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part of the RSFSR. Formed on Dec. 27, 1943, it is situated in the southern Volga economic region. With an area of 44,100 sq km and a population of 868,000 (1970), the oblast has ten administrative raions, two cities, and 14 urban-type settlements. Its center is the city of Astrakhan.
Natural features. Astrakhan Oblast is located in the Caspian Lowland where the Volga empties into the Caspian Sea. Its surface is flat and lies primarily below sea level with elevations ranging from -2.7 m in the north to -27.5 m in the south. The relief is characterized by saline-domed elevations in the Caspian Lowland, where the highest point is Mount Bol’shoi Bogdo at 150 m, and by the Berovskii hillocks in the Volga Delta. The climate is sharply continental and arid. The average January temperature is -9.7° C in the north and -6.9°C in the south; the corresponding July temperatures are 24.5° C and 25.1°C. Annual precipitation is 244 mm in the north and 175 mm in the south. The growing season (with temperatures over 5° C) lasts 201 days in the north, with total temperatures of 3590° C, and 216 days in the south, with total temperatures of 3840°C. The Volga and the Akhtuba River, a Volga distributary that branches off at Volgograd, flow through the oblast; they are joined by numerous channels. The area between the Volga and Akhtuba rivers is called the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain. At its mouth, the Volga branches into the many distributaries that form its complex delta. The largest of these are the Bakhtemir, Bolda, and Buzan. There are many salt lakes in the oblast; freshwater lakes abound in the floodplain and the Volga Delta.
Two subzones can be distinguished in Astrakhan Oblast: the subzone of the northern semidesert with light chestnut saline soils and the subzone of the southern semidesert with brown soils. The sparse vegetation cover of the semidesert consists of grasses, wormwood, and Russian thistle, which make up the fodder base for pastured livestock raising. The soils are alluvial in the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain and Volga Delta. Meadow vegetation predominates; much area is covered by floodplain forests and thickets of reeds that grow along the shores of the channels and freshwater lakes.
The semidesert is inhabited by the saiga antelope, rodents—such as little susliks, jerboas, gerbils, steppe lemmings, and house mice—eagles, and many reptiles and insects. There are more than 50 varieties of fish in the Volga, over 30 of them having commercial value; sturgeon is of worldwide importance. Characteristic of the delta are white herons, pelicans, cormorants, and, among mammals, wild boars. In spring and autumn, there are numerous migratory waterfowl. The Astrakhan Preserve has been created to protect the unique wildlife and flora in the Volga Delta.
Population. The bulk of the population is Russian (77.5 percent in 1959). Kazakhs make up 9.8 percent; Tatars, 8.2 percent; and others, 4.5 percent. The average population density is 18.9 persons per sq km (1969). The most densely populated areas are the Volga Delta and the left bank of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain (up to 40 persons per sq km). Elsewhere, the population density decreases to five persons per sq km and less. The population is primarily urban—526,000 people (1970). The cities are Astrakhan and Akhtubinsk.
Economy. Astrakhan Oblast is a region of the food (fish, meat, and salt), machine-building, woodworking, and pulp and paper industries; there is vegetable and melon growing, wool and meat sheep raising, and dairy and meat-cattle raising. The gross production of the area’s entire industry rose by a factor of 12.4 between 1913 and 1968: the machine-building and metalworking industries grew by a factor of 492, the woodworking and paper and pulp industries by a factor of 49, light industry by a factor of 137, and the food industry by a factor of 4. The fishing industry is one of the oldest activities. There is fishing in the Volga Delta and Caspian Sea. The main commercial fish are sturgeon and such large small-mesh fish as pike perch, bream, and carp. Astrakhan Oblast ranks first in the USSR in the catch of these fish. Fish is processed in canning enterprises in Astrakhan; in Oranzherei, Trudfront, Volodarskii, Tumak, and other settlements of the delta; and on fish-factory ships. The 1966 catch totaled 250,000 tons. Frozen, refrigerated, and salted fish, caviar, canned goods, feed meal, and other products are made. The canning industry also processes the products of vegetable growing, fruit cultivation, and livestock raising (Astrakhan, Akhtubinsk, and Kharabali). Common salt is extracted mechanically at Lake Baskunchak, the leading operation of its kind in the USSR; the salt is ground in Nizhnii Baskunchak and Akhtubinsk and transported by rail and sea.
Machine building and metalworking, which basically serve the fishing industry and water and rail transportation, include the construction and repair of commercial fishing vessels, tugboats, dry-cargo ships, and tankers (Astrakhan and Akhtubinsk); the repair of main-line diesel locomotives; and the production of forging, pressing, and technological equipment (Astrakhan). Sawmilling and cooperage production are based on floated timber; cardboard packaging, pulp, and paper are produced in Astrakhan. The chemical industry is developing. Plants for fiber glass, industrial rubber goods, and feed yeasts (based on the hydrolysis of wood) have been built. Light industry is represented by leather goods and footwear, sheepskin and fur, fulling and felting, knitted goods, and sewing enterprises in Astrakhan. Net weaving is developed. Gypsum is mined and alabaster produced near Lake Baskunchak. There are enterprises for precast concrete and factories for bricks and construction components in Astrakhan. The fuel and energy industry is represented by thermal electric power plants, which in 1968 produced 838.5 million kW-hr of electric energy, and by the extraction of natural gas (687.3 million cu m in 1968) and oil (Promys-lovka).
Astrakhan Oblast has 3,507,300 hectares (1968) of agricultural land, of which 9.3 percent is cultivated, 15.6 percent is used for hayfields, and 72.9 percent is used for pasture. At the end of 1968 there were 105 kolkhozes and 36 sovkhozes. The total sown area is 316,800 hectares, of which 48 percent is in cereals, 3.6 percent in vegetables, 7.4 percent in melons, and 39.6 percent in fodder—grasses and corn. Vegetables (tomatoes), melons (watermelons), fruits, and rice, cultivated on the irrigated lands of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain and in the Volga Delta, are the primary commodity crops.
The raising of fine-wooled sheep and cattle predominates in stock raising and is based on the exploitation of pastures in the semidesert, meadows, and hayfields of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain. The livestock population (as of early 1969) included 1.6 million sheep, 367,000 cattle (including 126,000 cows), and 32,000 swine.
There are 541 km of railroads in the oblast. The lines are Astrakhan-Saratov, Astrakhan-Kizliar, Verkhnii Baskunchak-Volgograd, and the Astrakhan-Gur’ev line, built in 1967. River and sea transport are developed. The most important water artery is the Volga, with its right distributary the Bakhtemir, and the Volga-Caspian canal.
INTERNAL ECONOMIC DIFFERENCES. The Volga Delta has developed fishing, fish processing, metalworking, chemical, and light industries, suburban agriculture, rice and commodity growing of vegetables and melons.
The Volga-Akhtuba floodplain and the adjacent semi-desert have well-developed sheep raising, meat and dairy cattle raising, commodity vegetable growing, fruit cultivation, and food industry.
E. F. FEDOROVA
Education, cultural affairs, construction and public health. In the 1967/68 academic year, 161,000 pupils were studying in 446 general education schools in Astrakhan Oblast. (In the 1914/15 academic year there were 330 schools with 10,800 pupils. In the 1967/68 academic year there were also 22,100 pupils in schools for working and village youth and more than 21,000 children in preschool institutions. At the beginning of 1969, there were 20 specialized secondary schools with 20,400 students, a pedagogical institute, a medical institute, and a technical institute for the fish industry with 10,600 students in Astrakhan. There are a conservatory (since 1969) and two theaters in Astrakhan. In 1968 there were 395 public libraries in service with 4,043,000 books and periodicals, 423 club institutions, and 451 motion picture projectors, including 334 in rural areas; there is the oblast Museum of Regional Studies and an art gallery in Astrakhan. The oblast newspapers are Volga (since 1917) and Komsomolets Kaspiia (since 1956). There are two oblast radio broadcasts, including the relay from Moscow, and one oblast television broadcast. There is a television station in Astrakhan.
As of Jan. 1, 1968, there were 3,192 doctors in the oblast (one doctor per 270 residents) and 9,600 hospital beds (118 beds per 10,000 residents). The Tinaki mud-bath health resort, founded in 1820, is located on the shore of Lake Tinaki, near Astrakhan.
REFERENCESPovolzh’e: Ekonomiko-geograficheskaia kharakteristika. Moscow, 1957.
“Nekotorye voprosy geografii Astrakhanskoi oblasti.” Uch. zap. Astrakhanskogo gos. pedagogicheskogo in-ta int. S. M. Kirova, 1967, vol. 11, issue 2.
Narodnoe khoziaistvo Astrakhanskoi oblasti za 50 let: Statisticheskii sbornik. Volgograd, 1967.
Atlas Astrakhanskoi oblasti. Moscow, 1968.