29 Mar–02 Apr 2016

A Spectacle of Maps: Cartographic hopes and anxieties in the Pamirs

Paper presented at AAG San Francisco in the panel “Cartographic Anxieties”, organised by Franck Billé

Martin Saxer

This is one of four papers presented in Franck Billé’s panel “Cartographic Anxieties”. The programme of the AAG Annual Meeting 2016 will be out in February.

Cold War Pilot Chart found in a hunting camp in the Pamirs. Photo: Martin Saxer, 2015.

Paper Abstract

In August 2012, an international Economic Forum took place in Khorog, Tajikistan. The aim was to further the establishment of the Ishkoshim Free Economic Zone at the Tajik-Afghan border. The Zone's strategic location at the entry to the Wakhan Corridor was advertised to potential investors as future transit hub for trade between China, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

The Wakhan corridor, originally created to separate the Russian and British empires at the height of the 19th century Great Game, is thereby reimagined as economic corridor that joins together. In other words, new cartographic hopes of connectivity are superimposed onto old cartographic anxieties that continue to reverberate. In this context, local interests in the Free Economic Zone meet and clash with geopolitical ambitions in Moscow and Beijing. Maps thereby play a crucial role, not just as representations of existing geopolitical and topographic realities but even more so as visions for a variety of futures.

In this paper, I will put in relation Soviet surveys of mineral resources that conjure up a Pamirian Eldorado with tourist maps that render the sacred landscape of the Pamirs as cultural resource, NGO maps aimed at conservation, and the plans for the Free Economic Zone as a node in a future network of "new Silk Roads". This spectacle of maps on different scales, I argue, is key to understanding the strategies, ambitions, and productive uncertainties that define the role and position of the Pamirs the wider world.

Contact:
Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany

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