The Fergana Valley is one of Central Asia's most densely populated agricultural and industrial areas. Cotton fields, orchards, vineyards, walnut groves, and mulberry tree plantations (for silk) cover the region, which is one of the world's oldest cultivated areas. Along the fringes of the valley are deposits of oil, natural gas, and iron ore. The region's natural resources contributed to the industrialization of all Soviet Central Asia. Cotton and silk milling and the manufacture of chemicals and cement are among the valley's important industries.
According to ancient Chinese sources, the Fergana Valley was a major center of Central Asia as early as the 4th cent. B.C. The introduction of silk raising from China, the development of cotton cultivation, and its favorable location astride the silk route between China and the Mediterranean stimulated the valley's growth. The Arabs, following the path of earlier invaders, occupied the valley in the 8th cent. and introduced Islam. The region was held in the 9th and 10th cent. by the Persian Samanid dynasty, in the 12th cent. by the Seljuk Turks of Khwarazm, and in the 14th cent. by the Mongols under Jenghiz Khan. The valley later belonged to the empire of Timur and his successors, the Timurids.
Early in the 16th cent., it was overrun by the Uzbeks, who established the khanate of Kokand. The opening of the sea route to East Asia around that time led to the decline of the prosperous caravan trade through the valley. Russian conquest of the Fergana Valley was completed in 1876; the region was then made part of a much larger unit called Fergana, which was a province of Russian Turkistan. During the Russian civil war, the valley was the center of the anti-Bolshevik Autonomous Turkistan Government, with Kokand as its capital. The crowded conditions in the valley contributed to ethnic violence in 1989-90, and Fergana has been one of the hot spots of post-USSR Central Asia.
The Tomb of Ali at Shakhimardan, on the edge of the valley formed the nucleus of an independent khanate, while later under Russian rule in the 19th century Ferghana was a province to itself, with large areas of the Pamirs included. It is the most fertile and most densely-populated region in the whole of Central Asia.
The most important part of the province is a rich and fertile valley, in an altitude of 1200 to 1500 ft (400 to 500 m), opening towards the southwest. The valley owes its fertility to two rivers, the Naryn and the Kara Darya, which unite in the valley, near Namangan, to form the Syr Darya. The streams, and their numerous mountain effluents, not only supply water for irrigation, but also bring down vast quantities of sand, which is deposited alongside their courses, more especially alongside the Syr Darya where it cuts its way through the Khojent-Ajar ridge, forming there the Karakchikum. This expanse of moving sands, covering an area of 750 m², under the influence of south-west winds, encroaches upon the agricultural districts.
The central part of the geological depression that forms the valley is characterized by block subsidence, originally to depths estimated at 6-7 km, largely filled with sediments that range in age as far as the Permian-Triassic boundary. Some of the sediments are marine carbonates and clays. The faults are upthrusts and overthrusts. Anticlines associated with these faults form traps for petroleum and natural gas, which has been discovered in 52 small fields
In 329 BC, Alexander the Great founded a Greek settlement with the city of Alexandria Eschate "The Furthest", in the southwestern part of the Ferghana valley, on the southern bank of the river Syr Darya (ancient Jaxartes), at the location of the modern city of Khujand, in the state of Tajikistan.
After 250 BCE, the city probably remained in contact with the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom centered on Bactria, especially when the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus extended his control to Sogdiana. There are indications that from Alexandria Eschate the Greco-Bactrians may have led expeditions as far as Kashgar and Ürümqi in Chinese Turkestan, leading to the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BCE. Several statuettes and representations of Greek soldiers have been found north of the Tien Shan, on the doorstep to China, and are today on display in the Xinjiang museum at Urumqi (Boardman). Of the Greco-Bactrians, the Greek historian Strabo too writes that:
The Dayuan were identified by the Chinese as unusual in features, with a sophisticated urban civilization, similar to that of the Bactrians and Parthians: "The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria and Parthia are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China" (Hou Han Shu).
Agricultural activities of the Dayuan reported by Zhang Qian included growing of grain and grapes (for wine). The area of Ferghana was thus the theater of the first major interaction between an urbanized culture speaking Indo-European languages and the Chinese civilization, which led to the opening up the Silk Road from the 1st century BC.
Being on the Northern Silk Road, this area has had significant trade and culture ties to the rest of the Muslim world in the medieval era. As a hinterland, it also provided a lot of intellectuals in the areas of learning. Many scholars in various disciplines have nisba to cities in the Ferghana valley, such as al-Firghani الفرغاني, al-Andijani الأندجاني, al-Namangani النمنگاني, al-Khojandi الخوجندي.
Ferghana, or Fergana was a province of Russian Turkestan, formed in 1876 out of the former khanate of Kokand (see Kokand). It was bounded by the provinces of Syr-darya on the N. and N.W., Samarkand on the W., and Zhetysu on the N.E., by Chinese Turkestan (Kashgaria) on the E., and by Bukhara and Afghanistan on the S. Its southern limits, on the Pamirs, were fixed by an Anglo-Russian commission in 1885, from Zorkul (Victoria Lake) to the Chinese frontier; and Khignan, Roshan and Wakhan were assigned to Bokhara in exchange for part of Darvaz (on the left bank of the Panj), which was given to Afghanistan. The area amounted to some 53,000 m², of which 17,600 m² are on the Pamirs.
Silkworm breeding, formerly a prosperous industry, had decayed, despite the encouragement of a state farm at New Marghelan.
In the Soviet period this picture changed, as the forests were destroyed and opened to irrigation and a cotton monoculture introduced at the expense of the varied food and fodder crops described above. Central Asia's food was imported from Siberia along the new Turkestan-Siberia Railway, and vast areas, including almost all of Ferghana, turned over exclusively to the production of this lucrative cash-crop. Today a balance is slowly returning to agriculture in Uzbekistan, but the soil is often exhausted by over-use and poisoned by too many chemical fertilisers. While still rich and fertile, it is still uncertain if the Ferghana Valley will ever again attain the degree of prosperity and varied cultivation described above.
Until the late 19th century Ferghana, like everywhere else in Central Asia, was dependent on the camel, horse and donkey for transport, while roads were few and bad. The Russians built a trakt or post-road linking Andijan, Kokand, Margilan and Khodjend with Samarkand and Tashkent in the early 1870s. A new impulse was given to trade by the extension (1898) of the Transcaspian railway into Ferghana as far as Andijan, and by the opening of the Orenburg-Tashkent or Trans-Aral Railway in (1906).
Until Soviet times and the construction of the Pamir Highway from Osh to Khorog in the 1920s the routes to Kashgaria and the Pamirs were mere bridle-paths over the mountains, crossing them by lofty passes. For instance, the passes of Kara-kazyk, 4,389 m (14,400 ft) and Tenghiz-bai 3,413 m (11,200 ft), both passable all the year round, lead from Marghelan to Karateghin and the Pamirs, while Kashgar is reached via Osh and Gulcha, and then over the passes of Terek-davan, 3,720 m (12,205 ft); (open all the year round), Taldyk, 3,505 m (11,500 ft), Archat, 3,536 m (11,600 ft), and Shart-davan, 4,267 m (14,000 ft). Other passes leading out of the valley are the Jiptyk, 3,798 m (12,460 ft), S. of Khokand; the Isfairam, 3,657 m (12,000 ft), leading to the glen of the Surkhab, and the Kavuk, 3,962 m (13,000 ft), across the Alai Mts.
Provinces of Uzbekistan in Ferghana Valley:
|Province of Andijan||4200 km²||1.9 million|
|Province of Fergana||6800 km²||2.6 million|
|Province of Namangan||7900 km²||1.86 million|
|Total in Uzbekistan||18,900 km²||6.36 million|
The Valley is now divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In Tajikistan it is part of Soghd Province or vilayat, with the capital at Khodjend. In Uzbekistan it is divided between the Namangan, Andijan and Fergana viloyati, while in Kyrgyzstan it contains parts of Batken, Jalalabad and Osh oblasts, with Osh being the main town for the southern part of the country.
Cities in the Fergana Valley include: