Central Asia - West
Transoxania and the Khazakh Steppe

Something of a misnomer, since parts of Khazakhstan border the edge of Europe between the Caspian and the Urals, this region is nevertheless very central to Eurasia as a whole. A vast semi-arid land, in part steppe or desert and in part some of the highest mountains in the world, Central Asia has been the crossroads between the Far East and Far West for as long as there have been humans. This was the central portion of the Silk Road, here are the famous caravan cities of Samarkand and Tashkent, and here saw the "Great Game" between Russia and Great Britain in the 19th century.

Currently I have: Aryani and Aryanam-Baydjo, Astrakhan, Bokhara, Chorasmia, the Dahae, the Haraiva, the Kangui, the Karluks, Khazakhstan, Khiva, Khokand (Farghana), Khwarazm, Kyrgyzstan, Margiana, Otrar, Qarakalpak, Samarkand, Sogdiana, Tashkent, Transoxania, Turkmenistan, Usrushana, Uzbekistan, and the Yue-Zhi.

ARYANI (Irani) and ARYANAM-BAYDJO Aryani and Aryanam-Baydjo are legendary Kingdoms inhabiting the far fringes of semi-historicity. Their location - if they existed in any real sense at all - is unknown, but likely to have been  near the watershed of the Amu Darya and the Aral Sea; ancient Chorasmia, in other words. The people referenced here would have been early Aryans from central Eurasia, just before and during the migrations southward through Bactria and over the Khyber Pass into India in one direction, and across the Karakumy desert and over the Koppeh Dagh into Khorasan and ancient Persia in the other direction. It is difficult to reconcile these lists with the Chorasmian ones of approximately the same era and, I suspect, to the extent that these represent any real groups, they may identify nomadic tribes dwelling on the edge of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins.

ASTRAKHAN A city at the confluence of the Volga into the Caspian Sea. The modern city is near an ancient city called Itil (or Atil), the ruins of which were deliberately flooded by Soviet hydroelectric construction.

BOKHARAAn ancient city about 200 miles west of Samarkand. The Khanate has led a checkered history, oftimes under vassalage to more powerful neighbors, but an important center of Islamic civilization at times. Special mention should be made of the Samanid era; Bokhara of that time was a glowing city of culture and art, the birthplace of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) at a time when the Baghdad Caliphs were prisoners in their own palace and their half-ruined city stalked by Turkish troops

DAHAE (Daha) Literally "robbers" in Avestan. A Saka or Scythian nation inhabiting the region northeast of modern Iran. According to Zoroastrian tradition the prophet Zarathustra was murdered by Dahae.

HARAIVA (Aryans) An Iranian nomadic tribe inhabiting the area around modern day Herat, Afghanistan. The name means "noblemen", and they are likely connected to the Aryan tribes that invaded India in the late second millenium BCE.

The KANGUI (Kantsziui, Kangly) A semi-nomadic tribe living in southern Khazakhstan, beside the Syr Darya River (known in ancient times as the Kang River), from the 3rd century BCE to around the 5th or 6th centuries CE. They established a loose federation in the region, and controlled wide stretches of territory for a time, but little substantive is known of them, and even their ethnic affiliation and language is in doubt. Their federation fragmented in the 5th or 6th centuries CE, leaving several lesser tribal states in its wake before disappearing entirely. Note also Kangu Tarban at Otrar, and the Yue-Zhi, each of which might be related to these folk.

The KARLUKS The Karluks were a collection of Turkic tribes that formed a confederacy in the 600s, under the command of a Yabghu or prince. They inhabited the region east and south of the Aral Sea. They were closely related and for a time allied with the Uighurs; they are also associated with the Oghuz who lived on their western frontiers.

KHAZAKHSTAN A vast region, roughly comparable to India in size, just below the Urals and looking out toward Europe to the west and Siberia to the east. It is mostly prairie, steppe, and semi-arid wasteland

KHOKAND (and Farghana)A city about 175 mile east-southeast of Tashkent, now located in a far eastern panhandle of Uzbekistan. Founded in 1732, it stands on the site of an ancient city of Khavakend, obliterated by the Mongols in the 13th century. Farghana is another city in the immediate region, about 30 miles (50 km.) east of Khokand.

KHWARAZM (and Khiva)Northern Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkestan. The name survives, after a fashion, through a mediaeval mathematician who was known from his ancestors home: al-Khwarazmi... the term "Algorithm" is a singularly unsuccessful attempt to pronounce his name. The penultimate ruler of the Anushtiginids may possibly be the leading candidate for the man responsible for unleashing the Mongols on the world. Genghis Khan sent a trade mission to Khwarazm, who were slaughtered as outland infidels. A diplomatic mission, to demand an explanation, met a similar fate. The third Mongol mission to appear at the border was the entire Horde, seeking vengeance. Having reduced his empire to a fire-blackened, unpopulated wasteland, the Horde continued to extend it's influence, in order to secure its own frontiers...

KYRGYZSTAN The highlands of southern Central Asia, east of Uzbekistan, and astride the Xinjiang frontier. Note that this list follows the people, who originated in southern Siberia, in the Yenisei watershed. They migrated to the present location of Kyrgyzstan in the 16th century. Nevertheless, many of the overlords mentioned here (the Gök, the Uighurs, the Mongols, etc.) governed part or all of both areas.

OTRAR (Turarband, Utrar, Farab) A site in southern Khazakhstan, near the conjunction of the Syr Darya and Arys' Rivers; about 75 miles (120 km.) west-northwest of Chimkent. In former times a prosperous town (or series of towns) within an extensive oasis, and a major stop along the Silk Road, it's importance has declined since the 12th century, and now the place is more-or-less deserted. The place is notable for three things: it was the birthplace of the Central Asian philosopher Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn al-Farakh al-Farabi (Alpharabius, Abunaser) (870-950/1); it was the the town in which the Mongol embassy to Khwarazm was murdered (1218), triggering the conquest of that state by Ghengis Khan, and ultimately the establishment of the 13th century Mongol Empire; and it was the location where the 14th century conqueror Timur died (1405, of natural causes).

QARAKALPAK A region to the southeast of the Aral Sea, encompassing the delta of the Amu Darya River, and adjacent to the Kyzylkum Desert to the east. The name means "Black Hats", a reference to the national dress of the dominant ethnic group. It is not clear whether the Qarakalpaks of today, a Turkic-speaking people (their dialect is of the same subgroup of Turkish as Cuman), are connected to the Karakalpaks or Chernye Klobuki of the Middle Ages, a group of Turkic tribes who served as border guards for various Russian principalities, or whether they broke off from the Kazakh horde sometime in the 1600's. One theory has it that they are an offshoot of the Nogai Horde.

SAMARKAND An ancient city (it celebrated it's 2500th anniversary in 1970) located on the Zarafshan River in modern-day Uzbekistan. The city rose to become a major staging post on the Silk Road from China to the West, and it's exotic reputation has inspired poets as diverse as Milton, Keats, Oscar Wilde, and the Persian Hafiz. The city developed into a major centre of Islamic scholarship under the Arabs. Due to decay arising from centuries-long depredations by the Mongols and their successors, as well as the waning importance of the Silk Road, the city fell on hard times in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since the end of the 19th century, however, it has experienced renewed growth.

SOGDIANA "Sogdiana" is the name given to the fertile regions of Inner Central Asia, astride the course of the Syr Darya River as it makes its way out of the Vale of Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan and winds north through the Kyzyl Kum, to empty into the Aral Sea. More a geographical expression than a political one, the region is nevertheless important for an understanding of the early development of the inhabitants of Central Asia.

TASHKENT (Chach) An ancient city, probably in excess of 2200 years old, in Central Asia. Currently the capital of Uzbekistan, the place was a major caravanserai on the Silk Road, and has always been a focus of trade and culture.

TRANSOXANIA A Latinized form of the Arabic Mawr an-Nahr ("Land Beyond the River"). An ancient region of Central Asia lying east of the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, the Kyzyl Kum Desert, and the western Pamir Mountains beyond Tashkent and Dushanbe, as far as the Afghan frontier.

TURKMENISTANAn ancient region bordering the Caspian Sea to the west, and eastern Iran to the south.

USTRUSHANA (Sudujshana, Usrushana, Eastern Chao) A region in Transoxiana northeast of Samarkand and south of the Syr Darya river. Its historic capital was Nawmanjikat. The population was a mixture of Iranic Soghdians and Turks. The regnal title of its ruler was "Afshin".

UZBEKISTAN A modern state lying athwart the river courses from the eastern highlands to the Caspian, and including the ancient cities of Samarkand and Tashkent.

YUE-ZHI A confederation of closely related semi-nomadic clans dwelling in the arid wastelands beside the Syr-Darya River, east of the Aral Sea in southern and southeastern Kazakhstan, and extending east into Xinjiang and Gansu.. They were active from the 7th cent. BCE to the 1st cent. BCE. Their ethnic affiliation is obscure - portraits on coins and examination of burials imply a Caucasoid people; it has been suggested that they were descendents of Tocharians, a very early branch of Aryan tribes. Their name for themselves is unknown; the apellation of "Yue-Zhi" is Chinese, meaning "Moon People". They migrated southward, into what is now Pakistan, and one of their clans, the Kushan (Chinese: Guishuang) developed a large Empire encompassing most of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northern India for a time.