Karakalpakstan is home to one of the most interesting Turkic ethnic minorities in Central Asia – the Karakalpaks.
They formed their own tribal association along the banks of the Syr Darya at some time around the 16th century, composed of many factions who had broken away from previous nomadic confederations, like the Qon'ırat, Ma'n'gıt and Keneges.
After suffering a violent and destructive invasion by Mongol Dzhungar tribes from Eastern Turkestan (Chinese Xinjiang) in 1723, the Karakalpaks were irreversibly divided – some migrated to Ferghana, Samarkand and southern Uzbekistan, whilst others – the Lower Karakalpaks - settled close to the mouth of the Syr Darya in the vicinity of the Aral Sea. From here the latter grouping continued to move south, eventually entering the Amu Darya delta, where they were forcibly subjugated by the Khan of Khiva.
The Karakalpaks developed a colourful and vibrant culture, which reached its peak during the early decades of the 20th century. Following the Revolution in the early 1920's the Karakalpaks benefited from universal education and health care, employment rather than feudal servitude, legal rights for women, and the modernisation of their agricultural economy. Sadly their traditional culture howver also changed a lot during this process.
No'kis is the only place in the world to see the remains of their unique and joyously colourful material culture, which is prominently displayed in two very different local museums.
The most famous is the Karakalpak State Museum of Art named after Igor Savitsky, which also houses a world famous collection of Russian and Soviet avante garde paintings.
The Republic of Karakalpakstan also contains the largest number of important archaeological sites pertaining to the ancient civilization of Chorasmia, or to use its more modern description, Khorezm. During the second half of the first millennium BC and the first half of the first millennium AD, this whole region was a thriving agricultural oasis, supported by a huge network of man-made irrigation channels. Its population believed in the Zoroastrian cult of fire. They were governed by a dynasty of Khorezmshahs who lived in richly decorated palaces and they were defended from nomadic attack by an elaborate system of garrisons stationed in sophisticated mud-brick fortresses with an advanced military design. For the past twelve years, archaeologists from Karakalpakstan and Australia have been uncovering the secrets of the massive fortified site of Kazakl'i-yatkan, founded around the 3rd century BC and later buried under the desert sands. It may have once been the capital city of the region. In the last two seasons they have discovered the largest collection of wall paintings ever found in Central Asia in what may have been a temple or religious palace.
Despite almost two thousand years of erosion by winter rains many of these huge fortresses, palaces and other sites still exist on the fringes of the Qizil Qum desert. They are readily accessible, yet devoid of vistors. The best place to see them is in southern Karakalpakstan, east of Biruniy and just south of the Sultan Uvays Dag mountains.