URALSK, a province of south-eastern Russia, lying to the north of the Caspian Sea, with an area of 141,174 square miles. It is bounded by Astrakhan on the west, Samara and Orenburg on the north, Turgai and the Sea of Aral on the east, and the Transcaspian Region on the south. It is geographically situated mostly within the boundaries of Asia, i.e., to the east of the Ural river, and both its physical features and its inhabitants are, to a very large extent, Asiatic. Administratively, it belongs to the "Kirghiz provinces," or governor-generalship of the steppes. Apart from a narrow strip of land in the north, where the slopes of the Obschiy Syrt, covered with a fertile black earth and stretches of forest, descend towards the Ural river, and the gentle slopes of the Mugojar Hills in the north-east, Uralsk consists of dry steppes and deserts, which fall with an imperceptible gradient towards the Caspian. Most of the province is below sea-level, the zero-altitude line running from Kamyshin on the Volon, to the south of the town of Uralsk. The steppe-lamed consists for the most part of sandy clay, sands containing posits, which conceal the underlying rocks.
Uralsk is watered by the Ural, which rises in Orenburg at a height of 2100 feet above sea-level, but soon descends to the lowlands, where it flows south, west, and south, entering the Caspian after a course of 800 miles. Its chief tributaries, the Sakmara, the Or, and the Ilek, are in the north ; along its lower course the Great and Little Uzelis and many small streams on the left bank fail to join the main river, being lost in lakes before reaching it. The Emba, which has its course in the north of the Ust-Urt plateau, reaches the Caspian by a series of shallow lagoons, which were navigable in the 18th century.
The climate is influenced by the Central Asian steppes. A cold and dry winter is succeeded by a hot and still drier summer, during which the grass, and sometimes all the crops, are destroyed by the burning heat. Uralsk, although lying wholly to the south of 51° 30' N. lat., has the same average yearly temperature as _Moscow and south Finland (39°-5); its January is colder than that of north Finland (3°), while July averages 73° The character of the vegetation can be easily inferred from the above. The prairies and forest tracts of the north soon disappear, their place being taken by the vegetation of the south Russian steppes. This has, however, to struggle with the much poorer vegetation, Central Asian in character, of the sandy regions to the west of the lower Ural, and the saliniferous vegetation of the clayey deserts of the Emba. The Ust-Urt has herbaceous steppes, where the want of irrigation and rain destroys all vegetation by the end of summer. Wide belts of rushes grow along the banks of the rivers and on the shores of the Caspian.
The population of the province, 525,330 in 1883, is made up of three different elements, - Ural Cossacks, who constitute about one-fifth, and numbered nearly 90,000 in 1879, some 15,000 Russian peasants, and Kirghiz. Of these 405,000 are still nomads. The Kirghiz are almost entirely dependent on cattle-breeding, and before the outbreak of the murrain of 1879 were reckoned to have 429,500 horses, 221,800 bead of cattle, 1,411,000 sheep, and 175,000 camels. From that epidemic the Russians lost two-thirds of their horses and one-third of their other stock, whilst the lairgiz lost more than three-fouoths of both horses and cattle. The Ural Cossacks, descendants of those independent communities of free settlers and Raskolniks who are so often mentioned in Russian history under the name of Yaik Cossacks, owing to their unwillingness to submit to the rule of the czars, are fine representatives of the Great Russian race, though not without some admixture of Tartar and Kalmuck blood. Their chief occupations are cattle-breeding and fishing, the latter a most important source of income. The rich fisheries in the Ural and the Caspian are the property of the community as a whole (the voisko), and are subdivided according to the needs and woe-king powers of the separate villages) They give employment to about 7000 Cossacks and 2000 lured labourers. There are also fisheries in the Emba. Walrus-hunting is also engaged in. Agriculture was first introduced between 1830 and 1840 ; but now more than 300,000 cwts. of wheat are exported annually. Nearly 130,000 ewts. of salt are obtained from the lakes every year. The manufactures of the province, which possesses a few steam flour-mills and a member of tanneries and tallow-melting works, are unimportant. Trade by barter is extensively carried on with the Kirghiz. Fish, corn, cattle, hides, tallow, and the like are exported, while manufactured wares are imported to the value of about £1,500,000 per annum.
Uralsk is divided into four districts, the chief towns of which are Uralsk (20,680 inhabitants in 1879), Kalmykofr (1510), Gurieff at the mouth of the Ural (4380), and Tenlirsk, a small port, now the administrative centre of the district of Embinsk. Several villages have populations of from 2000 to 5000 each.
History. - In the first half of the 16th century Uralsk was occupied by the Non'ni horde, a remnant of the Golden Horde, which retired tilers after the fall of Astrakhan and Kazan ; the khans resided at Saraitchik on the Ural. At the same time the lower parts of the Ural were occupied by Russian runaway serfs and free Cossacks who did not recognize the authority of INtoscow. They took Saraitchik in 1560 and formed an independent community, like the sitch, of the Zaporog Cossacks. The Moscow princes, recognizing the importance of these military settlements, tried to win their allegiance by the grant of various privileges. But, when they attempted to bring them under the centralized rule of the empire and prosecuted them for nonconformity, the Cossacks revolted, first under Razin, and afterwards under Fogatcheff. After the latter rising, the name of Ural was officially given to the Yaik river and the Yaik Cossacks. The disbanding of their artillery, the planting of Russian garrisons within the domains of the voisko, and the interference of Russian officials in their interior organization during the 19th century occasioned a series of smaller outbreaks, the latest of which, in 1874, against the new law of military service, resulted in the deportation of 2500 Cossacks, with their families, to Turkestan.