The Fergana Valley, consisting partly of the very fertile Karakalpak steppe and partly of desert land, is drained by the Syr Darya River and by numerous mountain streams, which are fed by snowfields and glaciers in the mountains. A dense irrigation network is linked by the Great Fergana and South Fergana canals. The population of the valley is largely Uzbek; major cities in the valley include Fergana , Kokand , Andijan , and Namangan , in Uzbekistan; Khudjand , in Tajikistan; and Osh , in Kyrgyzstan. Many of the region's cities are connected by a circular rail line, which also has spurs serving the mining settlements on the valley's periphery.
The Fergana Valley is one of Central Asia's most densely populated agricultural and industrial areas. Wheat and cotton fields, orchards, vineyards, walnut groves, and mulberry tree plantations (for silk) cover the region, which is one of the world's oldest cultivated areas. Along the fringes of the valley are deposits of oil, natural gas, and iron ore. The region's natural resources contributed to the industrialization of all Soviet Central Asia. Cotton and silk milling and the manufacture of chemicals and cement are among the valley's important industries.
According to ancient Chinese sources, the Fergana Valley was a major center of Central Asia as early as the 4th cent. BC The introduction of silk raising from China, the development of cotton cultivation, and its favorable location astride the silk route between China and the Mediterranean stimulated the valley's growth. The Arabs, following the path of earlier invaders, occupied the valley in the 8th cent. and introduced Islam. The region was held in the 9th and 10th cent. by the Persian Samanid dynasty, in the 12th cent. by the Seljuk Turks of Khwarazm , and in the 14th cent. by the Mongols under Jenghiz Khan . The valley later belonged to the empire of Timur and his successors, the Timurids .
Early in the 16th cent., it was overrun by the Uzbeks, who established the khanate of Kokand. The opening of the sea route to East Asia around that time led to the decline of the prosperous caravan trade through the valley. Russian conquest of the Fergana Valley was completed in 1876; the region was then made part of a much larger unit called Fergana, which was a province of Russian Turkistan. During the Russian civil war, the valley was the center of the anti-Bolshevik Autonomous Turkistan Government, with Kokand as its capital. The crowded conditions in the valley contributed to ethnic violence in 1989–90, and Fergana has been one of the hot spots of post-USSR Central Asia. An number of enclaves established under Soviet rule, especially those of Uzbekistan that are surrounded by Kyrgyzstan, have at times led to border conflicts.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: CIS and Baltic Political Geography