Tir&Istax, a region of central Asia, extending from the Caspian sea eastward half way across the desert of Gobi, mainly between the 36th and 46th parallels of N. latitude, bounded N. by the Russian dominions, and S. by Persia, Afghanistan, India, and Thibet. Its name is due to the fact that it is considered the earliest known abode of the Turks or Turkomans, and thus as a seat of the Tartar race it has also long been called Tartary. The region is separated into the two great natural divisions of East and West Turkistan by the junction of the Thian-shan mountains with the Hindoo Koosh in the lofty table land of Pamir, which is a ridged plateau, rising W. of Kashgar to an average altitude of 15,000 ft. above the sea. According to Humboldt, the two great ranges are united by a transverse chain, called the Belur or Bolor Tagh (Cloud mountains), bordering Pamir on the east, the separate existence of which, however, is rendered doubtful by recent explorations, although commonly assumed on maps of Asia. - West Turkistan, formerly known as Independent Tartary, comprises the khanates of Khiva and Bokhara, the former khanate of Khokan, annexed by Russia in March, 1876, the territories previously annexed by Russia from the three khanates, and in the south Wakhan, Badakhshan, Koondooz (including Khooloom), and Balkh, lately incorporated into Afghanistan. East Turkistan, also called Chinese Tartary, is the extensive region E. of the table land, in which Kashgar is now the paramount state. - The hydrographic systems of Turkistan originate in the lofty, lake-studded region of culmination which we have mentioned.
On the southern edge of the Pamir steppe, in the Sir-i-kol (Lake Sir), according to the latest authorities 13,900 ft. above the ocean, rises the Oxus or Amoo Darya, flowing westward down the steep slope of the plateau through Bokhara and along the border of Khiva into the sea of Aral. The Sir Darya or Jaxartes, which under the name of the Naryn has its source in the Thian-shan range 300 m. N., and also empties into the Aral sea, waters Khokan and the N. part of Russian Turkistan. Between these two great rivers, and enclosed by parallel ranges stretching westward from the central table land, runs the smaller Zerafshan, in whose fertile valleys are the cities of Bokhara and Samarcand. Though naturally an affluent of the Oxus, its waters are exhausted for irrigation. Down the eastern and more gradual slope of Pamir into Chinese Tartary flow numerous streams, of which the most important are the Yarkand and Kashgar rivers, which are believed to coalesce with others to form the eastward-flowing Tarim, emptying into Lob-no», the great lake or swampy expanse of the Gobi desert. - Of West Turkistan, Khiva, Bokhara, Khokan, Badakhshan, and Balkh have been described under their own titles. The territory is naturally divisible into three physical regions.
The first comprises the more elevated mountainous districts among the outlying spurs of the Pamir steppe, which afford rich summer pasturage for the flocks of the hardy inhabitants. Thence flow innumerable torrents to the Oxus, the Sir Darya, and their tributaries, and enrich the alluvial soil of their upper valleys and plains, constituting the second distinctive region, which is populous, fertile, and well cultivated. Here are found the principal cities. Still further westward toward the sea of Aral, the area of cultivation ceases, and the rivers flow through the third region, comprising vast tracts of arid saline deserts, only relieved at the delta of the Oxus by the facilities there for irrigation. Almost the entire country stretching from the shores of the Caspian eastward to the valley of the Oxus, and from lat. 45° southward to the frontiers of Persia and Afghanistan, is occupied by the Turkoman steppes, including the Ust-Urt plateau between the Caspian and the sea of Aral, of which the Tchink mountains constitute the S. declivity, and the Khiva or Kara-Kum desert, S. of Khiva. Many parts of these sandy and trackless wastes are below the level of the sea.
The ancient bed of the Oxus leading to the Caspian traverses the country, whose chief rivers now are the Murghab from Afghanistan, which loses itself in the sands N. of the town of Merv, and the Attrek, on the southern border. The wells of the desert yield only brackish or bitter water. Almost all is confined to their vicinity or that of the streams. The climate is always dry, exceedingly hot in summer, and very cold in winter, which however is short. Salt and sulphur are obtained on the steppes. The animals of the desert comprise gazelles, horses, asses, pigs, foxes, and hares. - Although preserving a nominal independence, Khiva and Bokhara are practically subject to Russia. The portions annexed by the Russians previous to the annexation of Khokan in 1876 have been united with a part of the Siberian province of Semipolatinsk to form the government general of Turkistan; area in 1875, about 400,000 sq. m.; pop. about 2,000,000. It comprises all that part of the country which is N. of the khanates and the Thianshan range, from Kulja inclusive on the east (see Kulja) to the sea of Aral on the west, with the lower course of the Oxus for the S. W. frontier.
But Kulja is usually regarded by geographers as belonging not to Turkistan, but to Dzungaria or Sungaria, a country inhabited by Kirghiz, Olots, the once powerful tribe of the Dzungarians, and others, the Chinese portion of which lies between the Thian-shan mountains, the Altai, and Mongolia. The western part of Russian Turkistan is overspread with steppes. The desert of Kizil Kum (red sand) occupies the region between the Oxus and the river which gives the province its name. The eastern part of the government general is mountainous. It is drained by the river Hi, flowing into the great Balkash lake, and the Tchu river, flowing N. W. from the vicinity of the more southerly lake Issik-kul. Lake Balkash is 780 ft. above the sea level, and has an area of 400 sq. m., while Issik-kul covers about 335 sq. m. of surface at an altitude of 4,540 ft. The most populous parts of Russian Turkistan (exclusive of Khokan) are in the vicinity of the principal towns, Tashkend, Samarcand, and Khojend. The plains are permanently habitable and capable of cultivation only in the neighborhood of the watercourses. The mineral wealth of Russian Turkistan, especially in gold and coal, is supposed to be large, but remains undeveloped.
The government is divided into nine administrative districts, besides Khokan. The governor general, who is also the militarv commander-in-chief, has his headquarters at Tashkend. - The fundamental classification of the inhabitants of West Turkistan, according to Mr. R. B. Shaw, is into Turks or Tartars and Tajiks or Aryans. A cross classification is into the Kirghiz or nomads and the Sarts or settled population. In the towns of West Turkistan the Tajik element predominates in numbers, except in Khokan. In this race the features are handsome, the complexion fair, the face usually bearded, and there is a general resemblance to the Aryans of northern India. The language of the Tajiks is a variety of Persian. In the khanates the Uzbecks are the ruling class, whose nomadic kinsmen are the hordes of Kirghiz in the north and east, and the Turkomans of Khiva and the adjacent steppes. The Kirghiz are described as stunted in appearance, with prominent cheek bones, flattened noses, and scarcely any beard. The Uzbecks of the towns are handsomer, with some resemblance to the Tajiks in many cases. The Turkoman is generally above middle stature, powerfully developed, with a white skin, round head, small nose and chin, and scanty whiskers.
A careful estimate of all the tribes indicates that their number is about 8,000,000 persons. They are fierce, haughty, and given to deeds of rapine and plunder, irascible and violent, but usually truthful and hospitable. All the tribes mentioned are Sunni Mohammedans. - The commerce of the country is considerable, and is conducted entirely by means of caravans. Native productions form but a small part of this commerce; but the towns are convenient places of exchange for the products of Russia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, and the Chinese empire. The manufactures consist chiefly of some silk and cotton stuffs, sabres, knives, and other weapons. The exports are cotton, mostly from China, wool from Thibet, fruits, hides, sheepskins, and silk. The imports are muslins, brocades, sugar, shawls, and white cloths from India; European manufactured goods from Russia; porcelain, musk, tea, rhubarb, and cotton from China; and wool from Thibet. - East Turkistan is bounded N. by the Thian-shan range, E. by the desert of Gobi, S. by Cashmere and Thibet, and W. by the Pamir plateau.
Its area is estimated at about 500,000 sq. m., and its population at from 600,000 to 1,000,000. The country has long been denominated Alti-shahar or Alti-tchakan (the six cities), from the towns of Kashgar, Yarkand, Khoten, Yang-shahr, Ush-Turfan, and Aksu, which constitute its principal centres of population and trade. It is now divided into seven provincial governments under the ruler of Kashgar. The portion bordering Pamir is extremely mountainous, as are also the northern and southern frontiers; but the interior is an extensive plain with a general elevation of from 3,000 to 5,000 ft., described by Shaw as resembling an immense bay with its convex side toward the mountains and its concave side toward the desert. The chief rivers are affluents of the Tarim, the course of which extends about 500 m. from the 81st meridian eastward into the desert; among them are the Khoten from the south, the Yarkand from the southwest, and the Kashgar from the west, all named from the largest cities on their banks. The climate is extremely dry, and the land is therefore a desert except where there is natural or artificial irrigation. The temperature in the west ranges from 26° below zero in winter to 150° above in summer, but in the east and south is more equable.
Along the streams are fertile belts of productive soil, where the vegetation is most abundant, and under the intense heats of summer many of the semi-tropical fruits and vegetables ripen. The field crops are cotton, rice, wheat, hemp, flax, barley, and maize, while the gardens produce tobacco and melons, and the orchards of the more favored districts yield an abundance of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and other fruits. The herds of cattle are very large] and afford the principal article of export. The wild animals are generally the same as those of West Turkistan, with the addition of the tiger, the panther, and a peculiar species of stag found in the Lobnor region of forest, jungle, and reed growth. The minerals are gold, found in the mountain streams and in the Thian-shan mountains, silver, iron, eopper, nitre, sal ammoniac, sulphur, asbestus, agate, and the precious jasper, which was formerly a monopoly of the Chinese empire. The inhabitants are not so distinctly classified as the tribes of West Turkistan, all of which, however, are represented in those parts of the country to which modern exploration extends.
The Turanian element is most prominent, although Shaw regards the Yarkandees as Tartarized Aryans. The inhabitants of the Lob region are a wild race of huntsmen, concerning whom little is known. The ruling class consists mainly of Uzbecks and Kiptchaks. Sunni Mohammedanism is the prevailing religion. The villages are made up of aggregated enclosures, each wall surrounding a house and a garden or fields. - The western part of Turkistan was known as Turania to the ancient writers on Persia. It was the theatre of repeated terrible conflicts between the Iranian or Persian and the Turanian races, in the early ages of Persian history, and the Persian hero Jemshid figures as largely in some of these as Achilles in those of the early Greeks. The Iranians finally remained masters of the southern part of the country, and at the beginning of the historic period it was comprised in the Persian satrapies of Bactria and Sogdiana, which were afterward conquered successively by Alexander the Great, the Parthians, the later Persians, the Arabs, and the Tartars or Mongols of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, under whom the Tartar elements almost entirely replaced the Indo-European. The Mongols ruled over the southern portion till about the beginning of the 16th century, when their sultan Baber, the future founder of the Mogul empire in Hindostan, was driven out by the Turkish tribe of the Uzbecks. The Uzbecks established a powerful monarchy, which continued about 160 years, and then separated into numerous independent khanates, of which Bokhara, Khiva, and the late khanate of Khokan are the modern representatives.
For the history of the advance and establishment of the Russian power in this region, see Bokhara, Khiva, and Russia. The Russian province of Turkistan, already described, was established in 1865, and the influence of Russia is paramount throughout all this part of Asia. The various forts and towns are garrisoned by a military force, numbering in 1874 about 30,000 enlisted men. In East Turkistan the chief state is now Kashgar, and the history of the country is given under that title. - See Vambery's "Travels in Central Asia " (London, 1865), " Sketches from Central Asia" (1867), and "Bokhara, its History and Conquest" (1873); Die Russen in Centralasien, by Friedrich von Hellwald (1874); "Khiva and Turkestan," translated from the Russian by Capt. H. Spalding (1874); "England and Russia in the East," by Sir Henry Rawlinson (1875); and, as to East Turkistan, Robert Shaw's " High Tartary, Yarkand, and Kashgar" (1871), and "Kashmir and Kashghar," by Dr. H. W. Bellew, C. S. I. (1875), being a narrative of Sir Douglas Forsyth's embassy from India to Kashgar in 1873-4.