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Mitigating Disaster: The Aral Sea and (Post-)Soviet Property

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The Aral Sea regression, the outcome of Soviet irrigation practices in Central Asia, is famous as one of the most serious ecological disasters of the twentieth century. This article examines Soviet policies to mitigate the sea's regression, in particular efforts to keep people in employment. I argue that property relations are intimately connected not only with the causes of environmental change but also with its effects, and explore this proposition through three case studies. First, I use archival materials to show how late Soviet bureaucrats framed the regression not as an environmental disaster but as a problem of living standards and employment, which shaped measures to address it. Secondly, I examine memories of the late Soviet period among fishermen in Aral villages, arguing that their experiences of the sea's regression were shaped both by their position within the Soviet fishery and by local understandings of property. Finally, I explore nostalgic narratives in the town of Aral'sk today, arguing that the history of environmental change is re-read through post-Soviet changes in property relations.
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Keywords: Aral Sea; Soviet Union; disaster; fisheries; property

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2018

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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