1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Afghan Turkestan

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AFGHAN TURKESTAN, the most northern province of Afghanistan. It is bounded on the E. by Badakshan, on the N. by the Oxus river, on the N.W. and W. by Russia and the Hari Rud river, and on the S. by the Hindu Lush, the Koh-i-Baba and the northern watershed of the Hari Rud basin. Its northern frontier was decided by the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1873; and delimited by the Russo-Afghan boundary commission of 1883, which gave rise to the Panjdeh incident. The whole territory, from the junction of the Kokcha river with the Oxus on the north-east to the province of Herat on the south-west, is some 500 m. in length, with an average width from the Russian frontier to the Hindu Kush of 114 m. It thus comprises about 57,000 sq. m. or roughly two-ninths of the kingdom of Afghanistan. Except in the river valleys it is a poor territory, rough and mountainous towards the south, but subsiding into undulating wastes and pasture-lands towards the Turkman desert, and the Oxus riverain which is highly cultivated. The population, which is mostly agricultural, settled in and around its towns and villages, is estimated at 750,000. The province includes the khanates of Kunduz, Tashkurgan, Balkh with Akcha; the western khanates of Saripul, Shibarghan, Andkhui and Maimana, sometimes classed together as the Chahar Vidayet, or "Four Domains"; and such parts of the Hazara tribes as lie north of the Hindu Kush and its prolongation. The principal town is Mazar-i-Sharif, which in modern times has supplanted the ancient city of Balkh; and Takhtapul, near Mazar, is the chief Afghan cantonment north of the Hindu Kush.

Ethnically and historically Afghan Turkestan is more connected with Bokhara than with Kabul, of which government it has been a dependency only since the time of Dost Mahommed. The bulk of the people of the cities are of Persian and Uzbeg stock, but interspersed with them are Mongol Hazaras and Hindus with Turkoman tribes in the Oxus plains. Over these races the Afghans rule as conquerors and there is no bond of racial unity between them. Ancient Balkh or Bactriana was a province of the Achaemenian empire, and probably was occupied in great measure by a race of Iranian blood. About 250 B.C. Diodotus (Theodotus), governor of Bactria under the Seleucidae, declared his independence, and commenced the history of the Greco-Bactrian dynasties, which succumbed to Parthian and nomadic movements about 126 B.C. After this came a Buddhist era which has left its traces in the gigantic sculptures at Bamian and the rock-cut topes of Haibak. The district was devastated by Jenghiz Khan, and has never since fully recovered its prosperity. For about a century it belonged to the Delhi empire, and then fell into Uzbeg hands. In the 18th century it formed part of the dominion of Ahmad Khan Durani, and so remained under his son Timur. But under the fratricidal wars of Timur’s sons the separate khanates fell back under the independent rule of various Uzbeg chiefs. At the beginning of the 19th century they belonged to Bokhara; but under the great amir Dost Mahommed the Afghans recovered Balkh and Tashkurgan in 1850, Akcha and the four western khanates in 1855, and Kunduz in 1859. The sovereignty over Andkhui, Shibarghan, Saripul and Maimana was in dispute between Bokhara and Kabul until settled by the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1873 in favour of the Afghan claim. Under the strong rule of Abdur Rahman these outlying territories were closely welded to Kabul; but after the accession of Habibullah the bonds once more relaxed.  (T. H. H.*)