Ex-Soviet Central Asia, historically a well-defined geographical and cultural entity, went through a delayed process of evolution into independence because of re-incorporation into the Soviet/Russian Empire after the October Revolution. It was gerrymandered into five republics and subjected to intense colonial exploitation under a form of "communist feudalism." Rich in natural resources and human talent, the region now embarks upon independence with a heritage of both advantages and disadvantages. This paper, based on a study prepared for the Wilson Quarterly, examines opportunities and challenges the five Central Asian republics face. It considers political and religious trends, economic conditions, relations with surrounding areas populated by related peoples with similar cultural characteristics and concludes with observations on the relationship of the region to outside powers and attitudes of the peoples of these republics toward them: Russia, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Japan, Turkey, Iran, and the United States. The paper includes three tables summarizing recent population data.