In This Review

Central Peripheries: Nationhood in Central Asia
Central Peripheries: Nationhood in Central Asia
By Marlene Laruelle
UCL Press, 2021, 264 pp.

Laruelle, a prolific expert on post-­Soviet Central Asia, compiles ten updated essays on nationalist ideologies in the post-Soviet era. The oldest of the essays here—a 2007 paper positing the resurgence of pagan Tengrism, the old Turko-Mongolic religion of the Eurasian steppes, as a rival for Islam—admittedly feels a bit dated; Islam still dominates in all Central Asian republics. Fortunately, the rest of the book offers a stronger introduction to Laruelle’s important work. One highlight is her alarming study of the embrace of “Aryanism” in Tajikistan, where President Emomali Rahmon dubbed 2006 “The Year of Aryan Civilization” and Tajik historians proposed that their “Aryan” ancestors embarked on a civilizing mission against neighboring Turkic nomads. Another is her incisive survey of Soviet ethnography, in which she connects Soviet forms of “race science” to the ethnic chauvinism endorsed by some post-Soviet regimes. The volume’s second half uses case studies from Kazakhstan to show how the country has at once embraced globalization as well as the kind of classical ethno­­nationalism that globalization is often presumed to undermine. Kazakh citizens are encouraged to engage with the world but to speak Kazakh at home, or else risk marginalization. Ethnic minorities, meanwhile, have left the country in droves despite its post-Soviet prosperity.