The large towns usually consist of separate parts. The smallest territorial organisation in the towns is a sort of community called "mahalla". In the past all mahalla's was situated close to a mosque. Mahalla comprised a street with adjoinning by-streets.
A mahalla is an urban division in Uzbek communities which today exist in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Historically, mahallas were autonomous social institutions built around familial ties and Islamic rituals. Before the establishment of the Soviet rule in Uzbekistan, Mahallas fulfilled local self-government functions connecting private sphere with public sphere. Religious rituals, life-cycle crisis ceremonies, resource management, conflict resolution, and many other community activities were performed at mahalla, or (neighbourhood) level. An informal council of elders (oqsoqol, or aksakal) provided leadership.
After the establishment of the Soviet Union, informal mahalla organizations were placed under the state control and served as local extensions of the Soviet government. Mahallas were thought to be "eyes" and "ears" of the Soviet government; mahalla became a control mechanism of the state and the mahalla leaders were appointed by the government. However, mahalla level state-society relationships were more complex as mahalla leaders could serve as henchmen while also acting as buffers between the local community and the state. Due to intimate, face-to face relationships dominant at mahalla, mahalla organizations could shield the community from the incursions of the state.
Since 1993, Uzbek government reorganized mahalla councils as bearers of "Uzbek nationhood" and "morality," effectively reproducing Soviet style state domination over the society. Thus, they are formal structures run by committees (headed by chairs called "oqsoqols") and regulated by the government. Human rights groups have accused Islam Karimov's government of using mahallas to control the population, repress dissent, force resettlement, and persecute religious minorities.