- Kazakhstan: is the big one, in area. Ninth largest in land mass in the world, just behind Argentina, ahead of Sudan. Mostly steppe, but a Caspian Sea border, lots of oil. The word "Kazakh" is apparently related to the more familiar western "Cossack." The locals like to tell you it means "free spirit."
- Turkmenistan: mostly desert, but plenty of natural gas. Only country I know of whose president is a dentist.
- Uzbekistan: biggest in population, and most complicated. Uzbeks, but also Russians, Tajiks (how many?), Koreans (Koreans?—yes, Stalin moved them out here) and others. Double-landlocked: a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries. Euphonious ancient names (Samarkand, Bukhara), but also a living monument to the failure of old Soviet environmental management (the Aral Sea, in an air shot, looks like a cancerous kidney).
- Kirgyzstan: the one whose prime minister tried westernizing, wanted his nation to be the Switzerland of the east, and who wound up a math teacher in Moscow.
- Tajikistan: the one where they speak a variety of Persian. The smallest and poorest, the one with eight 20,000-foot mountains. The one that celebrated its post-Soviet freedom with a five-year civil war. The Afghanistan of the stans.
Source: mostly Martha Brill Olcott, Central Asia’s Second Chance (2005)
Oh, and he "-stan" apparently the same Indo-European root that produces all those Greek "-mi" verbs. So, station, anastasia, instance. And, of course, "stand."