THE last years of the Soviet Union were the most challenging for the nations of Central Asia. These nations witnessed the dramatic collapse of the Soviet federal system and beheld with disbelief the tragic unfolding of inter-ethnic violence in the land of ‘eternal friendship of brotherly nations’. Their disbelief, though understandable, presents the two puzzles that this dissertation addresses: (1) “how can one explain the outbreak of unprecedented inter-ethnic clashes in the lands where gracious internationalism should have replaced chauvinist nationalism?” and (2) “what lessons can be learnt from Central Asia’s nation-formational processes and its recent experiences of ethnic violence lest mistakes be repeated in its present and future socio-political development?” These puzzles, and solutions to them, are not only significant and intriguing in the regional context of Central Asia. They correspond to a set of larger, meta-theoretical questions in Social Sciences: (1) how do ethnicity and nationhood originate and change? (2) why do certain ethno-national movements become politically salient and others do not? and (3) how do ethnic conflicts arise and develop?\ud This dissertation uniquely employs the institutionalist approach to explain the above puzzles and theoretical questions in the context of Central Asia. By exploring the nature and dynamics of nation-formation in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, this work concludes that territorial nationhood and ethnic nationality have become pervasively institutionalized social and political forms in Central Asia as a result of the Soviet nationalities policy. The analysis of inter-ethnic strife in Central Asia during the last years of the Soviet empire, with a special focus on the Osh conflict, confirms that ethnic conflicts and inter-ethnic relations in the region were, and will remain, crucially framed, constituted and reconciled by rigidly institutionalized definitions of ethnicity and nationality. Following these findings, the study recommends considering institutional reforms within the framework of the rule of law and constitutionalism for deliberations of mechanisms and measures aimed at building more peaceful and secure inter-ethnic relations in Central Asia. The dissertation therefore urges policy-makers and other stakeholders in the region to take fuller advantage of the benefits of such institutional reforms at the state-structural level with the view to controlling and counter-balancing the effects of institutionalized ethno-nationalism in Central Asia, and perhaps beyond
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