- スラヴ研究 (ISSN:05626579)
- no.56, pp.34-36, 2009
This article investigates three grandiose canal construction projects in Turkmenistan during the post-war Stalin period and their relationship with the Aral Sea problem. These three projects are the "Karakum Canal," the "Major (Glavnyi) Turkmen Canal" and the "Diversion of Siberian Rivers" projects. In order to illustrate these projects' logical structures and their mutual contrarieties, made by central authorities, republican leaders, scientists in the center and technical experts in the construction field, the author approaches these projects from three points of view: 1. political history (both central and republican), 2. history of science and technology (geography, hydrology and hydraulic engineering) and 3. regional studies (Central Asia, especially Turkmenistan). It is not this article's purpose to "attribute" the Aral Sea problem to the USSR's water policy's negative impacts. Rather, the author tries to "depoliticize" these topics. The go signal for the "Karakum Canal" project was given by a resolution of the Soviet Union's Council of Ministers (CM) on 21 July 1947 (that is, before the beginning of "Stalin's Nature Transformation Plan," which started in 1948), although its initial concept dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century (G. Sazonov's idea). The First Project Document, edited by A. Boltenkov, hydraulic engineer in the Turkmen SSR, was approved on 25 January 1947 at the USSR Gosplan's Scientific-Technical Expert Commission, which described the Karakum canal as contributing to expeditiously expanding the irrigated lands for cotton production in the southeastern Turkmenistan oasis along the Murgab and Tedzhen rivers. This document referred only to the "future prospect" of this canal's elongation to Ashgabat and further. Turkmenistan (not "Turkmen") specialists actively participated in the preliminary work of drafting the document. Turkmen leaders called for the early realization of this "quick-impact" project, but the central Gosplan authorities denounced their requests, accusing them of holding up another construction project of the Tedzhen reservoir, which would eventually be completed in 1950, when the "Great Communist Construction" slogan and the start of the "Major Turkmen Canal" project were announced. As a result, the Karakum Canal project fell back to the second plan, whose beginning the Turkmens had to await until 1954, that is, the next year after Stalin's death. The prototype of the "Major Turkmen Canal" project dates back to 1893, when imperial army officer A. I. Glukhovskoi presented his original plan to route some volume of Amu-Darya's water to the Caspian Sea through the Uzboi riverbed's remnants, although an idea of this kind also existed during Peter the Great's reign. The resolution of the USSR's CM on this project was adopted on 11 September 1950 "without" the Project Document, as part of "Stalin's Nature Transformation Plan" and the "Great Communist Construction" projects (which included the famous "Volga-Don Canal"). The former "Plan," the core concept of the construction of "communism" itself (as well as the "Great Communist Construction") in the post-war period, became the theoretical background of this large-scale canal project, which had to be finished by 1957, and as a result of which 1,300,000 ha of newly irrigated land (mainly around the Amu-Darya delta and southwestern Turkmenistan) and 7 million ha of new pasture land (in the Karakum desert) should have been cultivated by the final stage. Both Moscow-Leningrad based geographers (I. P. Gerasimov, V. A. Obruchev, V. V. Tsinzerling, etc.) and on-site hydraulic engineers (V. S. Eristov, chief engineer of the Construction Administration "Sredazgidrostroi," etc.) enthusiastically supported this project, despite some clashes of viewpoints about the "canal route." The former favored the Western-Uzboi route, but the latter proposed the southbound route, going through the Karakum desert via an artificial canal. The latter variant was adopted at last. Turkmen authorities also assisted with this project, but their role was limited to providing indirect supports for constructors. This project ended abruptly on 25 March 1953 at the initiative of L. P. Beria immediately upon Stalin's death. The discussion about the "Diversion of Siberian Rivers" project also began in connection with the above-mentioned "Nature Transformation Plan." This project's antecedent is also very old, going back to Y. Demchenko's idea in 1871, which the Imperial Geographical Society's members laughingly dismissed at that time. The idea came back to life in the 1920s after the Bolshevik Revolution, and M. M. Davydov, hydraulic engineer of the Hydroelectric Power Station Designating Institute "Gidroenergoproekt," published his plan in 1949, which proposed the large-scale diversion and multipurpose use (that is, not only for agricultural development and climatic change, but for river transportation and hydroelectric power generation) of the Obi and Yenisei waters in Western Siberia and Central Asia. Davydov clearly claimed that this canal would "liquidate deserts" in Central Asia. In 1950, the other variant of this project by hydraulic engineer A. A. Shul'ga, showed that this canal increased vapor circulation in the atmosphere by around 12-20%, which created additional water flow in rivers in the respective regions. These plans were not approved at that time, but became the basis of further full-fledged examination from the 1960s onward. Finally, scholars' outlooks on the future Aral Sea problem were examined in the context of grandiose canal construction projects. First of all, the "nature transformists" had reached a consensus that plain water should be used for irrigation as much as possible, rather than being fed uselessly into the saline Aral Sea. Accordingly, hydrologists figured out how many meters the Aral Sea would fall as a result of the construction of two grandiose canals in Turkmenistan. The Karakum Canal up to the Tedzhen oasis would have lowered the Aral Sea by about 2.5 meters, according to the Project Document. Leningrad-based hydrologist B. D. Zaikov estimated that the Aral Sea would have fallen by about 11.7 meters if the Major Turkmen Canal had taken 600 cubic meters per second, although this fall would have been fastest during the first 20 years, slowing considerably thereafter. In sum, about a 14.2 meter drawdown was foreseen during the two canals' planning stages. Knowing well these predictions, some Soviet geographers (B. A. Fedorovich, N. N. Mikhailov, etc.) already had related the canal projects in the Aral Sea basin with the diversion of Siberian water to Central Asia as a prescription for the Aral Sea's shrinkage. It is well-known that the Aral Sea started to scale down after 1960 in conjunction with sluicing water into the Karakum canal, but Central Asian authorities were not frustrated until the Aral Sea problem reached a critical stage, because the diversion of a great amount of Siberian water held great promise for them. Central authorities around Stalin upheld the "Nature Transformation Plan" and the "Great Communist Construction" as an ideologically true national credo, which should have contributed to the post-war rebuilding and communist construction. Turkmenistan's leaders were inclined more to the economically "quick-impact" Karakum Canal project than to the more "ideological" Major Turkmen Canal project, regardless of their acceptance of the latter project itself. Fervently supporting the "Nature Transformation Plan," geographers and on-site hydraulic engineers tried to vindicate their own viewpoints on the Major Turkmen Canal, which could be described as a leadership struggle around this project. Some hydraulic engineers attempted to ride the wind, propounding the grandiose "Diversion of Siberian Rivers" project in the context of the "Nature Transformation Plan." As such, various actors' various motives were intricately intertwined with these grandiose canal construction projects, forming a specific historical stage emblematic of the post-war Stalin period.