City (pop., 1999 est.: 360,100), south-central Kazakhstan. It lies at an elevation of 1,680 ft (512 m) in the foothills of the Ugam Range, north of Tashkent. Originally a settlement on the caravan route from Central Asia to China, it dates to at least the 12th century AD. Destroyed by nomad attacks several times, it became part of the khanate of
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Shymkent was founded in the 12th century as a caravanserai to protect the Silk Road town of Sayram, 10km to the east. Shymkent grew as a market center for trade between nomads and the settled people. It was destroyed several times: by Genghis Khan, soldiers from the souther Khanates, and by nomad attacks. Once part of the Khanate of Kokand, it became part of the Emirate of Bukhara in 1810 and was then annexed by the Russian Empire in 1864. It was renamed Chernyaev in 1914 and renamed Chimkent in 1924.
The name of the city came from two words, Shym meaning turf, and Kent meaning city. Shymkent and Chimkent have identical translations in Kazakh and Uzbek, respectively.
After Kazakhstan gained independence, the city was renamed to its original name Shymkent in 1993 as part of the government’s campaign to apply Kazakh names to cities. This created an ambiguity in the city's name in the Russian language. (The formal spelling of Шымкент (Shymkent) as codified in Kazakhstan's Constitution goes against the Russian spelling rules of never having the letter ы follow the letter ш.) As a result, the new name Шымкент (Shymkent) is used only in Kazakhstan, while Russia and some other countries using Russian language keep using the original Uzbek spelling Чимкент (Chimkent).