The culture of Uzbekistan has a wide mix of ethnic groups and cultures, with the Uzbeks being the majority group. Modern Uzbeks hail not only from the Turkic-Mongol nomads, but also from other Turkic and Persian peoples living inside the country’s borders. The Soviets, in an effort to divide the Turkic people into more easily governable subdivisions, labeled Turks, Tajiks, Sarts, Qipchaqs, Khojas, and others as Uzbek, doubling the size of the ethnicity to four million in 1924. Today the government is strengthening the Uzbek group identity, to prevent the splintering seen in other multiethnic states.
In ancient times the cities of Samarkand and Bokhara were regarded as jewels of Islamic architecture, thriving under Amir Timur and his descendants the Timurids. They remain major tourist attractions. During the Soviet period, cities became filled with concrete-slab apartment blocks of four to nine stories, similar to those found across the USSR. In villages and suburbs, residents were able to live in more traditional one-story houses built around a courtyard. These houses, regardless of whether they belong to rich or poor, present a drab exterior, with the family’s wealth and taste displayed only for guests.
During the Soviet period, the government gave extensive support to the arts, building cultural centers in every city and paying the salaries of professional artists. With independence, state funding has shrunk, though it still makes up the bulk of arts funding. Many dance, theater, and music groups continue to rely on the state, which gives emphasis to large productions and extravaganzas, controls major venues, and often has an agenda for the artists to follow.
Other artists have joined private companies who perform for audiences of wealthy business-people and tourists. Some money comes in from corporate sponsorship and international charitable organizations—for example UNESCO and the Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute. Yet many artists have simply been forced to find other work.
At the heart of Uzbek culture is its wonderful hospitality. The Uzbek Tea Ceremony, a formal and graceful ritual, demonstrates in a very practical way the high priority given to hospitality. When a guest arrives, the hostess will serve tea, usually accompanied by a traditional snack.