The Ferghana Valley - the rich, fertile basin of the Syr Darya that today cuts across Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - has long been seen as a region defined by its ethnic and cultural tensions: a 'Eurasian Balkans' divided by artificial Soviet-era borders, a tinderbox ready to ignite. This view emerged during the Cold War, but it has taken on new life since the Soviet collapse. Those who hold it argue that the 'national-territorial delimitation' of 1924, which transformed tsarist Turkestan into a series of nominally nation-based republics, represented a cynical attempt at divide and rule, splitting up ethnic groups as a means of ensuring political quiescence and, in the process, stirring resentments over material resources and imagined homelands that still persist. In Soviet Empire (1953), the British diplomat-scholar Olaf Caroe described the Ferghana Valley as split 'by a jigsaw puzzle of convoluted lines into Uzbek, Tajik and Kirghiz sections', such that there remained 'large numbers of Uzbek currants in Tajik and Kirghiz cakes, and many Tajik plums in the pie of Uzbekistan'. 'It seemed,' Caroe wrote, 'as if the absurdity of the inter-republic borders was designed in order to compel a certain degree of central direction, making nonsense of real local autonomy.'
LRB 8 July 2010 | PDF Download