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Hidden between the Tian Shan Mountains and the Gissar-Alai range, this agricultural heartland is the perfect place to experience Uzbekistan’s cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity.
The Fergana Valley is a depression between the Tian Shan Mountains in the north and the Gissar-Alai range in the south. Some 300km long, up to 70km wide and naturally irrigated by two tributaries of the Syr Darya, it is the most fertile part of Uzbekistan and hence the country’s agricultural heartland. Agricultural wealth historically gave rise to Silk Road trading towns, fortresses and, most importantly, the 19th-century Khanate of Kokand. For much of the past 100 years it has also been an area that is deeply troubled. Stalin’s border policies divided the valley between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; not only are there main international borders here, but also a bewildering number of enclaves and enclaves that are nigh on impossible to administer but are fiercely defended at great financial and human cost. Communal violence has regularly reared its ugly head, most recently between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the summer of 2010, often spurred on by governments and other regional players when it suits their political objectives to do so.