Southern Uzbek in Afghanistan

Main Language
Largest Religion
Islam (Sunni)
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

Ancestors of the Altaic (Turkic)-speaking Uzbeks emerged in Central Asia as early as the 3rd century B.C. when nomads—possibly Hun descendants—began invasions that continued for centuries. Turks swept through in 1 A.D., followed by wide-ranging assaults by Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Uzbek genetic studies indicate Turkic-Mongoloid ancestry—reflected by lighter skin and flat facial features with lesser Iranian admixture. Centuries before there were country borders, they settled in the Uzbekistan/Afghanistan region.

Adopted in the 14th century, the Uzbek name is said to mean "independent" or "self-ruling", from "uz", meaning self and "bek", meaning master. The name seems fitting since the Uzbek in northern Afghanistan have remained a cohesive group, where distance from the capital city, Kabul, has allowed them some autonomy. Extended family is considered the societal core, with marriage outside the group discouraged, although allowed. Political interests are represented by a single party, even when the 2001 Allied invasion increased political opportunities for them. Uzbeks continue to champion a central government with representation for all Afghan ethnic groups but granting broad control over local issues to the provinces. With senior representatives in the present, as well as past governments, we can expect Uzbek influence to help shape a changing Afghanistan.

The group designated as Southern or Afghan Uzbek formed from waves of ancient migrations, as well as more recent ones in the 1920s-1940s from Russia when that government's atheistic policies persecuted their Islamic religion and customs. Speaking Uzbeki, their own Turkish dialect, Uzbeks identify themselves as Hanafi Sunni Muslims, although this is largely a cultural identity now rather than a religious one.

As Afghanistan's fourth largest ethnic group (2.5 million and nearly one-tenth of her total population) Southern Uzbeks still reside primarily in mountainous northern regions, particularly the Fariab Province. They live simply in small villages, often with Tajik neighbors. They are hostile towards the dominant Pushtun who moved into their homelands in numbers sufficient to render them a minority by the 1960s.

What Are Their Lives Like?

These high plains farmers grow grain and vegetable crops but struggle to survive. Affected by recent droughts but spared large-scale destruction by war with Russia and the Taliban, their lives were less affected than some other groups. Area herdsmen raise the desirable karakul sheep and Turkman horse. Medical care is not readily available and economic opportunity is sparce. They trade crafts, rugs and animal by-products locally for additional income in area markets. These markets also serve as social centers.

Afghan culture has been undeniably impacted by Uzbeks, particularly in music, carpet making and sport. Buzkashi is a violent game played by teams on horseback with a headless goat carcass and now synonymous with Afghanistan as its national sport. It was introduced by Uzbeks and Mongols. A creative people, Uzbeks love poetry, music and playing unique instruments, such as the Uzbek 2-stringed fretted lute. Culture is preserved through folk dances and traditional hand crafts like metal working, wood carving, leather craft, and wall or textile painting. Many urban Uzbeks are businessmen, others are skilled craftsmen. Women are noted for their exquisite rugs, an area of significant contribution to Afghanistan's textile heritage.

Uzbek food and dress offer interesting features. Like other Afghans, Uzbeks always serve tea and nan (bread). "Osh", a dish made with carrots, onions, oil, rice and lamb is served weekly and on special occasions. Unusual in most Afghan diets, pasta is common in Uzbek menus, probably introduced to them by Italian or Chinese traders along the Silk Road. Fruit is also a favorite. Western dress is worn by younger or city-dwelling Uzbeks although men may add a skullcap with embroidery indicative of their home region. A yoked dress worn over long pants is traditional women's attire while that of men is the Chapan - a loose, quilted cotton coat worn over a shirt and trousers, completed with the skullcap.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Most Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims of the conservative Hanafite branch. Like other Muslims, the Uzbeks believe that there is one God, Allah, whose will was revealed through the prophet Mohammed and then recorded in the Koran. They are generally not Orthodox Muslims since they usually traditional beliefs with their Islamic practices.

Like other Muslims, most Uzbeks depend on the spirit world for their daily needs since they regard Allah as too distant. Allah may determine their eternal salvation, but the spirits determine how well we live in our daily lives. For that reason, they must appease the spirits. They often use charms and amulets to help them with spiritual forces.

What Are Their Needs?

Uzbek people need to put their hope and identity in the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Prayer Points

Ask God to call forth prayer teams who will begin breaking down the strongholds through worship and intercession for the Uzbek people.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will soften the hearts of the Uzbeks towards the ways of Christ.

Ask God to give the Uzbeks in Afghanistan a spiritual hunger that will drive them to seek and find the only Savior.

Scripture Prayers for the Uzbek, Southern in Afghanistan.

Profile Source:   Joshua Project  

People Name General Uzbek, Southern
People Name in Country Uzbek, Southern
Natural Name Southern Uzbek
Pronunciation OOZ-bek
Alternate Names Afghan Uzbek; Southern Uzbek; Uzbak; Uzbek
Population this Country 4,889,000
Population all Countries 5,002,000
Total Countries 5
Indigenous No
Progress Scale 1
Unreached Yes
Frontier People Group Yes
GSEC 1  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed 98
People ID 15756
ROP3 Code 110472
ROP25 Code 308519
ROP25 Name Uzbek
Country Afghanistan
Region Asia, Central
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 10  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Ghowr, Jowzjan, Kondoz, Samangan, and Takhar provinces; Aqcha, Maimana, Saripul, and Sheberghan towns.   Source:  Ethnologue 2016
Country Afghanistan
Region Asia, Central
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 10  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Ghowr, Jowzjan, Kondoz, Samangan, and Takhar provinces; Aqcha, Maimana, Saripul, and Sheberghan towns..   Source:  Ethnologue 2016
Map of Uzbek, Southern in Afghanistan Ethnolinguistic map or other map

Primary Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.01 %)
0.01 %
Ethnic Religions
0.00 %
0.00 %
99.99 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Uzbek, Southern (4,889,000 speakers)
Language Code uzs   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Uzbek, Southern (4,889,000 speakers)
Language Code uzs   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Uzbek, Southern
Photo Source COMIBAM / Sepal 
Map Source People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.  
Profile Source Joshua Project 
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.

Joshua Project logo    Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Contact Us   Copyright © 2024