Kyrgyz villagers losing patience with state’s failure to resolve border problems with Tajikistan
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Fresh from medical treatment in Germany, Kyrgyz national security head Kamchybek Tashiyev urgently flew from Bishkek to the southern Batken region on February 18 to deal with people's growing anger over the failure by officials to resolve pressing border issues, according to Radio Liberty.
Tashiyev, chief of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK), hoped to reduce tensions along Kyrgyzstan’s long southern borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Since the border guard service was put under UKMK control in November, the problems are Tashiyev’s responsibility.
Grumbling by residents along the border resulted in people from Batken and districts in Jalal-Abad Province demonstrating earlier this month in the capital for a resolution to the long-standing problem of demarcation.
Villagers living along the borders claim neighboring nations are encroaching on Kyrgyz territory and want it stopped.
New Kyrgyz Prime Minister Ulukbek Maripov spoke about the disputed Tortkul reservoir and canal in the Kyrgyz-Tajik border area on February 8. “Unfortunately, it seems we (Kyrgyzstan) have ceded the upper reaches of the Tortkul reservoir channel,” Maripov explained. Maripov's comment is precisely what residents of Kyrgyzstan’s border areas do not want to hear from government officials.
Radio Liberty says Gulzhigit Isakov, the leader of a group from Batken that calls itself Chek Ara (Border), on February 15 criticized new populist President Sadyr Japarov in Bishkek.
"It is upsetting that while someone is taking over our border, Sadyr [Japarov] has not raised the issue once in any of his interviews," Isakov said.
Isakov was referring to the situation in the area around the Kyrgyz villages of Ak-Sai and Kok-Tash that over the last decade have seen many clashes between residents from both sides of the border.
And while once those clashes were limited to the two parties throwing sticks and stones at each other, they have increasingly involved gunfire and deaths.
On February 11, a group of Tajik villagers planted trees in a field by the Kyrgyz village of Chek-Dobo, which is near Kok-Tash. The field was in an area that has not yet been demarcated. The next day, all the trees had been dug up and were left lying on the ground. So the Tajik villagers returned to try and replant them.
But Kyrgyz border guards reportedly arrived and ordered them to stop, with harsh words exchanged. Then Tajik border guards arrived and the “border guards of the two countries took up positions."
In Bishkek, Isakov claimed “the Tajik side brought soldiers and equipment to the Ak-Sai area…because our border guards removed their post [there].”
Officials from both countries eventually arrived and negotiations cooled tempers -- for a while at least -- with each side pledging not to do any work of any kind on disputed land.
But the incident points out how sensitive the situation is and how high emotions there are, that a simple act such as planting trees nearly set off violent clashes.
It is to be noted that many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet.
The border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has been the scene of unrest repeatedly since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The countries share 971 kilometers of border – of which only 504 kilometers has reportedly been properly delineated so far.
In 2019 alone, there were at least fourteen cases of violence, in which six Tajik nationals and one Kyrgyz citizen were killed and more than 60 other people were injured.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan renewed interest in border delimitation suggests that the governments want to dedicate more attention and resources to the communities living in the Ferghana Valley.