Lord Curzon in the Land of the Seven Streams

In my a continuation of our look at the history of Almaty and Kazakhstan, here is Lord Curzon on the Semirechye (Zhetisu in Kazakh) in the late 19th Century. He details a region in transition, diverse populations coming in and out as the Russian and Chinese empires meet.

Kazakh and European families together
Kazakh and European families together

Lastly I come to the Russian projects of colonisation, which again look exceedingly well on paper, but as regards fulfilment are as yet very much in the air….In the Syr Daria district they commenced the experiment in 1875 of the free settling of peasants, the planting of Crown colonies at fixed points having already proved a complete failure. A few villages were founded in the ensuing years ; but until 1884 the progress was very slow. In 1885 there were reported to be eight peasant settlements, and four colonies of German Memnonites, with 514 families, and about 2,500 persons.

In 1886 six more Russian villages were established, with 324 families, extending over the two neighbouring districts. These are the latest procurable figures. The very taste for nomad life which their constant migrations have shown really disqualifies the Russians for the sedentary and laborious existence of the settler. Whole communities will roam away from home upon the slightest pretext, or upon the breath of some faint rumour touching the rich gardens of Turkestan or the prolific harvests of Merv. A story is related of a well-to-do colonist who wandered south from Siberia, abandoning an excellent farm, simply because he bad heard that a certain weed, by which his holding was troubled, ceased to grow beyond a particular limit.

pano

The Government of the Steppe to the north-east of Turkestan, and more especially the province of Semirechinsk, or the Land of the Seven Streams, have hitherto been the chief scene of Russian colonisation. In the latter, where the process commenced in 1854, there are said to be over 80,000 colonists. But the emigrants, who were mainly Cossacks of rude habits and unsettled life (the Russian Minister of Agriculture described them in a report as a coarse and almost savage band, addicted to idleness, intoxication, theft, and vice), or peasants from Siberia, driven southwards by the cold, appear to have been thoroughly unsatisfactory ; while Chinese competition from the neighbouring province of Hi and from Chinese Turkestan, particularly that of the Dungans or Chinese Mahometans, and Taranchis or Turki Mahometans, has proved a serious hindrance. The natives, who, like all China men, consume less food and work for less wages than any other people in the world, lower the price of agricultural produce, and derive a further advantage from their intimate knowledge of the local systems of irrigation. Disgust overtakes the discomfited European ; he packs up his goods and chattels, and be comes a vagrant once more.

(from Russia in Central Asia in 1899 and the Anglo-Russian Question by George Nathanial Curzon)

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