The Republic of Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan that occupies almost a third of the territory of Uzbekistan in the West and Northernmost part of the country with Nukus as the capital. The area is bordered by Kazakshtan in the West and North, Turkmenistan in the South. Urgench area is no longer part of Karakalpakstan. The autonomous republic has its own Karakalpak language and the state is comprised primarily of ethnic Karakalpak, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs. Linguistically and culturally, the Karakalpaks resemble the Kazakhs more than the Uzbeks.
It is noteworthy that the area was once an autonomous region within Soviet Kazakhstan during the New Economic Policy era of the 1920s before its administration was transferred to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and finally to Soviet Uzbekistan in 1936. The name “Karakalpak” translates as “black hat,” but its origin is not known. There are theories of Karakalpaks being related to the Chorni Klobuky (black hat) soldiers of the Kievan Rus’ from the 11th and 12th centuries, though apart from the common meaning of their names, there is no evidence linking these two groups. According to the constitution, Karakalpakstan is formally a sovereign state. The state is regulated by treaties and agreements related with Uzbekistan.
The vast expanses of the republic area are rather poorly populated, the inhabited central area is squeezed by the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts. The deserts dominate more than 80% of Karakalpakstan and as a result of ill-conceived Soviet-era projects, Karakalpakstan has become the epicenter of a global environmental disaster. The economy was earlier driven by the fisheries of the Aral Sea, today the economy is powered by cotton, rice, melons, and hydroelectric power and fishing has disappeared almost completely due to the large scale disappearance of the Aral sea.
Despite the extremely low standard of living, the Karakalpak people have preserved their rich customs and traditions. The achievements of local craftsmen in wood carving with inlaid, leather embossing, weaving and embroidery are widely known. In addition, Karakalpakstan is considered an open-air archaeological reserve. There are more than 300 archaeological sites such as Kalas (fortresses) preserved from the Khorezm civilization.
What to see in Karakalpakstan
The Fortresses (qalas) of Karakalpakstan
There are about 20 fortresses that you can explore in the area of old Khorezm and nobody knows how many more are still not yet discovered. Eight major forts remain sufficiently intact to be of interest to a casual visitor. In the ancient times the fortresses were signaling each others of danger with signal fires through a networks of “lighthouses”.