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Syr Darya ( ; ; ;
, also transliterated Syrdarya or Sirdaryo;   - Siːħuːn) is a river in Central Asia, sometimes known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name  . The Greek name is derived from Old Persian, Yakhsha Arta ("Great Pearly"), a reference to the color of the river's water. In medieval Islamic writings, the river is uniformly known as Sayhoun (سيحون) - after one of the four rivers of Paradise. (Amu Daryamarker was likewise known as Jayhounmarker, the name of another one of the four).


The name, which comes from Persian and has long been used in the East, is a relatively recent one in western writings; prior to the early 20th century, the river was known by various versions of its ancient Greek name. It marked the northernmost limit of Alexander of Macedon's conquests. Greek historians have claimed that here in 329 BC he founded the city Alexandria Eschatemarker (literally, "Alexandria the Furthest") as a permanent garrison. The city is now known as Khujandmarker. In reality, he had just renamed (and possibly, expanded) the city of Cyropolis founded by king Cyrus the Great of Persiamarker, more than two centuries earlier.

The river rises in two headstreams in the Tian Shan Mountainsmarker (ancient Mount Imeon) in Kyrgyzstanmarker and eastern Uzbekistanmarker—the Naryn Rivermarker and the Kara Darya Rivermarker—and flows for some 2,212 km (1,380 miles) west and north-west Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstanmarker to the remains of the Aral Seamarker. The Syr Darya drains an area of over 800,000 square kilometres, but no more than 200,000 square kilometres actually contribute water to the river. Its annual flow is a very modest 37 cubic kilometres (30 million acre feet) per year—half that of its sister river, the Amu Daryamarker.

Along its course, the Syr Darya irrigates the most fertile cotton-growing region in the whole of Central Asia, together with the towns of Kokandmarker, Khujandmarker, Kyzylordamarker and Turkestanmarker.

An extensive system of canals, many built in the 18th century by the Uzbek Khanate of Kokandmarker, spans the regions the river flows through. Massive expansion of irrigation canals during the Sovietmarker period, to irrigate cotton fields, caused ecological damage to the area, with the river drying up long before reaching the Aral Seamarker which, as a result, has shrunk to a small remnant of its former size. With millions of people now settled in these cotton areas, it is not clear how the situation can be rectified.

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