A Clan of 'Stans' by Fern Shen for the Washington Post
Getting confused about all these stans in Central Asia?
"Istan" is a Persian word meaning "place of." So Uzbekistan, for example, means "place of the Uzbeks." Many Central Asian towns and villages, as well as countries, have names ending with "istan."
But where do the beginnings of these country names come from? Usually from very old languages. Some are Turkic, the main group of languages spoken in that area. Others are Persian (also known as Farsi), the main language spoken in Iran, formerly Persia.
Until the 19th or 20th centuries, most of these "istan" places were not even formally recognized as countries.
UZBEKISTAN - Uzbek probably comes from two Turkic words: oz, which means "genuine" and bek, which means man. So, the word means "genuine man."" The Uzbeks are a mingling of ancient Iranian populations with nomadic Mongol or Turkic tribes that invaded the region between the 11th and 15th centuries. (Another possible explanation: the name refers to Oz Beg, a powerful Mongol khan, or king.)
KAZAKHSTAN - Kazakh is an Old Turkic word meaning "somebody who is independent and free." (The word traveled to Russia, where it was taken by the people who came to be known as Cossacks.) The Kazakhs are a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated to the region in the 13th century.
PAKISTAN - This name was made up in the 1930s when India's Muslims were trying to break away and form a separate Muslim country. (They succeeded in 1947.) P-A-K is an acronym for some of the regions the people claimed as part of their homeland: Punjab, Afghania and Kashmir. The country's founders also chose pak because it means pure, in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. So Pakistan means "the land of the spiritually pure."
AFGHANISTAN - Versions of word Afghan go back as far as 3rd century AD. Afghan may come from an 8th- or 9th-century Iranian emperor named Apakan. Tribes related to modern Afghans have been living in the region for many generations.
Afghanistan was a monarchy from 1747 to 1973.
TAJKISTAN - In Persian, taj means crown" and ik means "head," so tajik means "a person who wears a crown on his head." Tajiks are originally Iranian. (There are many Tajiks living in Uzbekistan. The 3 million Tajiks living in Afghanistan speak a dialect of Persian (known as Dari.)
TURKMENISTAN - In Turkic, turk refers to the Turks, an ancient people from that region. The word men means "I" or "me." So, Turkmen means "I am a Turk." The Turkmen were originally nomadic tribes, known as the Oghuz, who came from what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia.
KYRGYZSTAN - In Old Turkic means "40" and "yz" means "tribes", so the word means "40 tribes." The Kyrgyz may have lived in a part of Central Siberia and begun speaking a Turkic language by about the 9th century. http://www.centuryinter.net/midway http://www.history.navy.mil/midway.htm http://www.combinedfleet.com