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Cultural Patterns of Russia & Central Asia

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  • 0:00 Culture of Russian &…
  • 1:50 Religion
  • 3:38 Language & Ethnicity
  • 4:49 Art & Cuisine
  • 6:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the culture of Russia and Central Asia, and the various factors that have influenced it over the years. A short quiz will follow.

Culture of Russia & Central Asia

Central Asia and Russia contain a total of six countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Each of these countries has its own culture, but they're very much related. Central Asia was, after all, once a part of the Soviet Union. The Central Asian countries also share their religion, Islam. Central Asia is where middle-Eastern Islamic culture meets Russian Soviet culture.

The countries of Central Asia were once the center of multiple nomadic empires and tribes, including the Scythians, Mongols, and Turks. This had a big influence on the traditions and cultures of many Central Asian countries to this day. This is especially true in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which contain huge green plains and pastures that are populated by nomadic groups even now. Many people in Kazakhstan live in traditional, movable houses called yurts, which are covered in Turkish felt. Across many of the Central Asian countries, horseback riding competitions and sports are popular, which reflect the tradition of nomadic herding. A strong respect for elders is also common across Russia and Central Asia.

The influence of the Soviet Union and Russia is a major factor in Central Asian culture. Russian is spoken in all the countries of Central Asia. People also put a lot of emphasis and value on family and the homeland. These values are a direct result of the 70 years that the Communist Party ruled Russia. Under Soviet rule, people became dependent on the sharing of resources among family members, and this meant that a strong extended family was valuable. While, strictly speaking, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan didn't take Russia's side during the Cold War, there is still a lot of Russian influence in these countries.

Religion

Religion is a big deal in most places, but this is especially true in Russia and Central Asia. The culture of the area cannot be separated from religious beliefs and practices, especially in Central Asia. The most significant religion in Central Asia, by far, is Islam. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are all 90% Muslim, and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan aren't far behind. Russia, on the other hand, is 47% Christian, and mostly Russian Orthodox, which is the single largest group. Considering how Russia has influenced Central Asia, it's no surprise that Russian Orthodox is second to Islam in every (Central Asian) country. The closer you get to Russia, the more Russian Orthodox people you find. In Kazakhstan for example, a full 24% are Orthodox Christians and only 70% are Muslim.

But, what does this mean for everyday life? How does Islam really influence Central Asian culture? That depends a little on the political situation in each country. Uzbekistan, for example, is a mostly totalitarian regime, and it isn't easy to be of any religion other than Islam. Islamic law and regular law are combined together, and the daily cycle of prayer five times a day is simply a part of life. Islam also affects what you eat: alcohol isn't allowed, meat must be prepared a certain way to conform to Islamic law, and pork isn't eaten at all. This is in contrast to Russian culture, where pork is eaten, and vodka is popular - and no, this isn't just a stereotype! Generally, the further south you go, Arab and Islamic culture is dominant compared to Russian. For example, some people in Tajikistan even speak Iranian. But wherever you are, there is a respect for elders, family, and the collective good. Russia's influence goes far.

Language & Ethnicity

Central Asia and Russia as a whole are relatively ethnically diverse. This even causes some conflict in Central Asian countries, and it has got to the point that many Russians have left Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, afraid of violence and Islamic extremism. But Russia itself is much less diverse: 81% describe themselves as ethnically Russian as of 2010. Some of this is just the reality of the situation, and some of it is the influence of Soviet nationalism and the focus on the motherland. It might be surprising to learn that there are still 160 ethnic groups in Russia. Kazakhstan is the most mixed country in Central Asia, with only 63% identifying as Kazakh and 24% as Russian, as of 2009.

What about the other countries? Well, each country has their own ethnicity, which is by far the most common, but Uzbeks and Russians are found all over Central Asia. In terms of languages, Russians speak mostly Russian. When people do speak another language, it's almost always English. Just like with ethnicities, Central Asian countries have their own languages which are most common, but Uzbek and Russian are also spoken all over the area.

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