What's the Story Behind All the 'Stans?

Question: What's the Story Behind All the 'Stans?

Answer: In Persian, the suffix "stan" means "place of." In Russian -- remembering that Kazakhstan borders Russia, and five 'stans used to be part of the Soviet Union -- the word "stan" means "settlement." So we have seven countries in Central Asia that share the "stan" suffix:

  • Afghanistan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Pakistan
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
The "stan," however, is where the similarities end.
Because of geographical proximity, the countries share some ethnic groups (there are more than 100 different ethnic groups in the seven 'Stans), but the languages are unique and, the closer you get to Russia, the more Russian Orthodox adherents you'll find in a swath that's solidly Muslim in the southern 'Stans.

There are many other uses of the "stan" suffix around the globe, as well. Northern Iraq is often referred to as Kurdistan, or place of Kurds. At the southern tip of Russia in the Caucasus region is Dagestan, a mostly Muslim republic. Waziristan is the rocky, tribal region in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden has been rumored to be hiding out. And the 'Stans go on and on...