Turkestan' (properly Toor-ke-stahn'; ' the country of the Turks'), a great region of central Asia, stretching E. from the Caspian to beyond Lob-nor (110° E. long.), and S. from Siberia and Dzungaria to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. A lofty tableland, the Pamir (q.v.), separates the rivers running E. to the desert of Gobi from those which run to the Sea of Aral, and divides Turkestan into a western and an eastern portion.
Western Turkestan, or simply Turkestan, consists of the great hollow plain of the Caspian and Aral Seas, which occupies its west and centre, and of the hilly and well-watered districts formed by the ramifications of the Tian-shan Mountains and Hindu Kush. The plain is composed of deserts of shifting sand, interspersed with oases, strips of fertile land along the banks of rivers, and occasional tracts clad with coarse thin grass; the eastern districts abound in valleys of remarkable fertility. The climate varies on the plains from extreme cold to burning heat; in the eastern highlands the cold is intense in winter, and the summer is comparatively cool. The rivers are the Syr-Daria or Jaxartes (q.v.), Amu-Daria or Oxus (q.v.), Zarafshan, and Murg-hab, both of which terminate in marshes. Chief products are fruits, grain, cotton, flax, hemp, tobacco, silk, coal, salt, and sal-ammoniac. Agriculture and the breeding of the domestic animals are the main occupations; but cotton, silk, linen, and woollen goods, shagreen, paper made of raw silk, carpets, etc, are manufactured. Western Turkestan is divided into Russian Turkestan, including Khokand, now Ferghana, in the north and north-east, and the Tekke Turkoman country, with Merv, in the south-west; Khiva, under Russian influence, in the west; Bokhara, in the east and centre; and Afghan Turkestan, including Badakshan and Kunduz, Balkh, Maimaneh, Andkhui, and Sir-i-pul. The population comprises Uzbegs, the dominant race, Turkomans (who, like the Uzbegs, belong to the same Ural-Altaic stock from which the Osmanli Turks of Turkey are descended), Karakalpaks, Kirghiz, Sarts, Tajiks, Persians, Kiptchaks, and a few Arabs, Hindus, and Jews. Of these the Sarts and Tajiks, the original inhabitants of the cities, are of ancient Persian stock, and along with the Uzbegs, Hindus, and Jews form the settled population; the Persians are mostly descendants of slaves; the other races are largely nomad. The prevalent religion is Mohammedanism, and most of the tribes are Sunnites; a few Shiites, Sufis, and Buddhists are also found. Pop. of Russian Turkestan, 4,888,200; of Khiva, 800,000; of Bokhara, 1,250,000. The area of Russian Turkestan is 410,000 sq. m.; of Khiva, 25,000; and of Bokhara, 90,000. Turkestan, with Persia, passed to the Macedonians, who made Bactria a Greek kingdom, while the rest was Parthian. Under the Sassanides the Persian boundary was again advanced to the Jaxartes; but invading Turkish tribes from the north-east established themselves between the Oxus and Jaxartes. In the 8th c. the Arabs possessed themselves of Turkestan, which was overrun by Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan. Tamerlane made it the centre of an immense empire, which stretched from the Hellespont to the frontiers of China, and from Moscow to the Ganges. This period was the golden age of Turkestan. But after the death of his youngest son, the empire was split up. The Persians, provoked by the slave-raiding expeditions of the Turkomans, made war on them in 1860 and 1865; the Afghans took possession of several southern districts in 1849-59. In 1864 the Russians annexed Tashkend; in 1864, Samarcand; in 1873, great part of Khiva; in 1876, Khokand; in 1881, Merv. Russian Turkestan contains the provinces of Zarafshan, Semiretchinsk, Syr-Daria, Russian Kuldja, Amu-Daria, Ferghana. A railway 1000 miles long, from Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea by Samarcand to Tashkand, has wrought a great change in the economical condition of Turkestan. See Schuyler's Turkestan (1877), Vam-bery's works, Krafft's superb book (Paris, 1902), and other books named at Bokhara, Merv, etc.
Eastern Turkestan, known formerly as Chinese Tartary, is bounded N. by the Tian-shan Mountains, W. by the Pamir tableland, and S. by the highlands of Tibet or Cashmere. Eastward it sinks to the desert plain of the Gobi, round whose western bay it forms a vast crescent-shaped oasis 4000 to 5000 feet in elevation, drained by the tributaries of the Tarim, a river which flows 1500 miles E. into the desert to the Lob-nor lake. Canals ramify the country, but large areas are very unproductive; and though there are numerous villages and towns, some of them large, the total pop. - some 600,000 - is but thin. The country produces gold and abundance of silk; and the inhabitants are skilful in making gold and silver stuffs, carpets, and linen, cotton, and silk goods. The political capital is Kashgar; the commercial capital, Yarkand. Kulja (q.v.), taken by the Russians in 1871, was reoccupied by China in 1881. The language is Turkish, but there are also Tajiks of Persian descent. The country was part of the empire of Genghis Khan, broke up into many petty states (Yarkand, Kashgar, Aksu, Khoten, etc.), and became a province of China in 1758. A rising of the Mohammedan inhabitants took place in 1864, and under Yakoob Beg the country was independent of China till 1877, when the Chinese resumed possession. See Boulger's Life of Yakoob Beg (1878), Lansdell's Chinese Central Asia (1894), and the reports by Forsyth, Ney Elias, Carey, and Younghusband.