Redefining the “border between two worlds”: waterscapes of dependency, development, and devotion along the Panj River in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan

Authors: Sohrob Aslamy*,
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Borders, waterscapes, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Regent, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1954, Soviet travel writer, Pavel Luknitsky claimed that the Panj River dividing the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Afghanistan was a “border between two worlds.” He remarked that the mountains of Soviet Tajikistan, alit with electricity and replete with farms and public infrastructure, stood in stark contrast to “wretched, scattered houses” in Afghanistan. Luknitsky’s depiction is not only emblematic of Soviet identity narratives in Central Asia, but also demonstrates the ways in which such narratives were integrally tied to nature. Water, in this case, enabled hydroelectric energy, collectivized agriculture, and improved living conditions, while also serving to reify concepts of bounded territories. Today, however, this narrative no longer holds relevance in the Pamirs. Since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, communities along the Panj River in Tajikistan have transformed their interaction with and regard for water resources. This paper argues that changing socioecological relationships with water, or waterscapes, in the Pamir Mountains can be evaluated in three primary ways: 1) material and cultural dependency between communities in Tajikistan and Afghanistan; 2) international development and aid; and 3) Islamic devotion and water use. Drawing from critical literatures on borders and frontiers in political geography and waterscapes in political ecology, this paper seeks to expand theoretical frameworks on the relation between nature’s materiality in mountain environments and imagined political territories. Better understanding changing waterscapes along the Panj River offers insight into how mountain communities redefine their own identities in the context of increasingly unpredictable climates, considerable foreign aid, and cross-border relations.

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