SAMARKAND PROVINCE, a province of Russian Turkestan, formerly Zarafshan or Zerafshan. It is the ancient Sogdiana and was known as Sughd to the Moslems of the middle ages. It has on the N. and N.E. the province of Syr-darya, on the E. Ferghana, on the W. Bokhara and on the S. the khanates of Hissar, Karateghin and Darvaz. Its area is 26,627 sq. m. It is very hilly in the S., where it is intersected by ranges belonging to the Alai system. The Hissar range is the water-parting between the Zarafshan and the upper tributaries of the Amu-darya; another high range, the Zarafshan, runs between the two parallel rivers, the Zarafshan and its tributary, the Yagnob; while a third range, often called the Turkestan chain, stretches W. to E. parallel to the Zarafshan, on its N. bank. It is very probable that the three ranges referred to really possess a much more complicated character than is supposed. All three ranges are snow-clad, and their highest peaks reach altitudes of 18,500 ft. in the W. and 22,000 ft. in the E., while the passes over them, which are difficult as a rule, lie at altitudes of 12,000 ft. Several Alpine lakes, such as Iskander-kul, 7000 ft. high, have been found under the precipitous peaks.
The Alpine zone extends as far N. as the 40th parallel, beyond which the province is steppe-land, broken by only one range of mountains, the Nuratyn-tau, also known as Sanzar and Malguzar in the S.E. and as Kara-tau in the N.W. This treeless range stretches 160 m. N.W., has a width of about 35 m. and reaches altitudes of 7000 ft. It is pierced, in the Sanzar gorge, or Tamerlane's Gate, by the rail way leading from Samarkand to Tashkent. 14 Translated in Bibliotheca sacra (1906), p. 385, etc.
The other mountains in the province are well wooded, and it is estimated that nearly 4,500,000 acres are under forests. The N.W. portion is occupied by the Famine Steppe which probably might be irrigated and by the desert of Kyzyl-kum. The Famine or Hungry Steppe (not to be confounded with another desert of the same name, the Bek-pak-dala, to the W. of Lake Balkash) occupies nearly 5,000,000 acres, covered with loess-like clay. In the spring the steppe offers good pasture-grounds for the Kirghiz, but the grass withers as summer advances. Nearly 1,500,000 acres might, however, be irrigated and rendered available for the cultivation of cotton; indeed a beginning has been made in that direction. The Kyzyl-kum Steppe, 88,000 sq. m., is crossed by rocky hills, reaching an altitude of 3500 ft., and consists in part of saline clays, patches of prairie land and sand. The sand is especially prevalent on the margin, where the moving barkkans (crescent-shaped sandhills) invade the Kara-kul oasis of Bokhara. The vegetation is very poor, as a rule; grass and flowers (tulips, Rheum, various Umbelliferae) only appear for a short time in the spring. The barkhans produce nothing except Haloxylon ammodendron, Poligonum, Halimodendron, Atraphaxis and other steppe bushes; occasionally Stipa grass is seen on the slopes of the sandhills, while Artemisia and Tamarix bushes grow on the more compact sands. Water can only be obtained from wells, sometimes 140 ft. deep. A few Kirghiz are the sole inhabitants, and they are only found in the more hilly parts.
The chief river is the Zarafshan, which, under the name of Mach, rises in the Zarav glacier in the Kok-su mountain group. Navigation is only possible by rafts, from Penjikent downwards. The river is heavily drawn upon for irrigation; and to this it probably owes its name (" gold-spreading ") rather than to the gold which is found in small quantities in its sands. Over 80 main canals (ariks) water 1200 sq. m. in Samarkand, while 1640 sq. m. are watered in Bokhara by means of over 40 main canals. Beyond Lake Kara-kul it is lost in the sands, before reaching the Amu-darya to which it was formerly tributary. The N.E. of the province is watered by the Syr-darya. One of the lakes, the Tuz-kaneh (40 m. from Jizakh) yields about 1300 tons of salt annually.
The average temperature for the year'is 55-4 F. at Samarkand, and 58 at Khojent and Jizakh; but the average temperature for the winter is only 34, and frosts of 4 and 1 1 have been experienced at Samarkand and Khojent respectively; on the other hand, the average temperature for July is 79 at Samarkand and 85 at Khojent and Jizakh. The total precipitation ( including snow in winter) is only 6-4 in. at Khojent, 12 in. at Samarkand and 24 in. at Jizakh. The hilly tracts have a healthy climate, but malaria and mosquitoes prevail in the lower regions.
The estimated population in 1906 was 1,090,400. The Uxbegs form two-thirds of the population, and after them the Kirghiz and Tajiks (27%) are the most numerous; Jews, Tatars, Afghans and Hindus are also met with.
In 1898 nearly 1,000,000 acres were irrigated, and about 800,000 acres partly irrigated. The chief crops are wheat, rice and barley. Sorghum, millet, Indian corn, peas, lentils, haricots, flax, hemp, poppy, lucerne, madder, tobacco, melons and mushrooms are also grown. Two crops are often taken from the same piece of land in one season. Cotton is extensively grown, and 21,000 acres are under vineyards. Sericulture prospers, especially in the Khojent district. Live-stock breeding is the chief occupation of iLe Kirghiz. Weaving, saddlery, bootmaking, tanneries, oil works and metal works exist in many villages and towns, while the nomad Kirghiz excel in making felt goods and carpets. There are glass works, cotton-cleaning works, steam flour mills and distilleries. Some coal, sulphur, ammonia and gypsum are obtained. Trade is considerable, the chief exports being rice, raw cotton, raisins, dried fruit, nuts, wine and silk. The Central Asian railway crosses the province from Bokhara to Samarkand and Tashkent. The province is divided into four districts, the chief towns of which, with their populations in 1897, are: Samarkand (q.v), Jizakh (16,041), Kati-kurgan (10,083) an d Khojent (30,076).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)