Dams as Symbols of Power:
The Effects of Water Infrastructure Construction on State-Building Processes in Central Asia in the 20th Century
(60th Meeting of the PIAC, Székesfehérvár 2017)
The establishment and maintenance of large dams, the related irrigation systems and other forms of water management had a great effect on the societies of Central Asia in the 20th century. As irrigated agriculture traditionally requires a comprehensive coordination over a significant mass of people, which is acquirable through an extensive bureaucracy and a centralized government system, highly organised, state-like units built on water management systems were present in the region from time immemorial. Under the dry continental and semi-desert climate of Central Asia, rivers, irrigation systems and the means of water management considerably contributed to the structuring of societies.
In my presentation, I intend to introduce two different, but tightly interconnected processes related to water infrastructure construction and state-building. First, I deal with the period of Soviet central management over Central Asian waters. The ‘hydraulic mission’ was not only aimed at raising agricultural and industrial yields or energy production, but also at the complex restructuring of the local societies, including nation- and state-building. However, these developments were understood within the context of the Soviet Union, and did not contain the aim to create independent states. In the second part of my presentation, I move to the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when water infrastructure construction processes are aimed again at the restructuring of societies, but now serving the goals of individual states.