When and how the ice of a highland river matters: political and affective perspectives on the Naryn in Kyrgyzstan
Jeanne Féaux de la Croix
(University of Tübingen)
This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork, archival work and media analyses between 2014 and 2018 along the highland Naryn river, to explore different ways of understanding these headwaters as the main water-source of the Syr Darya river. Water distribution in this basin has long been contested, between the competing interests of irrigated agriculture, energy production through hydropower and different Soviet and post-Soviet republics and interest groups. With new dams in the pipeline in a number of sites, water politics not only reflect relationships between riparian neighbour-states, but also attitudes among riparian residents with different livelihoods and dependencies on the river. Alongside these older perspectives, glaciers have recently loomed into view both through new climate change discourses in the media, associated locally with extreme and shifting weather patterns. In this paper, I set out both the tensions and alignments in notions of river-rights, as well as more individual, affective and abstract concepts of the Naryn river and the glaciers feeding its headwater. I experiment with theoretical perspectives that link up the political relations in Soviet and post-Soviet knowledge-making practices to riparian livelihoods, and influential, yet harder to grasp aesthetic and cosmological notions of the Naryn's ice, water and nature.
Political Ecology of Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia