Uzbekistan is rich in history. Samarkand was conquered by Alexander the Great and Islam was introduced by Arabs in the 8th-9th century here. The most famous leader to come from Uzbekistan is Tamerlane who was born in Shahrisabz south of Samarkand. Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grains led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.
Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, following the break up of the Soviet Union. In theory the county is a democracy, however, since 1991 it has been run by iron-fisted dictator Islam Karimov, whose security services are widely believed to have killed several hundred protesters in Andijan in 2005 and have been responsible for some severe breaches of the most basic human rights (torture and killings). Little power exists outside of the presidents family or his close allies.