1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Semipalatinsk (province)

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SEMIPALATINSK, a province of the Russian dominions in Central Asia; administratively it forms a part of the general governorship of the Steppes, although its northern portions really belong to the Irtysh plains of West Siberia. It is bounded on the N. by Tobolsk and Tomsk, on the S.E. by China, on the S. by Semiryechensk, and on the W. by Akmolinsk. As regards configuration, it differs widely in its northern and southern parts. The snow-clad ranges (gooo to 10,000 ft.) of the Altai and Narym enter it in the S.E., stretching S. to Lake Zaisan. Another complex of mountains, Kalbin, rising 5000 and 6000 ft. above the sea, continues them towards the west. A broad valley intervenes, through which the Irtysh finds its way from the Zaisan terrace to the lowlands of Siberia. Many extensions of these mountains and subordinate ranges stretch towards the north. The still lower but wild Chinghiz-tau mountains diversify the south-western part of Semipalatinsk, sending out their rocky spurs into the steppe region. In the south, the Tarbagatai (Marmots') range (9000 to 10,000 ft.) separates Semipalatinsk from Semiryechensk and Dzungaria. Wide steppes fill up the spaces between the mountains: e.g. the Zaisan steppe (1200 to 1 500 ft.), between the Tarbagatai and the Altai ranges; the plains of Lake Balkash, some 300 ft. lower, to the south of the Chinghiztau; and the plains of the Irtysh, which hardly rise 600 ft. above the sea. All kinds of crystalline rocks-granites, syenites, diorites and porphyries, as also slates of all descriptions-are met with in the mountainous tracts. There also occur rich gold-bearing sands, silver and lead mines, graphite, coal and the less valuable precious stones. The geology of the region and even its topography are still but imperfectly known. Numerous boulders scattered over the mountains testify to a much wider extension of glaciers in former times. The chief river of the province, the Irtysh, which issues from Lake Zaisan, flows north and north-west and drains Semipalatinsk for more than 760 m. Between Bukhtarma and Ust-Kamenogorsk it cuts its way through the Altai by a wild gorge, with dangerous rapids, through which, however, boats are fioated. Lake Zaisan, 80 rn. long and ro to 20 m. wide, has depth sufficient for steamboat navigation; steamers traverse also for some 100 m. the lower course of the Black Irtysh, which flows from Kulja to Lake Zaisan. The Kurchum, the Narym and the Bukhtarma are the chief right hand tributaries of the Irtysh, while the Char-urban, Chagan and many smaller streams join it from the left; none are navigable; neither are the Kokpekty and Bugaz, which enter Lake Zaisan on the west. Lake Balkash, which borders Semipalatinsk on the south-west, formerly received several tributaries from the Chinghiz-tau. Many smaller lakes (sorne of them merely ternporary) occur on the Irtysh plain, and yield salt.

The climate is severe. The average yearly temperature reaches 43° in the south and 34° in the north; the winter is very cold, and frosts of -44° F. are not uncommon, while the thermometer rises to 122° in the shade in the summer. The yearly amount of rain and snow is trifling, although snow-storms are very common; strong winds prevail. Forests are plentiful in the hilly districts and on the Irtysh plain, the flora being Siberian in the north and more Central Asiatic towards lakes Balkash and Zaisan.

The area of the province is 183,145 sq. m., and in 1906 its population was estimated at 767,500. Only about 6 % of the population is settled, the remainder, chiefly Kirghiz, being nomads. The province is divided into five districts, the chief towns of which are Semipalatinsk, Pavlodar, Kokpekty, Karkaralinsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk. The Russians are chiefly agriculturists, and have wealthy settlements on the right bank of the Irtysh, as well as a few patches in the south, at the foot of the mountains. The Kirghiz are almost exclusively live-stock breeders and keep large Hocks of sheep, horses and cattle, as also camels. Hunting is a favourite and profitable occupation with the Cossacks and the Kirghiz. Bee-keeping is extensively followed, especially among the Cossacks. Fishing, which is carried on in lakes Zaisan and Balkash, as also in the Black Irtysh, is of considerable importance. Gold is mined, also silver, copper, salt and coal. There are two ironworks, but the only other industrial establishments of any size are a steam flour-mill and a distillery. A considerable amount of trade is carried on within the province, in which twenty fairs are held every year.