Where did the word “Irtysh” come from?
Irtysh is a river in Western Siberia. It was of enormous importance in the life of nomadic peoples. The name of this river is given in Tatar pronunciation, but the Kazakhs call it “Irtis”. Other versions of this name can also be found in speech, such as Ertis, Oertis, Oertus, Artush etc. Like the pronunciation of this river’s name, it seems that its spelling was not standardised either, which is explained by the lack of written culture among the people who used this name at a certain time. Of course, such a large number of versions of the name of one and the same river hinders elucidation of the etymology of the word “Irtysh” or “Irtis”. Here it should be noted that explanations for all these versions of this river’s name can be found in the Kazakh language, which makes it possible to assume that they were all given to this river by Turkic-speaking tribes who spoke almost the same language, and each of these tribes, of course, could have made certain morphological changes to the name, which is why so many versions arose.
Let us begin our quest
It is generally known that, on the whole, rivers receive their names from the areas adjoining them, mainly from mountains, as rivers run downwards along a sloping surface. Geographical names which arose in the depths of antiquity usually reflect the natural features of a particular territory, and there is no doubt that the word “Irtysh” reflects some feature of the area, from where the sources of this river sprung. This feature is reflected in language in words, which then, by being repeated many times with the same meaning, equally acceptable for the speaker and for the hearer, becomes the name of that river. In order to find this feature of the area, we must investigate it.
In order to have a clear idea of what we are discussing, a brief description of the river must be given.
The Irtysh originates on the South-West slopes of the Mongolian Altai, within the borders of China. Before it falls into Lake Zaisan, it bears the name of the “Black Irtysh”. This part of the river cuts through a wide plain, and its flow is quite calm. To the North of the lake, the Irtysh is hemmed in on both sides by the rocky masses of the Altai Ridge. The river becomes narrower and the speed of its flow increases. This creates favourable conditions for the construction of an enormous hydroelectric power generation complex.
The left bank of the Irtysh is flat, and the right bank is high, composed of non-compact argillaceous rock, and is therefore subject to frequent landslides. In the middle course of the river places with rapids and bars can be found, but there are none in its lower course. In its lower course, large tributaries flow into the Irtysh from the left: the very long Ishim and the Tobol with its high waters. After the Tobol’s confluence, the Irtysh’s width and depth increase, and the river becomes wide and mighty, but with very slow flow. The Irtysh runs into the Ob. Its length is over 4000 km, and the area of its basin is over one and a half million square km.
In this brief description, our attention is immediately drawn to the fact that the upper reaches of the River Irtysh are called the “Black Irtysh”.
There is an obvious mistake here. By its nature, the Irtysh cannot be “Black”. It should be “snowy”, as it is fed by the snows and glaciers of the Altai Mountains, or it should be a “Mountain” river, as its sources are in the mountains, in the territory of China. The mistake apparently comes from confusion between two Kazakh words, i.e.: the words — Kar (snow), Kyr(a) — (mountain, ridge) and Kara (Black), which, in combination with the word “Irtysh”, give, in turn, the following names of the Irtysh: “Kar Irtysh” (i.e. Snowy Irtysh), “Kyr(a) Irtysh” (i.e. Mountain Irtysh) and “Kara Irtysh” (Black Irtysh). Here the mistake apparently occurred because, instead of the words “Kar Irtysh” or “Kyra Irtysh”, the translator mistakenly wrote “Kara Irtysh”, from which this incorrect name of the Irtysh came. Thus it would be correct to call the upper reaches of the Irtysh the “Mountain Irtysh” or the “Snowy Irtysh”, and not the “Black Irtysh”.
What does “Irtysh” or “Irtys”, “Irtis” mean? Where does this word come from? “Irtysh” is a compound word; it is composed of two words: the first word is “Ir” (a col or saddle), which could also be “Oer”, which means “mountain” or “mountainous”, and the second word is “tysh” (a Tatar word) or “tys” (a Kazakh word), which means “beyond”, “outside”, “outer” or “exterior”. Together these words form “Irtysh” and “Oertysh”, and Irtysh means “col” + “outer”, which does not fit, and “Ortysh” means: “mountain” + “outer”, which does fit, as Oertysh or Oertys, translated into Russian, means: “mountains positioned beyond the borders”. From this we can conclude that the river’s original name was “Oertysh” or “Oertys”, and not “Irtysh” or “Irtys”. This means that the word “Irtys” (Irtysh) was first the name of the mountains, situated “outside the border” or “beyond the border”. These mountains were precisely the mountains which, as we saw above, in the brief description of the Irtysh, lay within the borders of China, from which the River Irtysh or Irtys springs. Consequently, the River Irtysh received its name from the Chinese mountains, which the Kazakhs called “Oertys”,i.e. the “outside mountains”. This is one version of the answer to this question.
There can also be another version of the explanation of the etymology of the word “Irtysh” or “Irtys”.
From the brief review of the River Irtysh given above, we know that this river is hemmed in on both sides by the “stone masses” of the Altai Ridge. The expression “stone masses” is a translation into the Russian language of the Kazakh word “Oertas”, which means “stone mountain”. The word “Oertas” is similar in its sound to the word “Oertys”, which makes us assume that the name of the River Irtysh could also have originated from this word “Oertas”.
Thus we have two possible versions of the explanation of the etymology of the word “Irtysh”, one of which is “Oertys”, and the other “Oertas”, but we cannot yet say which of these versions is correct. Further investigation is needed.
Let us refer to the sources.
In the “Materials on the history of the Turkmens and Turkmenia”, we find the following statement by Al-Masudi:
“On it (the Khazar Sea) there are many nomadic “guzy”, from among the Turkic peoples, in the deserts which are situated there. And among the great rivers flowing into the (Khazar) Sea are the Black Irtysh and the river the White Irtysh. Both of them are great, each of them is greater that the Tigris and the Euphrates, it is a 10 day journey between their mouths; and on them are situated the winter quarters and the summer camps of the “kimaky” and “guzy” (tribes) from among the Turkic peoples. (“Materials on the history of the Turkmens and Turkmenia”, 1939, v.I, page 166)
In a note on this text, the compilers of the “Materials” give the following explanation: “Apparently, here Al-Masudi confused the Yaik and Emba with the Irtysh, on which the “kimaky” really did live; the upper waters of these rivers are not infrequently shown as joined to the mouths of the others in Arabic geographical literature” (ibid, page 166).
We cannot agree at all with this opinion of the compilers of the “Materials”, as it is a basically incorrect opinion, it confuses the question we are studying even more, and in its substance reduces to nothing the meaning of this statement of Al-Masudi.
The reason is as follows.
The “Yaik” and “Emba” are the modern names of these rivers, but Al-Masudi calls them both “Irtysh”. This means that at that time these rivers did not yet have their modem names, and instead of them the word “Irtysh” was used. From this we can conclude that not one river, but several, were called Irtysh, that the word “Irtysh” was a name common to several rivers and, consequently, what is meant here is not one river but several rivers. Therefore it cannot be said that Al-Masudi confused the Yaik and Emba with the Irtysh.
In actual fact, travellers visiting one country or another usually get to know this new country through the local population, they ask local inhabitants and borrow local geographical names from them. The local population knows its country well in all its details; it knows well the relief of the area, its mountains and rivers, animals etc. The local population will, of course, not confuse the mouths of some rivers with the sources of other river. There can be no doubt that Al-Masudi calls the both the Yaik and Emba Irtysh not on his own initiative, but from the words of local inhabitants.. The mistakes of the compilers of the “Materials” consist of the fact that they, knowing under the name “Irtysh” only one river, i.,e. the Altai river, and not admitting the idea that other rivers could exist with this same name, stretch the interpretation and artificially identify the Ural rivers — the Yaik and Emba — with the Altai river, i.e. the Irtysh, and by so doing distort the fact.
It is extremely difficult to understand the history of a nomadic people, without knowing its way of life and language and without knowing the techniques and the nature of its economic activities. It is particularly difficult for those who are acquainted only with the life of a settled people. All the time extremely serious mistakes arise from not knowing the language of the people being studied, and this makes history very confusing. Here the compilers of the “Materials” have made almost the same mistake as Levshin did in his time. This is what he wrote:
“The Turkish geographer Kyatib-Chelebiy in his “Mirror of the world” assumes that Maverennager and Turan are one and the same, and then he contradicts himself, saying in one place that Maverennager, positioned between the Rivers Dzheikhun and Seikhun, adjoins Turkestan in the North, and in another place that Choresmia and Dagestan are at the West of Turkestan. You only need to look at the map to convince yourself what an unclear idea Kyatib-Chelebiy had of the lands lying on each side of the Syr”. (Levshin, “Opisanie Kirgiz-Kaisatckikh ord i stepei”, 1832, v.ll, page 36)
The mistake made by Levshin here was that, not knowing the language, he involuntarily confused one thing with another, i.e. Kyatib-Chelebiy was talking about one thing, and Levshin was talking about something else. By the word “Dagestan” Levshin understood a mountainous area in the Caucasus (Dagestan), while Kyatib-Chelebiy was talking about a mountainous area in Maverennager, i.e. Levshin understood “Dagestan” as a proper noun, the name of the Dagestan Mountains, while Chelebiy was talking about mountains in general, in other words in the general sense “mountains” (“dag” = mountain, “stan” = country). Apparently Chelebiy meant the mountains of Kuldzhuntau, the Nuratau Ridge etc. Thus Levshin confused a proper noun and a common noun.
The compilers of the “Materials” also give material about yet another “Irtysh”. Let us consider this material also. This is what it says there: “And there is also the River Artush — it also flows from this mountain. There is a lot of water in it, it is black. However, one can drink the water — it is fresh. (The river) passes through the lands of the “guzy” and “kimaki”, until it reaches the settlements of Dzhuni in the land of the “kimaki”; then it runs into the River Atil. In a note on this text, the compilers of the “Materials” add from themselves: “Artush, i.e. the Irtysh, is apparently joined to the Yaik here” (Materials on the Turkmens and Turkmenia, 1939, v.I, page 210).
Here the compilers of the “Materials” correctly note that the word “Artush” is a version of the word “Irtysh”. With this we can agree. However, here again they repeat their mistakes about the Irtysh. Artush is not the Altai Irtysh, as the compilers of the “Materials” assume, and not the Yaik, which, in the opinion of the same compilers of the “Materials”, joins the Altai Irtysh, but a different, separate, Irtysh, about which the text says that it, i.e. the Artush, runs into the Atil, i.e. into the Volga. Consequently, the Irtysh, called “Artush” in the text, is the River Samara, the left tributary of the Volga, but the River Yaik flows into the Caspian Sea, and not into the Atil. To assume here that the River Samara is joined to the Altai Irtysh is an evident error, arising from the incorrect idea of the compilers of the “Materials” about the River Irtysh.
We have thus found that the word Irtysh is the name not of one river but of a whole group of rivers. We have found four rivers called Irtysh. Even more examples could be given, but, meanwhile, we shall confine ourselves to these.
One cannot but wonder why all these Rivers Irtysh, situated in different places, running in different directions, have one name in common? What do they have in common? We can find the key to understanding the essence of this question in the works of the founders. In K.Marx we read the following:
“At a particular level of further development, people give separate names to whole classes of things, which they already distinguish, by their experience, from the rest of the outside world”.
This indication given by K.Marx is directly relevant to our subject and helps us to answer the question we asked above.
At a certain stage of the development of society, people do indeed distinguish all the rivers there are on earth, by their experience, from all the rest of the outside world, and give the whole class of these rivers a common name, like the word “river”. It was apparently in the same way that the class of birds, the class of animals, the class of plants etc received their names. Obviously the rivers called Irtysh received their common name in the same way.
The fact that in ancient times the word “Irtysh” was a name common to a whole group of rivers is not a unique case. In history there is no small number of such examples. Thus, for example, in ancient times there were several Rivers Araxes, several Rivers Irgiz, a whole group of Rivers Itil, and our Rivers Irtysh fit in here also.
Now another question arises — why did several rivers have the same name in ancient times? We need to know the answer to this question, as otherwise we will be unable to find an answer to our question about the origin of the name of the River Irtysh, i.e. we will not explain the etymology of this word.
Before answering this question, let us think about a general proposition. It should be noted that toponyms arise, in general, when the need to use them arises in society. Consequently, one or another toponyms, which arose in the depths of antiquity, apart from its meaning in the past, to a certain degree is also typical of the time when it arose, which, in its turn, is determined by the level of “people’s historical development”.
History knows that there was a time when man did not yet have distinct speech, and it also knows a time when man’s vocabulary was very limited, when his lexicon was very poor, and he called a whole group of things or of natural phenomena, which he saw as having in some way something in common, characteristics similar to each other, or else he transferred the name of one thing to another thing by association and similarity. Taking this into account, we can say that in ancient times several rivers had the same name because people did not yet differentiate much between things and natural phenomena, when this common name had not yet reached the level of proper nouns, but simply served as a general common noun, indicating a whole group of things.
We shall now try to answer the question of why several rivers had the same name in ancient times.
In his work “Description of the Kirgiz-Kaisak hordes and steppes”, the historian Levshin writes that “Herodotus’ Araxes is a name common to the Volga, Syrt (Syr-Darya), Amu (Amu-Darya) and the present Araxes… In ancient times several rivers bore the same name of Araxes” (Levshin. Opisanie Kirgiz-Kaisatskich ord i stepei. sp. 1832, v.I, page 221).
Here Levshin simply quotes Herodotus’ words, but does not settle the question of why “in ancient times several rivers bore the same name”. It is true that at first sight this statement of Herodotus may seem absurd. However, if we consider it properly, it proves to be very valuable material, reflecting facts of the people’s very distant past. Why, precisely, is “Herotodus’ Araxes a name common to the Volga, Syrt, Amu and Araxes”?
If in ancient times the rivers Volga, Araxes, Amu and Syrt, which are at an enormous distance from one another, had the same names, this was, first of all, proof that these rivers, as people of that time saw them, were in some way similar to one another, and therefore they were called by the same common name; this is also evidence that during this period these rivers did not yet have their own names, otherwise they would not have had one common name; it should be assumed that their modem names arose much later; finally, this is also evidence that the original inhabitants of the basins of the Volga, Araxes, Amu and Syrt did not live in isolation from one another, they were not distinguished by an isolated way of life, there existed relations between them over this vast territory. This means that the tribes of this time were caught up in the process of linguistic convergence, i.e. they already spoke almost one and the same language, to which these same names Volga, Araxes, Amu and Syrt bear witness.
What is “Araxes”? The etymology of the word “Araxes” gives the answer to this question. Where did it come from? The word “Araxes” is a distortion of the word “Orax”, which consists of two words: “Oer” (mountain or ridge) and “aks”, which is a version of the word “arc” or “agys” (stream, current, whatever flows). Taking together, “Oer” and “aks” form the compound word “Oeraks”, which means, translated into Russian, “mountain stream” or “that which flows from the mountains”. It turns out that the word “Araxes” corresponds completely to the subjects it denotes and correctly describes them as flowing from the mountains, i.e. mountain rivers. The Volga, Araxes, Amu and Syrt are indeed in their nature mountain rivers. Later, in subsequent times, when the tribes began to lead an isolated way of life, the word “Araxes” became the proper name of one river alone, i.e. the name of the present-day Araxes, and the other rivers also acquired their present-day names.
Let us move on to the explanation of the name of the river “Irgiz”. It was mentioned above that there is a whole group of rivers bearing the name “Irgiz”. So far only four Rivers Irgiz have been found, but, judging from the meaning of the word “Irgiz”, there should be more of them. Irgiz is a distorted word, its correct form is “Orkuz”. It consists of two words: “oer” which means mountain, mountainous, circle, ridge, high ground, high, upper, and “guz” a hollow, low ground, pit or valley. When these two words are joined together, the first sound of the second word “g” transmutes into “k” forming the compound word “Oerkuz” instead of “Oerguz”, meaning “upper hollow”, i.e. a hollow situated in the hills, at a height, which by interpretation gives “mountain valley”, i.e. mountain river. This means that the word “Irgiz”, like “Araxes”, was originally a common noun, denoting a whole group of rivers, similar to one another, and subsequently they were attributed these names.
Within the borders of Kazakhstan we have found four Rivers Irgiz, situated on the slopes of the South Urals, two of which are situated on their eastern slopes, and two on their western slopes. One of the eastern Rivers Irgiz springs from high ground, called Or, to the south of the present town of Orsk, which is just where the River “Oer” begins. The River Or and the towns of Orsk and Orenburg took their names from these same mountains. Another Irgiz begins on the plateau of Berchugur (correctly “Borsha Kyr”). Both these Rivers Irgiz run into the River “Turgai”. Two other Rivers Irgiz — the Greater and the Lesser -are situated on the western slopes of the South Urals and flow into the Volga.
It was mentioned above that there is a whole group of Rivers Itil. For the present, we shall leave this question open, as there is a special work on the Itil, in which this question is dealt with in greater detail, and here we shall only say that in ancient times many tributaries of the Volga bore the name “Itil”, from which the whole river came to be called “Itil”.
We established above two possible answers to the question of the etymology of the word “Irtysh”, i.e.: the first answer is that the word “Irtysh” came from the word “Ortys”, meaning “mountains situated beyond the borders”, i.e. mountains within the borders of China; while the second answer is that the word “Irtysh” comes from the word “Oertas” meaning the “stone masses”, hemming the river in on both sides. However, we could not establish which of these two answers was correct. Here we can understand the words “Oertys” and “Oertas”, as each of them denotes a particular subject and thus the Kazakh language provides a full explanation of them. However, we cannot understand at all why the Ural mountains came to bear these same names “Oertys” or “Oertas”, i.e. the “outer mountains” or the “rocky masses”.
Here we have to answer two questions:
1) which of these two names, Oertys or Oertas, refers to the Ural mountains; and 2) why the Urals came to bear this name?
To answer these questions, we need to go slightly away from our main theme and make a small digression into the field of historical geography.
As is known, the Caspian depression is an extensive area of low ground, situated between the European and Asian continents. This low ground is surrounded by natural barriers, which protected it in ancient times from unexpected hostile invasions from outside. For instance, in the east this low ground presses against the South Urals (southern foothills of the Urals) which are hard to cross, in the north and west it is bordered by the wide lower reaches of the River Volga, which, after its confluence with its biggest tributary, the Kama, is 2 to 3 km in width (with islands), and during the spring high water season widens in its lower course to 20-40 km, while in the south this low ground is bordered by the Caspian Sea. Only between the south end of the Urals and the Caspian Sea is there a narrow passage which in ancient times was called the “Gates of the Nations”, as through this passage Huns, Avars, Khazars, Ugri, Pechenegs, Kipchaks and many other Asian nomads passed from Asia to Europe.
This enormous plain has all the conditions needed for stock-breeding, as it is splendid pasture, extremely convenient for a nomadic pastoral life, rich in grazing and watering places, in both summer and winter, the comfortable rushy border strip on the coast of the Caspian, convenient for caring for livestock and protecting it from a distance. Thus this hollow is a separate enclosed space.
Thanks to this convenient location, these splendid pastures were from ancient tine the subject of constant conflicts and wars between different stock-breeding tribes and peoples. Apparently this same convenience explains the fact that in the first half of the XIII century the descendants of Gengiz Khan chose this enclosed plain as their permanent place of residence and formed the Golden Horde here.
From ancient times, the whole left side of the Volga was called “Syrt” or “Tys” (“syrt” and “tys” are synonyms), which can be seen from the local toponymic names which have come down to our days: Syrt, Tys and Common Syrt, which, translated into Russian, mean “beyond”, “outside”, “outer”, “on the other side” and, in short, the “Outer Side”. It has not yet been established why this side of the River Volga was called the “Outer Side” and in relation to what it came to be called the “outer” side. It is known that in Russian sources this side is called the “land beyond the Volga”, which is quite understandable, as it corresponds to the actual reality of those times. The land beyond the Volga is that which is on the other side of the Volga from the Russian State.
It should be noted here that the low part of this “land beyond the Volga”, or “Tys” or “Syrt”, is called in the sources “guz” or “kuz” (lowland, hollow, valley), and the mountain part is called “Syrt” or “Ortys”, i.e. the outer ridge or mountain. From this it is clear that in ancient times the foothills of the Urals bore the name of “Oertys”, from which the Rivers Irtysh of the Urals (i.e. the present-day Rivers Yaik, Emba and Samara) apparently received their names. Here we can draw the conclusion that, during the period we are considering, the word “Urals” as the name of the mountains did not yet exist, as in those times what are now the Urals bore a different name, i.e. the name “Ortys”. These mountains’ present name, Urals, apparently arose later.
The southern part of the Urals passes into an eminence consisting of a series of separate wide, flat ridges, each of which has is own name, for example White Syrt, Chalk Syrt, Stone Syrt, Middle Syrt etc. All these “Syrty” or “Tysy” have the general name of “Common Syrt” (see the map). All these ridges are broken up by huge steps in the direction of the Caspian plain. The mountain terraces are positioned at different heights, one above the other, and they go down in steps towards the plain. In ancient times these terraces were apparently called different names, as the words “tys” and “syrt” can be found in various combinations, such as Oertys, Artus, Artush, Oeren-Syrt (Mountain Syrt), Tas-Syrt (incorrectly translated into Russian as “Stone Syrt”) etc.
The word “tys” (outer), because it sounds similar, is often confused with the words “tas” (stone), “tus” (direction), “tus” (descend), “tys” (slope). “Kamen [stone]-Syrt” is a bad translation, it would be correct to call it Outer Ridge.
We can now answer the question we asked above about the basis for the word “Irtysh”: Ortys (mountainous outer side) or Oertas (stone mass). Our answer is that the word “Irtysh” came from the word “Oertys” and not from the word “Oertas”.
This is confirmed, firstly, by the fact that we have found the word “syrt” (outer), which is a double for the word “tys”, and not “tas”. Consequently, the second component in the word “Irtysh” is the word “tys” and not “tas”. Secondly, it is also confirmed by the fact that the Urals, like the Chinese mountains, from which the Altai Irtysh springs, were “Outer Mountains”, i.e. mountains situated outside the country’s border. We have thus explained that the word “Irtysh”, or “Irtys”, came from the word “Oertysh” or “Oertys”.
We have thus established that “Oertysh” or “Oertys” is the ancient name of the Urals, or rather the name of the land adjoining the Urals. It turns out that the Ural Rivers Irtysh (the Yaik, Emba and Samara) received their names from this ancient name of the Urals. This means that from the one word “Irtysh” (with the meaning of “mountains”) a new word was formed with a new meaning (“river”), which supplanted the old meaning of the word, and the sounds making it up remained the same, but took on a new meaning.
How can one explain the fact that the word “Irtysh” (or rather Oertysh, Oertys), which in its time meant both what are now the Urals, and the rivers which are now the Yaik, Emba and Samara, has disappeared completely, leaving only its traces in historical sources? This can apparently be explained mainly by the process of the historical development of the people who inhabited this territory. The word “Irtysh”, as a historical phenomenon, arose during that period when the necessary conditions existed for it to arise, i.e., when what are now the Urals served as the “high outer borders”. The people of those times used a particular combination of sounds to denote these “high outer borders” and transformed this combination of sounds into a word with a meaning. This is how the word “Irtys” (Irtysh), which could exist only as long as the subject denoted by it existed. However, when, with the course of the historical processes, “Oertys” ceased being the “outside country” and became the “inside country”, then the need to use this word “Oertys” with the meaning of “outer country” ceased, and it (Oertys) was doomed to be forgotten, and it did indeed, as an obsolete and unnecessary word, go out of use. However its combination of sounds remained the same after it became the audible outer form of a different meaning (river).
There is no doubt that originally the word “Oertys” was a common noun and meant all the foothills of the Urals as a whole, including, in the ideas of the people of those times, everything which made up that whole, i.e. the mountains, the low ground, the rivers and the forests etc, which may then have seemed to be integral parts of a single whole, and each of these parts taken individually, due to the limited vocabulary, did not yet have its own distinguishing name. One common name on its own joined together all the parts of the single whole. Later, in subsequent periods, the common name began to be differentiated into separate elements, each of when then already took on its particular meaning. It is clear that all the more recent toponyms of this territory were formed by “budding”.
It the quotation given above it says that “kimaki” and “guzy” are tribes from the Turkic peoples and their winter quarters and summer camps are situated on the Rivers Irtysh, i.e. on the Yaik and Emba. This part of the text of the quotation requires elucidation.
“Kimaki” and “guzy” were originally geographical names, denoting a particular territory, which can be seen from these words themselves. Let us look at these words briefly.
“Kimak” comes from the word “kum”, which means “sand”, and from the word “kum” is formed the dereivative word “kumak”, i.e. “landy”, “loamy”, and that word “kumak” was distorted to “kimak”. The word “kumak” as a geographical name still exists in certain places in Kazakhstan. For example, not far from the present town of Orsk (in Kustanai Oblast) there is a large sandy territory, which is still called “Kumak”, i.e. Sandy. Thus in ancient times sandy soil, any area covered with sand, and certain sandy plains bore this name. This name is “kumak” which then became “kumak”. In the opinion of the Kazakh people, the steppe adjoining the Irtysh, the territories situated in the upper reaches of the Rivers Ishim and Tobol, the south-east and south-west slopes of the Urals, and also the basins of the rivers Yaik and Emba were apparently considered to be the main sandy areas.
The word “kimak”, which was originally a geographical concept, as a general name often also included the inhabitants of sandy areas and certain sandy districts simply in the sense of a person “living” in these areas, like such words as Ukrainian, Siberian etc. The word “kimak” is often found in the sources in this sense. For example, according to the Eastern authors, the Kipchaks are the western branch of the “kimaki”, leading a nomadic life in the area of the River Irtysh. There is no doubt that the word “kimak” is used as a common noun here. Some historians, who do not know the real meaning of the word “kimak”, take it in a one-sided way, and consider it an ethnic name, and this clearly incorrect view has come into literature and almost become a tradition.
“Guz” is a word which is a distortion of the word “kuz”, which means, translated into Russian, lowland, valley, gorge, precipice, pit, depression; and in the wide sense of the word “kuz” is “lowering”, in the direction from the surface of the earth, downwards, into the depths. The word “kuz” is often met in this sense in folklore, in ethnic songs, in fairy tales. Thus the word “kuz”, as the word itself says, was originally a common noun, which in its time meant any hollow. And this word “kuz” (or “guz”), which was a geographical concept, also included the inhabitants — “kuzy” meaning people who live in valleys or lowlands, as opposed to highlands.
In the text we read that in the area of the “kimaki” there is a settlement called Dzhuni. “Dzhuni” is a distorted word; its correct form is “Dzhon” or “Zhon”, which means intersection or cross-shaped (a plateau, high ground, a sloping surface). In the area of the Common Syrt there really is high ground, through which the River Samara, called in the text “Artush”, i.e. Irtysh, passes.
In this text the Rivers Yaik and Emba are called Irtysh because they flow from those mountains, which in ancient times bore the name of “Ortys” (outer mountains).
The Yaik, called the “White Irtysh” in the text, springs from the peak “Ire-Mel” (correctly Oer-emen, i.e. oak mountain, mountain oak), situated to the south of the present town of Miass, which is just where the Ui — a tributary of the River Tobol, and Belaya [White] a tributary of the River Volga, spring. “Yaik” is what it is called by the Bashkirs, but the Kazakhs call it “Zhaipo”, which means free space, freedom, in the sense of an extensive area of pasture. The Kazakhs add the epithet “Ak” (white) to the name of this river, and call it Ak-Zhayik, i.e. White Zhayik; apparently referring to the fact that it originates from snowy mountains. Ak-Zhayik is often mentioned in epic songs. For example the following phrase is often found «Ақ Жайық жағалай біткен бидайы?», — і.е Ak-Zhalyk, along the hanks of which the rye-grass grows luxuriantly.
The Emba is called the “Black Irtysh” in the text. The word “black” has been incorrectly added to the name of the Emba. This mistake probably arose because, instead of the words “Kyr Irtysh”, meaning “Mountain Irtysh” in Russian, the words “Kara Irtysh”, meaning “Black Irtysh”, were translated into Russian. The Kazakhs call the Emba “Zhem”, which means food for animals, in the sense of “plentiful grazing”. The Emba, i.e. the Zhem, springs from the Mugodzhar Mountains, which are free from snow and ice in summer, and therefore the River Emba has full waters only during the high water period, but by the end of summer its waters run low.
In the text it also says that “the water in the Artush is black”. There is a mistake here: here the word “black” does not correspond to reality, the translation is incorrect. Instead of the word “karsu” (i.e. water from thawed snow), a different word, “kara-su” (black water) has been translated into Russian, which is why we get “black water”. About the same water of the Artush it says that it is “fresh”. This is quite understandable, as the River Samara, called “Artush” in the text, is fed by the snows and glaciers, and so the water in it should be fresh.
We have thus explained the etymology of the word “Irtysh” and other toponymic names, related to the word “Irtysh”, and established their real meaning, as a result of which we are able to draw certain conclusions on what has been said.