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Searching for a Solution on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Border Issue

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During the Soviet Union, the borders of the Central Asian countries that formed the union were drawn artificially. This situation led to border uncertainties that led to different conflicts between the states that gained independence after 1991. The issue known as the problem of exlaves and enclaves in the literature is also inherited from this period. Despite this, most problems have been resolved through negotiations between the countries of the region. However, the Fregana Valley, which is located in the territory of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, continues to be a region of border conflicts.

The situation was further aggravated by the existence of eight enclaves, six of which are in Kyrgyzstan (four Uzbek and two Tajik enclaves) and two in Uzbekistan (one Kyrgyz and one Tajik enclave).[1] In addition, the fertile lands of the Fergana region are of great importance for the Central Asian states, which are agricultural countries. Therefore, no one is willing to compromise.

Uzbekistan has resolved its border problems with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through negotiations. However, the border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan sometimes leads to bloody conflicts. As it is known, Fergana Valley is the most populated settlement in this region. The community in the valley has a low standard of living. The inhabitants of the valley are mainly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry. But water resources are insufficient.[2]  This increases the risk of conflict.

There are tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from time to time. In 2020 alone, 7 armed conflicts were recorded.[3]  The largest scale of these armed conflicts took place in April 2021 and caused loss of life and property. There is still unrest in the region. In the said armed conflict, 154 Kyrgyz citizens were injured, 36 people, including two children, died. Tajikistan authorities announced that there were 19 dead and 87 injured. [4]

Similarly, in December of 2021 and January of 2022, there were clashes with the wounded on both sides. In addition, an armed conflict took place on April 12, 2022. Despite this, the states parties do not want the conflicts to lead to a comprehensive war. That’s why, after each conflict, representatives of both sides came together to achieve a ceasefire; however, the ceasefire attempts did not bring a result that would lead to an agreement that would result in lasting peace in the medium and long term.

Lastly, on April 12, 2022, President of Tajikistan Imamali Rahman visited the city of Isfara, which borders with Kyrgyzstan. Rahman, who met with the local people during this visit, touched upon the border disputes with Kyrgyzstan, emphasized the need to live in peace with neighbors and called on the people of the region to “not be carried away by feelings-ambition”. Rahman stated that determining the border is an important issue; stressed the importance of diplomacy. In this context, Rahman stated that more than 170 meetings have been held between intergovernmental commission delegations and working groups since 2022, and that 663 km of the 987 km border between the two states; that is, 68% of the limit has been decided. However, Rahman also stated that the process is a complex issue that takes time and said:[5]

“I remind once again the residents of Isfara that they should live and work with their neighbors in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and good neighborliness, communicate with them and cooperate in a friendly way, be tolerant and not give in to feelings.”

On the other hand, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadir Caparov, who stated that she would solve the border problem with Tajikistan until the end of her term of office, made the following statement:[6]

“The 600 km problem of the disputed border has been resolved, about 300 km remain. The problem is gradually being resolved. Slow pace is not only from us; originates from both sides. The border issue, which has not been resolved for 30 years, will not be resolved in a month. There are areas of contention. A wall is out of the question until both sides have resolved the disputed points. Those who do not understand the subject say that the wall construction would be the better solution. As soon as the controversial points are resolved, both sides will start building walls. Border points will be open. The trade will begin. Relations with Tajikistan will be like our current relations with Uzbekistan.”

The border issue in question is not just an issue between two countries; it is also a complex issue involving external actors such as Russia, China, the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), which includes components such as regional security, the water problem and drug trafficking. Among the mentioned actors, Russia comes to the fore because it is the source of the problem. As a matter of fact, as in the cases of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, Russia artificially created border conflicts in order to open up a space for its own intervention and sovereignty. Therefore, Moscow is not in favor of solving the aforementioned issues through negotiations.

In addition to external factors, the unwillingness of the administrations of both countries to make concessions makes the solution of the problem difficult. Despite this, the statements of the parties that draw attention to the importance of dialogue and reflect the will for a solution are very important. Because neither side is at war; It clearly shows that it wants peace.

[1] Ermek Baisalov, “Territorial Disputes in Central Asia on the Threshold of the 30th Anniversary of Independence”, Cabar Asia, https://cabar.asia/ru/territorialnye-spory-v-tsentralnoj-azii-na-poroge-30-letiya-nezavisimosti, (Date of Accession: 21.04.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Temur Umarov, “Konflikt bez posrednikov. Kto viyıgral ot voynı na granitse Kirgizii i Tadjikistana”, Carnegie Moscow, https://carnegie.ru/commentary/84454, (Date of Accession: 21.04.2022).

[4] “Konflikt na tacikisko-kırgızskoy granitse: odin pogibşiy, 17 ranenıh”, Radio Ozodi, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/31674519.html, (Date of Accession: 25.04.2022).

[5] “Emomali Rahmon prizval jiteley İsfarı mirno jit s sosedyami i ‘ne poddavatsya emotsiyam’”, Radio Ozodi, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/31807154.html, (Date of Accession: 27.04.2022).

[6] “Kırgızstanu s Tacikistanom ostalos reşit spornıye uçastki, okolo 300 km – Sadır Caparov”, Kabar, https://kabar.kg/news/kyrgyzstanu-s-tadzhikistanom-ostalos-reshit-spornye-uchastki-okolo-300-km-sadyr-zhaparov/, (Date of Accession:25.04.2022).

Ademi MUKANBETOVA
İlköğretim ve lise eğitimini Kırgızistan'da tamamlayan Ademi MUKANBETOVA, 2019 yılında Kırgızistan-Türkiye Manas Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Lisans döneminde çeşitli kurumlarda staj yapan MUKANBETOVA, halihazırda ANKASAM'ın çalışmalarına katkıda bulunmaktadır. İleri seviyede Rusça ve İngilizce bilen MUKANBETOVA, Orta Asya bölgesine ilişkin çalışmalar yapmaktadır.