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Zhetysu ( , meaning "seven rivers"; also transcribed Zhetisu, Jetisuw, Jetysu, Jeti-su, Jity-su, Жетысу, Джетысу, etc.) is a historical name of a part of Russian Turkestan, which corresponds to the South-Eastern part of modern Kazakhstanmarker. It owes its name, meaning "seven rivers" (literally "seven waters") in Kazakh, to the rivers which flow from the south-east into Lake Balkhashmarker.

When the region was incorporated into the Russian Empiremarker in the 19th century, it became known in Russian (and, to an extent, in European languages) as Semirechye (( ), which is a Russian calque of the Kazakh "Zhetysu". The name has also been transcribed as Semiryechye, Semirech'e, Semirechiye, Semirechie, Semireche.

The Zhetysu (Seven Rivers' basin) falls into today's Almaty Provincemarker of Kazakhstanmarker. However, the Semirechie Oblast (Семиреченская область), as an administrative unit of the Russian Empiremarker, included not only the Zhetysu (Semirechye) proper, but also lands that now constitute parts of northern Kyrgyzstanmarker and adjacent provinces of Kazakhstan as well.


The lands of the 19th-century Semirechie Oblast (which can be used to give a rough description of the area) included the steppes south of Lake Balkhashmarker and parts of the Tian Shanmarker Mountains around Lake Issyk Kulmarker. The province had an area of 147,300 m²., and was bounded by the province of Semipalatinskmarker on the north, by Chinamarker (Xinjiang) on the east and south, and by the former Russian provinces of Fergana, Syr-darya, and Akmolinsk on the west. The Dzungarian Alataumarker Mountains, which separated it from the Chinese region of Kuljamarker, extend south-west towards the river Ili, with an average height of above the sea, several isolated snow-clad peaks reaching 11,000 to In the south, the region embraces the intricate systems of the Ala-tau and the Tian Shan. Two ranges of the former, the Trans-Ili Ala-tau and the Terskey Ala-tau, stretch along the north shore of Lake Issyk Kulmarker, both ranging from 10,000 to and both partially snow-clad. South of the lake, two ranges of the Tian Shan, separated by the valley of the Narynmarker, stretch in the same direction, lifting up their icy peaks to 6,000 and, ; while westwards from the lake the precipitous slopes of the Alexander chain, 9000 to high, with peaks rising 3,000 to higher, extend into the former province of Syr-darya (containing the southern Kazakh cities of Chimkentmarker, Auliye-atamarker and Turkestanmarker). Another mountain complex of much lower elevation runs north-westwards from the Trans-Ili Ala-tau towards the southern extremity of Lake Balkhashmarker. In the north, where the province bordered Semipalatinsk, it included the western parts of the Tarbagatai range, the summits of which (10,000 ft) do not reach the limit of perpetual snow. The remainder of the province consisted of a fertile steppe in the north-east (Sergiopol), and vast uninhabitable sand-steppes on the south of Lake Balkash. Southwards from the last-named, however, at the foot of the mountains and at the entrance to the valleys, there are rich areas of fertile land.


The climate in Zhetysu is thoroughly continental. In the Balkash steppes the winter is very cold; the lake freezes every year, and the thermometer falls to . In the Ala-kul steppes the winds blow away the snow. The passage from winter to spring is very abrupt, and the prairies are rapidly clothed with vegetation, which, however, is soon scorched by the sun. The average temperatures are: at Vyernyimarker (2405 ft. high), for the year ., for January 17°, for July 74°; at Przhevalskmarker (5450 ft), for the year 36.5°, for January 23°, for July 63°; still higher in the mountains, at Narynmarker (6900 ft), the average temperatures are only, for the year 43.7°, for January 1.4°, for July 64.4°.

Bodies of water

The most important river is the Ilimarker, which enters Zhetysu from the Tian Shanmarker mountains of Chinamarker's Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecturemarker in northern Xinjiang, and drains it for 250 km before it enters Lake Balkash. The Chu River also rises in the Tian Shan mountains and flows north-westwards through the former Akmolinsk province of the Governor-Generalship of the Steppes. The Naryn Rivermarker flows south-westwards along a longitudinal valley of the Tian Shan, and enters the Fergana Valleymarker to join the Syr Daryamarker. The major lakes of the area include Lake Balkash, or Denghiz; Lake Ala Kul, which was connected with Balkash in the post-Pliocene period, but now stands some hundred feet higher, and is connected by a chain of smaller lakes with Sissyk Kul; Lake Issyk-Kulmarker; and the alpine lakes of Son-Kulmarker and Chatyr-Kulmarker.



The population was estimated in 1906 as 1,080,700. Kazakhs formed 76% of the population, Russians 14%, Taranchis (Uygurs)5.7%.

Administration and history

Ascension Cathedral, Almaty (modern view)
Most of Zhetysu was conquered by the Russian Empiremarker from Kokandmarker and the Kazakh Great Horde before the outbreak of the Crimean War, which delayed the advance south. The two major Russian fortresses and garrisons in the region, Vernymarker and Pishpekmarker, were founded in 1854 on the sites of former Kokandian fortresses on the Steppe frontier.

The Semirechye Cossack Host was created in 1867 as a branch of the Siberian Cossack Host.

From 1867-1884 this province was made a part of Russian Turkestan, and from then until 1899 it was incorporated in the Governor-Generalship of the Steppes before reverting back to Russian Turkestan that year. The province was divided into six districts, the chief towns of which were Vyernyimarker (the capital), Jarkentmarker, Kopal, Pishpekmarker, Przhevalskmarker and Sergiopolmarker.

Before the Russian revolution the chief occupation of the Russians, the Taranchis and the Dzungars, and partly also of the Kazakhs of the region, was agriculture. The most important crops were wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice and potatoes. A variety of oil-bearing plants and green fodder, as also cotton, hemp, flax and poppies, were grown. Livestock breeding was very extensively carried on by the Kazakhs, namely, horses, cattle, sheep, camels, goats and pigs. Orchards and fruit gardens were well developed; and the Russian Imperial crown maintained two model gardens. Bee-keeping was widely spread. The factories consisted of flour-mills, distilleries, tanneries and tobacco works; but a great many domestic trades, including carpet-weaving and the making of felt goods, saddlery and iron goods, were carried on, among both the settled inhabitants and the nomadic Kazakhs. There was also trade with Chinamarker, valued at less than half a million sterling annually in 1911. From 1905, after the Russian-Japanese war and the construction of the Trans-Aral Railway, the settlement of Russian people in the area increased greatly under the guidance of the new Migration Department in St. Petersburgmarker (Переселенческое Управление). The province was administered by Vasile Balabanov under General Alexander Dutov until the Bolshevik take-over in 1921, when both Dutov and Balabanov escaped to China.

A shop in 19th century Almaty
After the Central Asian Revolt of 1916 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Provisional Government's authority in the region collapsed. Approximately 2,500 Russian settlers are thought to have been killed by the Kazakhs in the violence that followed in Zhetysu, and this was followed by equally bloody reprisals against the nomadic population, led by the (all-Russian) workers' & soldiers' Sovietsmarker in Tashkentmarker and Verny. Bolshevik control was reimposed in 1918-21 in a series of campaigns led by Mikhail Frunze, after whom the town of Pishpekmarker in Zhetysu was renamed. In 1924, Zhetysu was incorporated in the southern portion of the new Kazakh ASSR by the new Soviet Unionmarker, and, in 1931, this was made a full Soviet Republic and nominally independent of Russia. In 1938 the Kyrgyz ASSR, which incorporated the southern portion of Zhetysu, also became a Soviet Republic. In late 1991, both republics declared their independence from the Soviet Union, forming the new nations of Kazakhstanmarker and Kyrgyzstanmarker respectively.

Derived names

The Semirechye pig and the Semirechensk Salamander are named after the region.


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