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Uzbeks and Turkmen
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Asian Horsemen

The vast Central Asian steppe ends at the Amu Dyra, the river and northern border of Afghanistan. Under the leadership of Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane, Mongol and Turk horse archer armies conquered the farmers and townsmen. Most converted to Sunni Islam and adopted sedentary life. Uzbeks and Turkmen are two of these peoples. The national sport of Afghanistan, buzkashi, was introduced by the Uzbek-Turkomen. A game of polo played with a headless goat, it comes from a long steppe tradition of games and hunts that prepare horsemen for war.

Uzbeks and Turkmen inhabit the rich northern plains of Afghanistan around Mazar. They speak Turko-Mongol languages, have Asian features and are culturally connected to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Central Asian countries that split off from the Soviet Union in 1991. Many Turkmen and Uzbeks came to Afghanistan fleeing the Russians, but by the time the Soviets launched across the Amu Dyra in 1979, they seized the chance to throw off the Pashtun yoke.

Anti-Communist Jihad in the north was weak, and carried out mostly by Pashtuns and Tajiks. General Rashid Dostum, the champion of Turkmen and Uzbek interests, formed an Uzbek militia in Jowzjan province to help the Soviets fight the mujahideen. Dostum’s militia is a mixture of Soviet style armor, MIG fighters, and horse archers with AK47s instead of bows.

Uzbek (9%) and Turkmen (3%) are too small a minority to shape Afghanistan nationally. Instead they hope General Dostum and peace-keeping soldiers can protect them from Pashtun and Tajik oppression. They also hope to dominate the northern provinces, which happen to contain gas fields, good agricultural land, trade routes into central asia and Mazar, a large city not completely destroyed by war.

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