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.
One of the primary roles of the Karakalpakstan culture formation belongs to the Turkic tribes. They were wandering through the territories of Central Asia for a long time and left the traced and ties with Pechenegs, Oghuz, Kipchaks, the Golden Horde, Kazakh, Turkmen, and Uzbek tribal alliances in the Karakalpak tribal division. Despite the centuries-old ties with the nomadic associations, the Karakalpaks maintained a peculiar type of farming, combining farming based on irrigation, sheep-herding and fishing. The Karakalpaks grew wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, sesame, cotton, sowed alfalfa. The largest number of cattle was used for agriculture.
The national identity of Karakalpaks is well defined in their rich folklore, gorgeous dances, original music, and ceremonies that still play an important role in people’s lives. Furthermore, Karakalpak traditions are illustrated in traditional handicrafts. Comprised in the simple ornaments and forms of old workpieces which demonstrate their connection to the arts of ancient and medieval nomads in Central Asia.
Traditional Karakalpak handicrafts were developed mainly as essential household items for the yurt dwellings. Hence, they were made from functional materials: wool, skin, bones, wood and cotton. At the beginning of the 20th century, women still made ornamental floor mats, multicolored feltings for yurt decoration, woven rugs, patterned carpets, as well as patchwork and most adult women maintained the art of embroidery. Men plied more complex trades, making yurts and musical instruments but engaging also in wood carving, jewelry making, leather processing, and other trades.
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 (We guess hundreds). 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 network of “lighthouses”.
Other Sights & Destinations near Karakalpakstan
Page updated 23.10.2022