1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Syr-darya (province)

SYR-DARYA, or Syr-Dariinsk, a province of Russian Turkestan, lying on both sides of the Syr-darya river, from its embouchure in the Sea of Aral up to Khojent, where it issues from the mountain region of the Tian-shan. The province is bounded N. by the provinces of Turgai, Akmolinsk and Semipalatinsk; E. by Semiryechensk; S. by Ferghana, Zarafshan, Bokhara and Khiva; and W. by Khiva and the Sea of Aral. Its area (166,000 sq. m.), its population (over a million and a half) and the city of Tashkent make it the most important province of Russian Turkestan.

The south-eastern boundary runs along the Chotkal Mountains (14,000 ft.), which separate the river Chotkal from the river Naryn, and join the Alexander Mountains on the east. A series of short chains, such as the Talas-tau and Ala-tau, fringe the above on the north-west, and occupy the south-east of the province. The snow-clad summits of the Talas-tau reach 14,000 to 15,000 ft. in altitude, and immense glaciers occur about Manas Mountain. This range seems to run from, west-south-west to east-north-east; the other flanking chains have a decidedly south-westerly direction, and are much lower, the outlying ranges having rather the character of broad plateaus above 2000 ft. in altitude, where the Kirghiz find excellent pasture-grounds. Some of them, such as the Kazyk-urt, rise isolated from the steppe. The Kara-tau is quite separate from the preceding and runs at right angles to them—that is, from north-west to south-east. It belongs therefore to another series of upheavals prevalent in western Asia, to which Richthofen has given the name of the “Kara-tau series.” Its length is about 270 m., and its average altitude about 5000 ft., rising at some points to 6000 and 7000 ft. It separates the river Syr-darya from the river Chu, and its gentle south-western slope contains the sources of a multitude of streams which water the oasis around the town of Turkestan.

The mountainous tracts occupy, however, only a small part of Syr-darya, the rest is steppe. Three different areas must be distinguished—the Kyzyl-kum, the Muyun-kum or Ak-kum, and the Kara-kum. The Kyzyl-kum (red sands) sands stretch between the Amu and the Syr, and have a gradual ascent from 160 ft. at the Sea of Aral to 1500 and 2000 ft. in the south-east. They are partly shifting, partly stationary (see Kara-Kum). In the west the surface is overlaid with remains of Aral-Caspian deposits. As the Tian-shan is approached the steppe assumes another character: a thick sheet of loess girdles the foothills and forms the fertile soil to which Turkestan is indebted for its productive fields and gardens. The Kara-kum sands, situated north-east of the Sea of Aral, are manifestly a former bottom of the lake.

In the east the steppe yields some vegetation and is visited by the Kirghiz. The barkhans do not shift, being covered with Calligonum, Tamarix, Holoxylon anemodendron. The Muyun-kum or Ak-kum steppe, between the Kara-tau Mountains and the Chu River, is quite uninhabited, except in the loess region at the northern base of the mountains. (For the geological history of the western Tian-shan ranges see Tian-Shan.) Throughout the Cretaceous and earlier Tertiary periods the lowlands of Syr-darya were under the sea. The character of the region during the post-Pliocene period remains unsettled. A girdle of loess, varying in width from 30 to 50 m., encircles all the mountain tracts, increasing in extent in Bokhara and at the lower end of the valley of Ferghana. It seems certain that during the Lacustrine period the Caspian was connected by a narrow gulf with the Aral basin, which was then much larger, while another inland sea of great dimensions covered the present Balkash basin, and at an earlier period may have been connected with the Aral basin. Recent traces of these basins are found in the steppes.

The chief river of the province is the Syr-darya (q.v.). The frontier touches the eastern shore of the Sea of Aral, and numerous small lakes, mostly salt, are scattered over the sandy plains. A few lakes of alpine character occur in the valleys of the hilly tracts.

The climate of the province varies greatly in its different parts. It is most severe in the mountain region; and in the lowlands it is very hot and dry. As a whole, the western parts of the Tian-shan receive but little precipitation, and are therefore very poor in forests. In the lowlands the heat of the dry summer is almost insupportable, the thermometer rising to 111° F. in the shade; the winter is severe in the lower parts of the province, where the Syr remains frozen for three months. The average yearly temperature at Tashkent and Kazalinsk respectively is 58.3° and 46.4° (January, 29° and 12°; July, 77.5° and 78°).

The terraces of loess mentioned above are alone available for cultivation, and accordingly less than 1% (0.8) of the total area of the province is under crops, the remainder being either quite barren (57%) or pasture land (42%). In the few cases where cultivation is possible, it is carried to great perfection owing to a highly developed system of irrigation—two crops being gathered every year. Wheat and barley come first, then peas, millet and lentils, which are grown in the autumn. Rye and oats are grown only about Kazalinsk. Cotton is cultivated. Gardening is greatly developed. Sericulture is an important source of income. Livestock breeding is largely pursued, not only by the nomads but by the settled population. Fishing is prosecuted to some extent on the lower Syr. Timber and firewood are exceedingly dear.

The population of the province was estimated in 1906 as 1,779,000. It is comparatively dense in certain parts. The Russians number barely 8500, if the military be left out of account. Kirghiz (50%) and Sarts (9.8%) are the main elements of the population, with Uzbegs (4.3%), and a few Jews, Tajiks, Tatars, Persians and Hindus. The predominant occupations of the Sarts, Uzbegs, Tajiks and settled Kirghiz are agriculture and gardening, but the Kirghiz lead chiefly a nomadic pastoral life. Manufactures are represented by cotton mills, tanneries and distilleries; but a great variety of petty industries are practised in the towns and villages.

Syr-darya is divided into six districts, the chief towns of which are Tashkent, Aulie-ata, Kazalinsk, Perovsk, Chimkent and Amu-darya.  (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)