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September/October 2015

3

he municipal museum in the now-

dusty former fishing port of Aral

displays a surprising work of art:

a mural that honors local fishermen who

in 1921 helped save Russia from starva-

tion by sending to Moscow 14 boxcars

loaded with fish. Near it is a photocopy

of Vladimir I. Lenin’s typewritten letter of

thanks to those fishermen, and near that

is a bronze bust of Aral’s own hero of that

effort, Tölegen Medetbayev.

Surprising, because those 14 boxcars of carp,

sturgeon, bream and other freshwater fish came

from the same part of the Aral Sea that from the

1980s until relatively recently had become too salty

for anything to survive.

Surprising also because, having heard for years

much about the demise of the Aral Sea, it was heart-

ening to learn that in the North Aral Sea—which

WRITTEN BY

L A R R Y L U X N E R

PHOTOGRAPHS BY

C A R O L Y N D R A K E

Working from dusk until dawn, fishermen from around

the town of Aral in Kazakhstan haul in a catch from the

North Aral Sea, where the water level has risen and

salinity has decreased—in stark contrast to the larger

South Aral Sea, which has gone nearly dry. On shore, a

night’s fishing might bring 100,000

tenge

(

US

$533), an

economic lifeline in a struggling region where fisher-

men have been heroes before: They appear in Aral’s

museum in a mural,

above,

commemorating the valiant

dispatch of 14 boxcars of fish a day after a desperate

telegram arrived from Vladimir I. Lenin in 1921

requesting famine aid for Moscow.

INSET: LARRY LUXNER (DETAIL)