Central Asian states - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan – encompass communities of different cultural, social and political legacies in an area of geo-political competition. While in policy perspective, Central Asia is usually understood as the region comprising these post-Soviet countries, from a scholarly perspective the region of Central Asia encompasses a wider area of past and present connections. It includes the Caucasus, Russia’s south-east, the Iranian part of the Caspian, northern Afghanistan, as well as Mongolia and China’s north (Inner Mongolia, Xingjian and Tibet). Through invasions, migrations, trade and cultural exchange, developments in this Eurasian Heartland have, for millennia, impacted upon the history of both Europe and Asia. Following the USSR’s dissolution, various new state and non-state actors, such as the USA, international monetary organizations, TNCs, NGOs, strategic alliances and regional blocks, as well as criminal groups and ethno-religious movements started operating in the region. In the dynamically changing and globalising world the five Central Asian states, had to work out their security concepts, also vis-à-vis their neighbours, often via monopolisation of the resources, re-energising different forms of nationalism and fighting ‘radical Islam’.
The countries are noticeably different from each other, whether in terms of political order or economic development, which constitutes a challenge for a scholar and a policy-maker. The knowledge on the region, however, remains fragmented and poorly institutionalised in Europe. The Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies in Regensburg, as well as its predecessor the Osteuropa-Institut, consider Central Asia, above its meaning of its own, an integral part of the post-Soviet space, vital for understanding Eastern Europe in comparative and transnational perspective. The scholars at the Institute for many years researched Central Asia and have built academic networks with the region. Since 2014, they have undertaken the initiative to stimulate international networking and research in the field of Central Asian studies, support and institutionalise the activities of the International Unit for Central and Inner Asian Studies. Important partners in that endeavour are the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University, Forum for Central Asian Studies, Cambridge University, Zentralasien-Seminar of Humboldt University in Berlin and the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, run jointly by the University of Regensburg and the Ludwig-Maximilian-University of Munich. Regensburg Central Asian Studies Initiatives connects to various stake-holders, such as Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Programme (DAAD), l’Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques, Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael.