Historical Setting of Tsarist Plans to Utilise Central Asian Water Resources to Large-Scale Soviet Irrigation in the Fergana Valley

With the conquest of the Kokand Khanate in 1876, the Fergana Oblast of the General Governorate Turkestan was established and promoted cotton production for the up-and-coming Russian industry (Thurman 1999). The establishment of major irrigation systems in Fergana during the Tsarist rule can be interpreted as part of the civilising mission which was so aptly commented upon by Fyodor M. Dostojevski who compared Russian interest in Central Asia with the same mission of European powers in North America (Hauner 1992). The control of regional resources and experiments with new technologies in the Central Asian “laboratory” enabled the colonial power to envisage an interconnected system of producing raw materials in Central Asia and processing them in Russia. The establishment of an extensive engineered water management system with major rivers connected supported the construction of huge reservoirs and the greening of the desert and steppe. Thus, the conversion of the Fergana Valley into a fertile, irrigated, cotton-producing oasis of major dimensions was in tune with the Tsarist modernisation and civilisation programme (Fig. 9.3). A scientific approach in understanding system properties accompanied with measurements and control mechanisms for the implementation of a major scheme symbolises the holistic imperial approach during the Tsarist imperial regime. The Fergana Valley was integrated into an empire where it fulfilled a specific function. The irrigation schemes that were planned incorporated the basic grid of the entire present-day irrigation network; even the Toktogul Reservoir was envisaged during Tsarist times, although it was eventually built and opened in 1975 (Fig. 9.4).

Fig. 9.3 Schematic irrigation map of Turkestan, depicting the state of 1913 entitled “Skhematiceskaya irrigatsionnaya karta Turkestana”. It shows the linkages between the Fergana Valley and the Khanates of Bokhara and Khiva. The grand plan of future irrigation (red colour) is outlined here starting from a reservoir in Toktogul via Fergana to the oasis of Tashkent. A scientific approach is shown with several measurement stations (Source: Glavnoe Upravlenie Zemleustroistva i Zemledeliya, Otdel Zemel'nykh Uluchshenii 1914)

Fig. 9.4 Comparison of irrigated areas in the Fergana Valley 1925 and 1972 (Source: own design based on Bulaevskii 1925 and Benyaminovich and Tersitskii 1975)

Soviet rule divided existing territorial units, created new republics and, at the same time, integrated them under the roof of a political union. The creation of eponymous republics – meant to respect and to reflect the ethnic divide in Central Asia – and the implementation of autonomy policies that lacked any sense of autonomous decision-making (Kreutzmann 2013b) provided the blueprint for profound interference to the socio-economic structures of the formerly independent khanates and administratively divided the Fergana Valley along newly created and delineated boundaries. Other reforms such as collectivisation of productive resources, the introduction of central planning, and expansion of communication infrastructure on the Soviet Union's scale and the supply of citizens with similar sets of low-cost consumer goods indicate the centralised approach in state organisation.

Plans to expand the irrigation system and to integrate the long-distance water management in a scientific approach to agrobusiness and agricultural technologies, as well as raising it to become part of the industrial processing of agricultural goods, gained significant momentum after 1930 when major economic reforms and social transformations had been accomplished. The construction and maintenance of these complex major irrigation systems were made possible at the highest level of planning and implementation (Fig. 9.4). The Soviet Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources (minvodkhoz) was the highest hydraulic authority with regional water resources management departments (oblvodkhoz) with several name changes over time: Turkvodkhoz (Turkestan Water Management Department of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture 1918–1924), Uzvodkhoz (Uzbekistan Water Management Department of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture 1925–1931), Glavvodkhoz or TsJUPR (Chief Administration of Water Management 1931–1938), Uzvodkhozi (Uzbekistan People's Commissariat of Water Management, part of Narkomvodkhoz (People's Commissariat of Water Management 1938–1946)) and Minvodkhoz (USSR Ministry of Water Management 1946–1991, containing Uzminvodkhoz (Uzbekistan Ministry of Water Management, since 1946)). The lower level was structured by district water resources management departments (rayzemvodkhoz (1930–1938); rayvodkhoz, since 1938) and organised the supply for the collective farms (kolkhoz, sovkhoz) (Thurman 1999, p. 263). Within the agricultural sector the professional decision-making capacity of the farm worker (dehqan) continuously declined, a phenomenon that served the needs of superordinate administrators and made them powerful controllers. Generic bureaucrats made “expert” decisions and instructed the farm workers what they should do on the fields. This approach has persisted until today in the guise of water user associations.

The principle of water management was governed by a hierarchical territorial approach rather than by a hydraulic or catchment area-based one. The centralised economic planning fulfilled two objectives. First, it fitted in the grand plan for the Soviet Union, by attributing certain tasks to individual republics, and even districts, by setting production standards and objectives for resource allocation and production; second, it took into consideration the specific needs of different republics and created a certain degree of lower-level authority. Many statistics and accounts were produced on the administrative level of republics although central rules and regulations were applied. In the case of Fergana, water management followed a holistic approach by integrating territories from three neighbouring republics into one system, but attributing production figures to republics and recording on state levels (Fig. 9.5). The success of Uzbekistan's economy was solely judged upon cotton production (Obertreis 2007, p. 171). Indigenous knowledge and local expertise were completely refuted; modernisation strategies based on science and technology were expected to replace and surpass them. Jonathan Thurman is explicit in stating about Fergana: “[…] the 'cradle' of irrigated cotton growing in Central Asia. Indigenous modes of organisation that effectively fostered farmer participation here were undermined by a colonising power, which transformed them into statedominated organisations incapable of effective management” (Thurman 1999, p. iv). The quest for modernisation was the same in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. Both regimes utilised Central Asia as supplier of raw materials needed for its

Fig. 9.5 Schematic map of the Fergana Valley [Skhematiceskaya karta Fergany s pokazaniem mezhnatsionalnykh irrigatsionnykh sistem] showing the Soviet Union's trans-boundary irrigation system and the irrigated areas in Kyrgyzstan (107,000 dessiatines, one dessiatine equals 1.0925 ha) and Uzbekistan (427,000 dessiatines) in 1925 (Source: Bulaevskii 1925)

industries in the western parts of the empire.[1] The share of regional processing of cotton never reached significant proportions. The newly introduced boundaries did not significantly affect the everyday life of people, their communication and travel. The effect of these borders became severely felt after the independence of the Central Asian republics in 1991.

  • [1] In his assessment of the Fergana experiment, Jonathan Thurman (1999, p. 222) is highly critical about its function: “Under Stalin, the Ferghana Valley had the misfortune of becoming the Soviet model for an irrigated agricultural zone in the East. It was here that planned delivery of water in Central Asia was first applied and tested, and that cotton cultivation reached the most absurd proportions. Construction and maintenance programs focused on Ferghana as if it were another republic, separate from the rest of Uzbekistan. Throughout the Stalin era, the Soviet media commonly spoke of 'transferring the Ferghana experience' in irrigation to other areas of Central Asia. This would be done after World War II, with disastrous results”.
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