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Fergana Valley

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The Fergana Valley (also Ferghana Valley) is a region of Central Asia spreading across Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Missing image
The_Tomb_of_Ali_at_Shakhimardan.JPG
The Tomb of Ali at Shakhimardan, on the Edge of the Ferghana Valley. Today it is in a small Uzbek enclave within Kyrgyzstan.

A single geographical and political unit for most of its history, it was only in the 1920s and 30s that the Ferghana valley was divided between three different countries (The Uzbek SSR, Kirghiz SSR and Tajik SSR). Under the Khans of Kokand in the 18th century the valley formed the nucleus of an independent khanate, whilst later under Russian rule in the 19th century Ferghana was a province to itself, with large areas of the Pamirs included. It is the most fertile and most densely-populated region in the whole of Central Asia.

Contents

Geography

The most important part of the province is a rich and fertile valley, 1200 to 1500 ft (400 to 500 m), opening towards the S.W. Thence the province stretches northwards across the mountains of the Tian Shan system and southwards across the Alai and Trans-Alai Mountains, which reach their highest point in Lenin Peak, 7,134 metres (23,406 feet), in the latter range. The valley owes its fertility to two rivers, the Naryn and the Kara-darya, which unite within its confines, near Namangan, to form the Syr Darya. These streams, and their numerous mountain affluents, not only supply water for irrigation, but also bring down vast quantities of sand, which is deposited alongside their courses, more especially alongside the Syr Darya where it cuts its way through the Khojent-Ajar ridge, forming there the Karakchikum. This expanse of moving sands, covering an area of 750 m², under the influence of south-west winds, encroaches upon the agricultural districts.

Climate

The climate of this valley is dry and warm. In March the temperature reaches 20 C (68 F), and then rapidly rises to 35 C (95 F) in June, July and August. During the five months following April no rain falls, but it begins again in October. Snow and frost, down to -20 C (-4 F) occur in December and January.

History

The Ferghana valley was probably inhabited by Sogdians during the 1st millennium BC, but little more is known about this period.

Hellenistic settlement

In 329 BC, Alexander the Great founded a Greek settlement with the city of Alexandria Eschate "The Furthest", in the southwestern part of the Ferghana valley, on the southern bank of the river Syr Darya (ancient Jaxartes), at the location of the modern city of Khujand, in the state of Tajikistan. After 250 BCE, the city probably remained in contact with the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom centered on Bactria, especially when the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus extended his control to Sogdiana.

Interaction with China

In the history of the Han Dynasty, based on the travels of Zhang Qian around 130 BC, the region of Ferghana is presented as the country of the Ta-Yuan, possibly descendants of the Greeks colons (Ta-Yuan would be the transliteration of "Great Ionians"). The Ta-Yuan were renowned for their Heavenly Horses from Ferghana which the Chinese tried to obtain with little success until they waged war against them in 104 BC.

The Ta-Yuan of Ferghana were identified by the Chinese as Indo-European in features, having a sophisticated urban civilization, similar to that of the Bactrians and Parthians: "The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Ta-Yuan) and the possessions of Bactria and Parthia are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China" (Hou Han Shu).

The area of Ferghana was thus the theater of the first major interaction between an urbanized Indo-European culture and the Chinese civilization, which led to the opening up the Silk Road from the 1st century BC.

Islamization

During the 8th century, Ferghana was the location of fierce rivalry between the Tang Dynasty of China and the expansion of Muslim power, leading to the Battle of Talas in 751, which marked the victory of Islam and the disengagement of China from Central Asia.

Russian Empire

Ferghana, or Fergana was a province of Russian Turkestan, formed in 1876 out of the former khanate of Kokand (see Kokand). It was bounded by the provinces of Syr-darya on the N. and N.W., Samarkand on the W., and Semirechie on the N.E., by Chinese Turkestan (Kashgaria) on the E., and by Bukhara and Afghanistan on the S. Its southern limits, on the Pamirs, were fixed by an Anglo-Russian commission in 1885, from Zor-kul (Victoria Lake) to the Chinese frontier; and Khignan, Roshan and Wakhan were assigned to Bokhara in exchange for part of Darvaz (on the left bank of the Panj), which was given to Afghanistan. The area amounted to some 53,000 m², of which 17,600 m² are on the Pamirs.

The Soviet Period and After

In 1924 the new national boundaries separating the Uzbek and Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republics cut off the Eastern end of the Ferghana Valley, as well as the slopes surrounding it. This was compounded in 1928 when the Tajik ASSR became a fully-fledged republic, and the area around Khodjend was made a part of it. This blocked the valley's natural outlet and the routes to Samarkand and Bukhara, but none of these borders was of any great significance so long as Soviet rule lasted. The whole region was part of a single economy geared to cotton production on a massive scale and the over-arching political structures meant that crossing borders was not a problem. Since 1991 this has changed, for the worse. Uzbekistan regularly closes its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, causing immense difficulties for trade and for those who live in the region. Travellers from Khodjend to Dushanbe, unable to take the route through Uzbekistan, have to cross a high mountain pass between the two cities instead, along a terrible road. Similarly communications between Bishkek and Osh pass through difficult mountainous country and are endangered by the attitude of President Karimov of Uzbekistan. Ethnic tensions also flared at one stage, most notably in the town of Uzgen, near Osh, where were Uzbek-Kyrgyz riots in 1990. There has been no further ethnic violence, and things appeared to have quietened down. However, the valley is a religiously conservative region which was particularly hard-hit by President Karimov's brutal suppression of Islam in Uzbekistan, together with his decision to close the borders with Kyrgyzstan in 2003. This devastated the local economy by preventing the importation of cheap Chinese consumer goods. The deposition of Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan in April 2005, coupled with the arrest of a group of prominent local businessmen brought underlying tensions to the boil in the region around Andijan and Korasuv during the May 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan in which hundreds of protestors were killed by troops.

Agriculture

In Tsarist times, out of some 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km²) of cultivated land, about two thirds were under constant irrigation and the remaining third under partial irrigation. The soil was considered by the author of the 1911 Britannica to be admirably cultivated, the principal crops having been wheat, rice, barley, maize, millet, lucerne, tobacco, vegetables and fruit. Gardening was conducted with a high degree of skill and success. Large numbers of horses, cattle and sheep were kept, and a good many camels are bred. Over 17,000 acres (69 km²) were planted with vines, and some 350,000 acres (1,400 km²) were under cotton. Nearly 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km²) were covered with forests. The government maintained a forestry farm at Marghelan, from which 120,000 to 200,000 young trees were distributed free every year amongst the inhabitants of the province.

Silkworm breeding, formerly a prosperous industry, had decayed, despite the encouragement of a state farm at New Marghelan.

In the Soviet period this picture changed, as the forests were destroyed and opened to irrigation and a cotton monoculture introduced at the expense of the varied food and fodder crops described above. Central Asia's food was imported from Siberia along the new Turkestan-Siberia Railway, and vast areas, including almost all of Ferghana, turned over exclusively to the production of this lucrative cash-crop. Today a balance is slowly returning to agriculture in Uzbekistan, but the soil is often exhausted by over-use and poisoned by too many chemical fertilisers. Whilst still rich and fertile, it is still uncertain if the Ferghana Valley will ever again attain the degree of prosperity and varied cultivation described above.

Industry

Coal, iron, sulfur, gypsum, rock-salt, lacustrine salt and naphtha are all known to exist, but only the last two have ever been extracted in significant quantities. In the late 19th century there were a few small oil-wells in Ferghana, but these no longer function. In the Tsarist period the only industrial enterprises were some seventy or eighty factories engaged in cotton cleaning. Leather, saddlery, paper and cutlery were the principal products of the domestic or cottage industries. This was not greatly added to in Soviet times, when industrialisation was concentrated in the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. Since 1991 however, the Korean firm Daewoo has built a large factory producing cars in Namangan, which has become a crucial component in the local economy. Its products are seen everywhere in Uzbekistan, and it represents some of the most significant foreign investment that country has yet received.

Trade

Historically the Ferghana Valley was an important staging-post on the so-called Silk Road for goods and people travelling from China to the Middle East & Europe. After crossing the passes from Kashgar in East Turkestan traders would have found welcome relief in the fertile abundance of Ferghana, as well as the possibility of purchasing further high-quality silk manufactured in Margilan. The most famous export from the region were the 'blood-sweating' Heavenly Horses which so captured the imagination of the Chinese during the Han dynasty, but in fact these were almost certainly bred on the Steppe, either west of Bukhara or North of Tashkent, and merely brought to Ferghana for sale. In the 19th century, not surprisingly, a considerable trade carried on with Russia; raw cotton, raw silk, tobacco, hides, sheepskins, fruit and cotton and leather goods were exported, and manufactured wares, textiles, tea and sugar were imported and in part re-exported to Kashgaria and Bokhara. The total trade of Ferghana reached an annual value of nearly 3,500,000 in 1911. Nowadays it suffers from the same depression that affects all trade that either originates in or has to pass through Uzbekistan. The only significant international export is cotton, although the Daewoo plant in Namangan sends cars all over Uzbekistan.

Transportation

Until the late 19th century Ferghana, like everywhere else in Central Asia, was dependent on the camel, horse and donkey for transport, whilst roads were few and bad. The Russians built a trakt or post-road linking Andijan, Kokand, Margilan and Khodjend with Samarkand and Tashkent in the early 1870s. A new impulse was given to trade by the extension (1898) of the Transcaspian railway into Ferghana as far as Andijan, and by the opening of the Orenburg-Tashkent or Trans-Aral railway in (1906).

Until Soviet times and the construction of the Pamir Highway from Osh to Khorog in the 1920s the routes to Kashgaria and the Pamirs were mere bridle-paths over the mountains, crossing them by lofty passes. For instance, the passes of Kara-kazyk, 4,389 m (14,400 ft) and Tenghiz-bai 3,413 m (11,200 ft.), both passable all the year round, lead from Marghelan to Karateghin and the Pamirs, while Kashgar is reached via Osh and Gulcha, and then over the passes of Terek-davan, 3,720 m (12,205 ft); (open all the year round), Taldyk, 3,505 m (11,500 ft), Archat, 3,536 m (11,600 ft), and Shart-davan, 4,267 m (14,000 ft). Other passes leading out of the valley are the Jiptyk, 3,798 m (12,460 ft), S. of Khokand; the Isfairam, 3,657 m (12,000 ft), leading to the glen of the Surkhab, and the Kavuk, 3,962 m (13,000 ft), across the Alai Mts.

Demography

The information contained in the 1911 encyclopaedia is particularly interesting on this point, as it gives the full information from the 1897 census, the only one held in the Russian Empire before 1917, and helps to illuminate a situation rendered obscure by the vagaries of Soviet Nationalities policy in the 1920s and 30s. The population numbered 1,571,243 in 1897, and of that number 707,132 were women and 286,369 were urban. In 1906 it was estimated at 1,796,500. Two-thirds of the total were Sarts and Uzbegs (of Turkic origin). They lived mostly in the valley, while the mountain slopes above it were occupied by Kirghiz, partly nomad and pastoral, partly agricultural and settled. The other nations were Tajiks, Kashgarians, Kipchaks, Jews and Gypsies. The governing classes were of course Russians, who constituted also the merchants and industrial working class, such as it was. But the merchants of West Turkestan were called all over Central Asia Andijanis, from the town of Andijan in Ferghana. The great mass of the population are Muslims (1,039,115 in 1897). The divisions revealed by the 1897 census, between a largely Tajik-speaking area around Khodjend, hill-regions populated by Kyrgyz and a settled, Turkic-speaking population in the main body of the valley, roughly reflect the borders as drawn after 1924. One exception is the town of Osh, which has a majority 'Uzbek' population but ended up in Kyrgyzstan. The one significant element that is missing when looking at modern accounts of the region are the Sarts. This term was abolished by the Soviets as 'derogatory' after 1920, but in fact there was a clear distinction between long-settled, Persianised Turkic peoples, speaking a form of Oghuz Turkic that is very close to Uighur, and those who called themselves Uzbeks, who were a Kipchak tribe speaking a Turkic dialect much closer to Kazakh, who arrived in the region with Shaibani Khan in the mid-sixteenth century. That this difference existed and was felt in Ferghana is attested to in Timur Beisembiev's recent translation of the Life of Alimqul (London, 2003). There were very few Uzbek-Kipchaks in Ferghana, although they had at various times held political power in the region. In 1924 however, Soviet policy decreed that all settled Turks in Central Asia would henceforth be known as "Uzbeks", (although the language chosen for the new Republic was not Kipchak but Turki) and the Ferghana Valley is now seen as an Uzbek 'heartland'.

Administrative divisions

In 1911 the province was divided into five districts, the chief towns of which were New Marghelan, capital of the province (8,977 inhabitants in 1897), Andijan (49,682 in 1900), Khokand (86,704 in 1900), Namangan (61,906 in 1897), and Osh (37,397 in 1900); but Old Marghelan (42,855 in 1900) and Chust (13,686 in 1897) were also towns of importance.

The Valley is now divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In Tajikistan it is part of Soghd Province or vilayat, with the capital at Khodjend. In Uzbekistan it is divided between the Namangan, Andijan and Fergana viloyati, whilst in Kyrgyzstan it contains parts of Batken, Jalalabad and Osh oblasts, with Osh being the main town for the southern part of the country.

Cities in the Fergana Valley include:

In Uzbekistan:

In Kyrgyzstan:

In Tajikistan:

Sources & Further Reading

W. Barthold "Sart" Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. IV S-Z (Leiden & London) 1934

В.В. Бартольд "Фергана" Работы по Исторической Географии (Москва) 2002 pp527-539 (Also available in English in Vol.II of the original edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam)

Р.Н. Набиев Из История Кокандского Ханства (Феодальное Хозяйство Худояр-Хана) (Ташкент) 1973

С. Сооданбеков Общественный и Государственный Строй Кокандского Ханства (Бишкек) 2000

T.K. Beisembiev The Life of Alimqul (London) 2003de:Ferghanatal et:Fergana org

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