The Amu Darya, in ancient times called Oxus, is the second-longest river in Central Asia (after the Syr Darya), but at the same time the largest river in terms of water volume. It flows in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The name derives from the city of Amul (today Turkmenabad in Turkmenistan) and the Uzbek word “daryo” meaning river.
The Amu Darya is about 1,400km long and is formed by the confluence of the two spring rivers Pyandj and Vakhsh, which carry melted snow and glacier water. In the middle area, three big right tributaries (Kafirnigan, Surkhandarya and Sherabad), as well as a left tributary (Kunduz), flow into the Amu Darya. Apart from that, there are no noteworthy tributaries.
During the reign of Peter the Great, who was interested in trade with Asia and India via the Amu Darya, the first maps were drawn, in which the river flowed into the Aral Sea. However, the systematic study of the river did not begin until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Since most areas with favourable natural and economic conditions for irrigated agriculture are far from the riverbed (the Karshi steppe, the Bukhara region and the southern part of Turkmenistan), a unique canal system for water supply was established during the Soviet era.
The intensive use of river water generated many jobs in agriculture, especially in fruit and vegetable growing. However, as a result, the amount of water downstream steadily decreased while the evaporation of the water was accelerated. Nowadays the Amu Darya no longer flows into the Aral Sea but seeps away into the desert.
The Syr Darya is the longest river of Central Asia with a length of approx. 2,980km. In terms of the amount of water, it is the second largest after the Amu Darya.
The name Syr Darya means “secret river” in translation. The river used to be known as Yaksart. In ancient times it was believed that another hidden river flowed under the visible riverbed. People associate the river with the historical secrets it has kept over the centuries.
The Syr Darya flows through the confluence of the Naryn River (from the central Tien Shan Mountains) and the Karadarya River (from the Fergana Mountains) and flows through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It feeds the whole Fergana Valley, which is very fertile.
In former times the Syr Darya had several tributaries, but due to water withdrawal for irrigation, none of these rivers reaches the main river anymore. Therefore, the river only reaches the Aral Sea in exceptional cases (particularly rainy years)