World, Asia - Pacific

Border disputes of Central Asian countries inherited from Soviets

Armed clashes on Tajik-Kyrgyz border since early Friday turn eyes to border issues in region that have not been fully resolved for 31 years

Merve Berker and Bahtiyar Abdulkerimov  | 17.09.2022 - Update : 23.09.2022
Border disputes of Central Asian countries inherited from Soviets

ANKARA, Türkiye / TASHKENT, Uzbekistan

The heavy clashes on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border since early Friday have turned the world’s eyes to the border issues in the Central Asia that could not been completely solved for the last 31 years.

While the border-related disputes in the Central Asian countries, which gained their independence in 1991, have been waiting for a solution for 31 years, tensions and conflicts have been decisively occurring between the countries of the region from time to time.

After its establishment, the Soviet Union applied a policy of dividing the peoples of the region who previously lived in the common geography into separate new states. Thus, the borders of newly formed Central Asian states were not clear enough to prevent them from engaging in border-related issues.

The borders drawn by the Soviets in the period 1924-1936 without taking into account economic, geographical and ethnic realities led to serious problems among those countries that had just gained independence and inherited complex borders from the Soviets.

The enclave factors, which are located in a region belonging to another country that is between the use of water resources and the territory of one country, have brought the countries of the region against each other.

During the 31-year period, the people who have been in conflict due to chronic problems have suffered hundreds of casualties.

Between May-June 1990, the Uzbeks living in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, faced the Kyrgyzstanis. According to official records, at least 300 people lost their lives in the conflict, while the independent sources claim that the number is nearly 1,000. Additionally, 573 houses and businesses and 89 vehicles were set on fire.

In the events that occurred in June 2010, there were more than 400 casualties from both sides. During this conflict, which lasted for five days, as many as 2,843 houses and businesses in Osh, Jalalabad, and Bazar-Korgan cities burned down.

Clashes in Fergana Valley

Among the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which had the least problems in border determining, most of their borders passed through the necessary stages, and became the least problematic. The two countries managed to solve border issues with their neighbors without major problems.

Kazakhstan resolved the border determination issues with Kyrgyzstan in 2001, Uzbekistan in 2002, and Turkmenistan in 2017. The country became the first country to resolve border issues with the countries of the region, while Turkmenistan completed the final border determination studies with its neighbors Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in 2017.

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which have the most complex borders in the region, have not been able to solve this problem for a long time. The Fergana Valley, where the borders of the three countries intersect, is the main factor in the border disputes.

Fergana, the most populous region of Central Asia, is located on the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. With the borders drawn during the Soviet era, Fergana is divided between the three countries without taking into account the ethnic structure and culture of the inhabitants.

In the valley, there are Fergana, Namangan, Andijan provinces of Uzbekistan, Khojand of Tajikistan, as well as Osh, Jalalabad and Batken provinces of Kyrgyzstan.

After previously agreeing on 85% of these borders with Uzbekistan, which has a total of 1,391 kilometers (over 864,3 miles) of common border, Kyrgyzstan is close to finalizing border determination studies with this country by reaching an agreement on 10% of the common borders in 2017 and the remaining 5% in 2021.

About 1,000 kilometers (almost 621.4 miles) of the 1,332-km (nearly 827.67 mi) border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were settled in 2002, and the remaining part was deconstructed by the good neighbor policy of Uzbek President Shevket Mirziyoyev, who took office in 2016.

Over 150 disputes in last 11 years between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are neighbors in the Fergana Valley, were the states that faced off due to the border problem. The territorial claim between the two countries, issues related to the use of water resources and plateaus came to the forefront decisively.

In the last 11 years, more than 150 tensions and conflicts have been recorded between them, in which casualties have also been decimated for the reasons, including agricultural irrigation, animal grazing, smuggling, and illegal border crossings.

An agreement was reached on about 600 kilometers (nearly 873 miles) of the 971-kilometer (over 603.35 miles) border between the two countries, but the parties are not willing to compromise at about 70 border points in the remaining part.

The recent clashes on the border between Dushanbe and Bishkek began at several locations on Friday morning, Sept. 16, 2022, and have since continued, according to Kyrgyz security sources.

Each side accused the other of violating agreements but they agreed to a cease-fire as of 4 p.m. local time (2200GMT).

The State Committee for National Security said the Tajik side set fire to border villages in Kyrgyzstan, including Kulundu, Maksat, and Dzhani-Dzher.

The two countries’ foreign ministers discussed the situation at the border, according to information obtained by Anadolu Agency from the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry.

During the meeting, they underlined the importance of solving the problems at the border through political and diplomatic means.

The ministry issued a protest note to the Tajik side regarding what it called their illegal and destructive actions.

Earlier on Friday, the Health Ministry said 24 people were killed in clashes with Tajik security forces, and it confirmed on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, that 121 people were also injured. The majority of the injured have shrapnel and gunshot wounds, according to the ministry.

The country declared a state of emergency late Friday to ensure the safety of its citizens, carry out work on evacuation and resettlement of the population, prevent human losses and mobilize the relevant forces, according to a statement.

Enclave chaos in Fergana Valley

In addition to the disputed borders, the problem of enclaves in the Fergana Valley also confronts the people of the three countries. The presence of eight enclaves in the position of territory belonging to another country, located between the territories of one country, also caused conflicts to break out and decimated lives.

There are Shahimerdan, Soh, Chongara, and Cangayil enclaves of Uzbekistan in Kyrgyzstan; Voruh and West Kalacha of Tajikistan, Barak village of Kyrgyzstan and Sarvak enclaves of Tajikistan in Uzbekistan.

The Soh enclave, which belongs to Uzbekistan with a population of nearly 60,000 people, and Voruh enclave, which belongs to Tajikistan even though it is located within Kyrgyz territories with a population of 30,000, are the enclaves that attract attention with their size. Unfortunately, tensions and disputes frequently occur in these regions despite crowded populations.

The decades-long border disputes between the countries of the region and the inability to resolve the problem are also important factors in the fact that these regions, which are disputed between the parties, are of strategic importance in terms of geographical, transportation and water resources management.

These Central Asian countries do not want to lose this advantage in the region over another country, and this leads to border problems in the region to keep existing.

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