All About the "Stan" Countries

A mountain lake in Kyrgyzstan. Much of Central Asia is mountainous.

Due to the similarity in their names, and most likely also thanks to the difficulty of their pronunciation for the average English-speaker, the so-called "stan" countries are often the subject of much mystery and misunderstanding. The suffix "stan" is an ancient Persian (and/or Farsi) word that means "country". This is generally the accepted blanket reason for the countries sharing similar names in English. However, when we look beyond this similarity, we can discover how every country in this Central Asian region is unique in its own way as well. Below is an overview of the countries found in this often overlooked section of the planet.

7. Afghanistan

Tourists explore the Afghan Mountains.

Officially called the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the 652,864 square kilometer Afghanistan is a mountainous and landlocked country. Its capital city, Kabul, is located at the eastern part of the country. Afghanistan is at the crossroads separating the Persian and the Mediterranean world to the west from India and China to the east. It borders Iran to the west and Pakistan to the east. Afghanistan’s population is 34.66 million according to the 2016 World Bank data, and the main languages spoken are Pashto and Dari. The main currency used in Afghanistan is the Afghani. Due to its location, the country has been at the center of countless invasions and strifes since the 6th century BCE that continues to this day. Agriculture is the main pillar of Afghanistan’s economy. Cotton, grapes, nuts, and insect resins are some of the products that provide export earnings to the country. According to the World Bank, life expectancy for men and women is 60.72 years.

6. Kazakhstan

The skyline of Astana, Kazakhstan.

Located in Central Asia, the 2.7 million square kilometer, mineral rich Republic of Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, meaning there is no access to an open ocean. The capital city of this former soviet republic is Astana at the northern part of the country. Kazakhstan is bordered by China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the landlocked Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan has a population of 17.8 million people, according to the World Bank 2016 data. The main languages spoken here are Russian and Kazakh, and the mainstream currency is the Tenge. Kazakhstan has abundant mineral, oil, and natural gas deposits, and the fiscal proceeds from the export of these items have transformed the country into Central Asia’s largest economy. Life expectancy for both genders is 77 years according to the World Bank 2015 data. Islam and Christianity are the main religions practiced in Kazakhstan.

5. Kyrgyzstan

The mountainous landscape of Kyrgyzstan.

The 199,900 square kilometer Kyrgyzstan, officially known as Kyrgyz Republic, is a mountainous and landlocked country on the eastern part of central Asia. The capital and the largest city of this former Soviet Republic is Bishkek in the northern part of the country. Kyrgyzstan borders China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. It has a population of 6.083 million people, according to 2016 World Bank data. The main languages spoken here are Russian and Kyrgyz and the country’s currency is Kyrgyzstani Som. Islam and Christianity is the main religions in Kyrgyzstan. The country’s economy is sustained by mining of gold at the Kumtor mine which contributes 10 percent to the country’s GDP. Life expectancy in Kyrgyzstan is 70.65 years for men and women, according to the 2015 World Bank data.

4. Tajikistan

The Garm-Chashma Spring, Tajikistan.

Tajikistan is a landlocked former soviet country in central Asia also officially called the Republic of Tajikistan. At 143,100 square kilometer in size, it’s the smallest country in Central Asia by land area, and has a population of 8.735 million, according to World Bank 2016 data. Tajikistan borders Uzbekistan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, China to the east, and Afghanistan to the south, according to Geology. Dushanbe located in west central part of the country is the capital and the largest city in Tajikistan. The main languages spoken in Tajikistan are Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian, and the country’s currency is the Tajikistani Somoni. Islam is the main religion in the country. Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia and former soviet nations. In 2016, Global Finance Magazine ranked it among the 33 poorest countries in the world. According to the Heritage Foundation, Tajikistan economy relies greatly on revenues from aluminum and cotton. But illegal drug trade and remittances from migrant workers mostly in Russia, account for over 45 percent the country’s GDP. Exports and imports also contribute 55 percent to Tajikistan’s GDP. Life expectancy in the country is about 69.77 years, according to World Bank 2015, data.

3. Pakistan

Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest mountain, is found in Pakistan.

Officially called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Pakistan is a 796,095 square kilometer country in South Asia. It is located at the convergence of South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia according to the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Pakistan borders India to the east, Afghanistan and Iran to the west, China to the north east, and the Arabian Sea to the south. According to the World Bank 2016 data, Pakistan has a population of 193.2 million people. Islamabad, the capital city of the country, is located in th Pothohar Plateau. Pakistan’s main religion is Islam, and the main languages spoken are English, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, and Balochi. The Pakistan Rupee is the country’s main currency. Pakistan’s economy is fuelled by agriculture and textile industry. The textile industry contributes 8.5 percent to the country’s GDP, and contributes USD 9.6 billion to the country total textile exports annually, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. Life expectancy in Pakistan is 66.38 years, according to World Bank 2015 data.

2. Turkmenistan

The famous Derweze Gas Crater in Turkmenistan.

The 488,100 square kilometer Turkmenistan is a landlocked former soviet republic located in Central Asia. It borders Uzbekistan to the north east, Kazakhstan to the north west, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the west. Turkmenistan has a population of 5.663 million people according to 2016 World Bank data. Its capital is Ashgabat, which is also the country’s largest city and it is located in South Turkmenistan at the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountain ranges. The main religion in Turkmenistan is Islam, and the major languages are Russian and Turkmen. The Turkmen Manat is the country’s currency. Agriculture is among the major contributors to the country’s economy contributing about 13.2 percent to the GDP, according to the CIA fact book, and employs over 48 percent of the labor force. Cotton and wheat are the main crops grown in the country. Natural gas and industrial production are also important contributors to Turkmenistan's GDP. The latter contributes 41 percent to the country’s GDP according to Economy Watch, and the former accounts for 15.23 percent of the GDP, according to 2015 World Bank data.

1. Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a landlocked nation and a former soviet republic in south central Asia. It borders Kazakhstan to the north, Tajikistan to the south east, Kyrgyzstan to the north east, Afghanistan to the south, and Turkmenistan to the south west. Uzbekistan has a population of 31.85 million, according to World Bank 2016 data and its capital city is Tashkent. Tashkent is Uzbekistan's largest city and is on the north eastern part of the country in the Tashkent province. Islam is the main religion in the country, and the main languages spoken are Uzbek, Russian, and Tajik. The Uzbek som is the country’s currency. According to the International Trade Administration (ITM), agriculture accounts for 17.6 percent of Uzbekistan's GDP and employs 26 percent of the country’s labor force. Cotton and grains are the country’s main agricultural crops. Exports of agriculture products contributed about 13.6 percent of Uzbekistan's foreign earnings in 2016, according to ITM. Uzbekistan is also the world’s fifth largest cotton exporter and the sixth largest producer of cotton. Cotton, natural gas and gold exports form the pillars of the country's economy.


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