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Stalin’s Giant Pencil: Debunking a Myth About Central Asia’s Borders

A checkpoint at the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Asian Development Bank)

Few parts of the world are the subject of as much sustained journalistic ignorance as Central Asia. News from what are patronizingly known as the “stans” rarely makes it into mainstream news outlets, except in connection to Islamic terrorism, authoritarianism, and ethnic and religious tensions.
 
While all three are certainly problems in Central Asia, these “discourses of danger” crowd out any nuance or perspective from much reporting and supposedly “strategic” analysis. If there is one thing we should have learned in the last few years, it is that Molenbeek is a more likely source of Islamic terrorists than Uzbekistan, and yet Islam Karimov’s death in September immediately had commentators reaching for unsubstantiated clichés about a growing Islamic threat.
 

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Alexander Morrison is Professor of History at Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan. He is the author of Russian Rule in Samarkand 1868 - 1910. A Comparison with British India (Oxford, 2008) and is currently writing a history of the Russian conquest of Central Asia. Morrison’s web page can be found at: https://nu-kz.academia.edu/AlexanderMorrison The views expressed in this commentary are Morrison’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of Nazarbayev University.

Stalin’s Giant Pencil: Debunking a Myth About Central Asia’s Borders

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