Transient Environments: Colonization, Science and Economic Policies around the Aral Sea (1874-1924)

Niccolo PIANCIOLA

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review

Abstract

Based on archival research in Kazakhstan and Russian archives, the paper will address the changed connectivity of the Aral Sea region between its inclusion in the Tsarist Empire and the early Soviet period. The paper will focus on three intertwined processes: migrations of fishermen from central Russia and the Western Tsarist Empire, the scientific study of the sea, and the construction of
communication lines connecting the region to both the Imperial center and the demographic and economic core of Central Asia. The Aral Sea region was a remote area from both the center of the Tsarist state and the most important economic regions in Tsarist Turkestan. The southern shore of the
sea, inhabited mostly by Qaraqalpaqs, was in the political orbit of the Khivan khanate. Between the late-19th century and World War I, the Aral Sea went through different regimes of fisheries exploitation. After a ten-year period when the monopoly on fishing was held by a private company, Aral fisheries (considered “state property”) were opened to a growing immigrant population. Unlike all other concentrations of colonists from Russia, the colonization around the Aral Sea was not predicated on agriculture due to the aridity of the region and the unstable nature of the Amu and Syr rivers deltas. Migrants, forced or voluntary, were mostly fishermen coming from different areas of the Empire. The paper will outline the interaction between Qaraqalpaqs, Qazaqs, Cossacks, and Russian migrants in the making of a society dependent on exploitation of animal populations. The regional fishing economy changed radically at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the sea could be reached by the railway connecting Turkestan to central Russia. The young geographer Lev Berg led many scientific expeditions to the Aral at this time. The railway powerfully changed the economic geography of the region, pushing the region south of the Aral Sea into an increased marginality, and putting the Qazaq half of the region into direct connection with both the colonial capital (Tashkent), and central Russia. Increased connectivity further developed fisheries exploitation for the Russian market. When market
relations were marginalized by World War I, late-Tsarist communication infrastructures reverted to a powerful tool for leveraging the extraction of resources from the region. As in other areas of Turkestan, World War I led to a deep crisis of the colonialization project, with the outmigration of previous immigrants, in a context of famine. During the 1920s, a partial recovery of fishing activity was attempted, with the help, once more, of Lev Berg’s expertise, and was partially successful before the crisis brought by the total collectivization drive during the 1930s.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2016
EventEmpires of Water: Water Management and Politics in the Arid Regions of China, Central Eurasia and the Middle East (16th-20th centuries) - Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China
Duration: 26 May 201627 May 2016
https://www.ln.edu.hk/history/conference/wc2016/

Conference

ConferenceEmpires of Water: Water Management and Politics in the Arid Regions of China, Central Eurasia and the Middle East (16th-20th centuries)
CountryChina
CityHong Kong
Period26/05/1627/05/16
Internet address

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