CS5 - Oasis construction in Central Asia

Oasis construction in Central Asia.

Case Study 5


Aim. The aim of this case study is to assess the emergence and resilience of ‘borders’ in the oases of Central Asia. These borders are here primarily understood as limits between ecologically relevant areas characterized by different types of socio-economical behaviours. The study serves to propose a formal model of Central Asian oasis dynamics, in order to study the emergence and resilience of socio-ecological borders and validate the results by comparing them to known historical, ethnographical and archaeological data. CS5 thus provides new information that helps to better define the implications of ecological settings in the understanding of the socio-political dynamics of Central Asia. More broadly, CS5 also hopes to contribute elements to a better understanding of the dynamics of borders, understood as the product of interactions between social, political and environmental behaviours, and resulting in the emergence of functional entities.


Background. Central Asia is an area where the main variants of pre-industrial economic productions (from nomadic pastoralism to irrigated agriculture) coexisted for a period of several thousand years. This coexistence is well expressed by the term ‘oasis’, which implicitly refers not only to an irrigated heartland but also to surrounding steppes, deserts and mountains. The relation between dominant economic activities in this context is known to have been unstable, with abundant examples of conflict at different scales (from local to continental) and most places having seen shifting use patterns right up to the early 20th century. However, the ecological borders, notably those between areas that can be irrigated and those which cannot, are clear. Research on Central Asia is permeated by assumptions about the nature of environmental, economical, social and political interactions, usually expressed in terms of conflict/cooperation between nomadic and sedentary populations. Each mode of economic production is implicitly or explicitly linked to a comprehensive model, such as the one used by Wittfogel to describe his ‘hydraulic societies’ (in which irrigated agriculture results in despotic political structures), or those proposed by Khazanov to describe the varying types of nomadic pastoral societies with their high propensity to fragmentation. But so far no attempt has been made to formalise these models of societies, or to simulate their potential interactions.


Questions. Can we explain the emergence and dynamics of Central Asian oases using an ecological approach (cf. behavioural ecology)? Are the ecological behaviours of pastoral nomads and sedentary populations sufficient to explain the emergence of borders within the oases? How does an oasis react in response to an external perturbation (e.g. nomadic invasion or environmental stress)? Do oases of different sizes behave in different ways? If we consider a system including various oases of different sizes, can we use the same model?


Methodology. The modelling consists in designing a multi-level and multi-paradigm simulation model for the Amu Darya basin. Namely, we are projecting four modules: a Cellular Automata (CA) module, a Dynamic Systems (DS) module, an Agent-Based (AB) module and a Complex Systems (CS) module. Success in designing this quadripartite model would permit an extensive exploration of the former questions by means of experimentation with several simulation scenarios. In this sense, this design promises very ‘analysis-friendly’ results, including the possibility of comparing GIS data with visualizations of the CA and the CS modules.