Dressing The Stans

Hand embroidered cap for an Uzbek man, late 20th cenury. Hand embroidered cap for an Uzbek man, late 20th cenury. TRC 2016.1799.

2. The 'Stans' of Central Asia

The term ‘Stans’ is a modern appellation that is often used, perhaps somewhat derogatory, for Central Asia. It covers most of the mountains and deserts between the Caspian Sea to the west and the borders with China to the east. They include five modern states that were (re)created in the late 20th century after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. These are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It also includes the modern Islamic republic of Afghanistan. All six of these lands are named after their dominant ethic population, with the suffix ‘stan’, which means ‘land’. Afghan-i-stan thus means ‘land of the Afghans’.

Group of people at the Registan of Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. Digitally enhanced photograph, Library of Congress.The former Soviet states were occupied by the Tsarist Russian Empire in the 18th and particularly in the 19th century. Before that time, they had been divided into independent realms, such as that of Khiva, Bokhara and Khojend. These lands were incorporated into the Soviet Empire following the Russian Revolution of 1917. New borders were being drawn, massive changes were being imposed, large groups of other ethnicities were imported (notably from Korea), and local culture, including religion and dress codes, were transformed. With the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the former Soviet states of Central Asia declared their independence, although often under the same leaders that had controlled the states while still under the Soviet umbrella.

The Stans of Central Asia.Afghanistan has always been different. It was never incorporated into the Russian Empire. It was in fact never colonised at all. It was founded as an independent kingdom in the mid-18th century. In the 19th century it was transformed into a buffer state between the Tsarist Central Asian lands to the north, and British India to the southeast. In this way, Afghanistan has always retained its independence, although it has been affected by civil war and foreign intervention especially since 1978, when it was brought into the influence of the Soviet Union, and after 1989 when it became the scene of a bitter civil war that continues to the present day.