Ecology and uzbeki national identity are intimately tied together. The forced cultivation of cotton—a cash crop that requires large amounts of water—and the diversion of the Aral Sea's two main feeder rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, by Soviet authorities made the resulting Aral Sea environmental disaster a major, if not predominant, national concern. The Aral Sea, which is divided in half by Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, was at one time the fourth-largest body of landlocked water in the world. In addition to providing a steady supply of water in a relatively arid region, the Aral supported a productive and important fishing industry. Perhaps even more important for Uzbeki national identity, the Aral Sea has had an important ...

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