Reviews

In this well-informed article, N. Kerimi, a specialist of drug consumption in Turkmenistan and the author of a number of articles on the subject, depicts the change in the patterns of opium trade, cultivation and use in this country since the establishment of formal control by the Khanate of Khiva in the late eighteenth century, with particular attention for the Russian colonial, Soviet, and present periods. She notably insists on the deep change of the drug scene in Turkmenistan from the 1980s onwards, with weakening of the state’s formal control and heroin trade and use as the main concerns. Despite her lack of access to vernacular Turkic sources as far as the pre-Soviet periods are concerned, N. Kerimi makes a large use of Russian archive and statistical materials of the late Tsarist and early Soviet periods for reconstructing the oscillation of opium trade and consumption during those eras. She notably casts light on the impact of the mid-nineteenth-century silk-worm disease and the ensuing agricultural crisis in Persia on the speed of the diffusion of opium addiction to southern Central Asia. She also describes the permanence of smuggling activity from Persia, but also Afghanistan, India, and even from China through the Semirechie well till the mid-1920s. The beginning of the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1970s is also evoked as a factor of intensification of smuggling activity during the past thirty years. The resort to opium by Central Asian traditional healers is also evoked, though rather elusively ― in spite of the accessibility of number of oral witnesses and of an abundant didactical literature. The bulk of the Soviet period, however, is described in a very allusive way, because of the absence of statistical data or documents. The author briefly mentions illegal opium poppy cultivation on small patches of land in hidden places, in the margins of the kolkhoz system; the partial replacement of drug consumption by the growth of alcoholism. Among the changes observed in the 1960s to 1980s she mentions the place taken by the elderly as the largest category of opium users: still a specificity of Turkmenistan in our days, besides the explosion of drug addiction among the country’s youth and rural populations since the independence. Some lines are also devoted to the role by the prisons and penitentiaries of the Turkmen SSR ― that were serving the whole Soviet Union ― as places where drug users with criminal records started drug use, most of them as intravenous opium users. Among the modifications that took place from the 1980s onwards in the treatments of addiction, the refers to the lesser fascination of Soviet psychiatry for biomedical orientations, and the growing interest of therapists in psychological approaches developed at the same time in Western treatment programmes. Although the vernacular sources of the history of the country have been let aside of this study, and albeit the author does not seem to have had a direct access to the populations concerned by the issue, her article provides interesting and well-argued information on the history of drug trade, production and consuming over a long period of time, and an interesting basis for further studies in this field on a particularly opaque country of present-day Central Asia.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.4.A-236