Islamic based Khanates.
Yurt – felt tent with an internal wooden latticework common in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan
Zunghar (or dzungar) – a confederacy of several nomadic tribes who lived in Xinjiang in the 1600s through the 1700s. They were destroyed by the Manchus of the Qing dynasty between 1755 and 1757.