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Ethnic minorities and marginality in the Pamirian Knot: survival of Wakhi and Kirghiz in a harsh environment and global contexts

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This paper challenges the thesis that mountain areas are regions of refuge. The refuge concept attributes irrelevant exchange and limited communication to isolated mountain habitats which mainly depend on production for home consumption. In contrast, it is shown that exchange relations in all walks of life have been affected not only recently but for nearly two centuries in Central Asia, although the continued importance of subsistence strategies in the agricultural sector can be observed. The Pamirian Knot provides the mountainous interface between South and Central Asia for case studies of two ethnic communities – Wakhi mountain farmers and Kirghiz pastoralists – in order to exemplify socio-political developments in similar mountain environments. Examples are presented from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and the People's Republic of China. The territories have been separated since the late nineteenth century by international boundaries conceived as the result of the imperial ‘Great Game’. Emphasis is placed on developments in the livestock sector and it is shown that adaptation to changing socio-political frameworks has affected the livelihood strategies of nomads and mountain farmers alike.

Keywords: Central Asia; Kirghiz; Pamir; Wakhi; colonialism and post-colonialism; ethnicity; mountain pastoralism; survival strategies

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Geography, Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Kochstr. 4/4, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2003

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