When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it broke apart into 15 separate countries. The five in Central Asia– Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan– are largely unknown to the outside world. Here are some fun facts to share with your friends at the next Sunday BBQ.

Kazakhstan

  • President-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in charge since 1990. He has done one good thing. When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Kazakstan was left with the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. He unilaterally gave it up.
  • Borat is supposed to hail from Kazakstan. But in the movie Borat, his village was actually shot in rural Romania.
  • For 40 years, the Soviets tested nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan. Cancer and birth defect rates are off the charts.
  • The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the world’s first and largest space launch facility. Sputnik and the first manned spaceflight were both launched from there.
  • Nobody bothers Kazakhstan because it has the world’s tenth largest proven oil reserves– more than Nigeria.

Turkmenistan

  • Current dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is a phenomenal sportsman. He once drove by an auto race in his Bugatti, decided to enter the contest, and WON!
  • The preceding dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed months and days of the week to honor himself and his mother. He closed every single hospital and library outside of the capital city. He banned male TV news anchors from using make-up because he often confused the genders of the anchors.
  • It has a crater that has been on fire since 1971.
  • It has the world’s THIRD largest proven natural gas reserves.
  • Natural gas is free to all residents. Therefore, people just leave their gas stove burners on continuously because it is easier than striking a match.

TurkmenistanCamel

Uzbekistan

  • Despite being desert, Soviet central planners decided Uzbekistan should grow ALL the cotton. Thirsty cotton. Water from the nearby Aral Sea (in 1960, it was the fourth largest lake in the world) was diverted for irrigation purposes. Today, just 10% of the lake remains, and Uzbekistan is still growing cotton.
  • Dictator Islam Karimov (in power since 1989) is the most brutal of the Central Asian despots. Do not do a Google image search of his torture victims.
  • Its capital, Tashkent, has one of the most ornate subways in the world.
  • Modern Uzbekistan has adopted Tamerlane as its national hero. During his reign in the 14th century, his army killed approximately 5% of the world’s population.
  • The Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara are among the oldest cities in the world.

Kyrgyzstan

  • It has the distinction of hosting both a Russian and an American military base.
  • Bride kidnapping still happens.
  • In order to make sure that no single population group gained disproportionate power, the Soviets drew wacky borders. Tajik and Uzbek enclaves were placed inside Kyrgyzstan. There is a Kyrgyz enclave inside Uzbekistan.
  • Just a few years ago, ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan were victims of organized violence. Hundreds of thousands of them were internally displaced.
  • The epic poem Manas, which tells the story of the Kyrgyz people, is 500,000 lines long.

KyrgyzstanValley

Tajikistan

  • Unlike the other four -Stans, which speak a Turkic language, Tajiiks speak Persian.
  • Due to grinding poverty and unemployment, Tajik men move to Russia to take menial jobs. There, they are often beaten up or killed by Russian white supremacists.
  • Most of the heroin produced in Afghanistan transits through Tajikistan.
  • It is the setting of the Chevy Chase-Dan Aykroyd Cold War comedy, Spies Like Us.
  • Its dictator was recently filmed singing drunk at his son’s wedding. The clip was posted on YouTube. In response, he banned YouTube from the country.

Image source: Flickr Top / Middle / Bottom