Uzbekistan labored under the yoke of either Czarist or Soviet repression from the mid 19th-century until the fall of the USSR in 1991.
Some of that repression is directly tied to the American Civil War when the availability of cotton was interrupted by President Lincoln’s “Anaconda” plan to strangle the Confederate states with a trade embargo, especially the export of cotton.
With U.S. cotton exports no longer available, the Czar turned to areas which might be good producers of it.
Uzbekistan fit the bill with a hot and sunny climate, though short on water for irrigation.
Cotton became a chief crop here with the Czar and after the Russian revolution, the Soviets, demanding more and more annual yields.
Sustained cotton production wrecked the soil and started Uzbekistan down the road of widespread diversion of water from major rivers, including the Oxus, which once supplied the giant inland Aral Sea.
Today, the Aral sea is dying or dead, as the percentage of water being taken has caused it to shrink to a small vestige of its former size.
Huge fishing boats are left stranded in the sand 100 miles away from today’s water line.
The BBC calls the situation an “ecological disaster” as the once covered bottom is now a desert of sand mixed with fertilizers and other toxic products which are spread about by the wind.
Uzbekistan was also caught up in the great purges and repression under Czar Nicholas and Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader.
Under the Czar, Uzbeks were exiled to Siberia, and Stalin exiled Koreans into Uzbekistan where a substantial number remain today, largely assimilated into Uzbek culture.
Early in the 20th-century, Uzbek intellectuals studied in Germany and returned here with secular ideas, clashing with madrasa teachers and some emirs or leaders.
These intellectuals were a special target of Stalin as he sought total control by eliminating not only active opposition, but whole groups of people.
Many were shot to death in Tashkent at a killing field which today is the site of a memorial and museum honoring the victims of Stalinist repression.
The memorial is beautiful and the museum is a no nonsense review of the sanguinary relationship with Russia.
Today, Uzbekistan may be free, but the Russian bear looks just over the horizon, always foraging.