Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Kazakhstan's problematic geography

I finished the first draft of the cotton paper and one problem I noticed is changing geographic terminology. Today the term Central Asia (Tsentralnaia Aziia in Russian) refers to the five nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. But, historically the Soviet government recognized that Kazakhstan is not really Asian. It is instead Eurasian both in geography and population. Soviet sources thus made reference to Kazakhstan and Middle Asia (Srednei Azii). The term Middle Asia sounds horrible to me. So when writing about the region in the past tense I have generally preferred the construction Kazakhstan and Central Asia. This was a favored translation among many other people writing in English as well. Although it is seen less often today.

This terminology made particular sense when writing about northern Kazakhstan which blends into the adjacent areas of Russia without any natural geographical borders. Northern Kazakhstan under Soviet rule became heavily populated by Russians and other European nationalities such as Ukrainians, Russian-Germans and even a small ethnically Polish population. There was not much difference between the north eastern parts of Kazakhstan and the south western parts of Siberia in either landscape, climate or population. So it justifies itself in my mind as a seperate geographic region from Central Asia.

Southern Kazakhstan on the other hand is Central Asian in landscape, climate and population. The paper I just finished deals with southern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I suppose historically I could call the whole region Central Asia, referring to a specific geographical region in terms of natural features. But, my inclination is to only do this in the title or if it is clearly a reference to the area in terms of landscape and climate. I will continue to denote the political borders in the text using the terminology that existed at the time. That is Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

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