Baku, April 6 – Vorukh, a non-contiguous part of Tajikistan located within the borders of Kyrgyzstan, as well as adjoining areas of the latter republic into which Tajiks have moved, could trigger a broader conflict between those two poor Central Asian countries, according to an in-house study prepared by the staff of the Kyrgyz president.
That document, marked “for official use only,” was posted on the Forum.msk website on Friday. It highlights both the broader problem of exclaves in Central Asia – there is an Uzbek one (Sokh) within Kyrgyzstan as well – and the flimsiness of Soviet-era borders in which the international community has placed so much confidence.
In introducing the document, Anatoly Baranov does not say how his site obtained it but argues that the ethnic subtext of such border disputes in Central Asia together with the active presence of a variety of outside powers means that it should not be ignored lest the situation deteriorate further (http://forum.msk.ru/material/fpolitic/462220.html).
Prepared by the Experts Group of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in the Kyrgyz president’s office, it argues that Dushanbe is actively promoting the introduction of Tajiks into Vorukh and into the region between that exclave and Tajikistan proper and urges the president to take action to hold this area for Bishkek.
Over the last two years, the report says, Tajiks have moved into these areas, occupied or purchased real estate there, and engaged in business and agriculture, changing the ethnic balance of Kyrgyzstan’s Batkenskaya oblast and threatening Kyrgyz control.
Indeed, it continues, just like the problems Kyrgyzstan has had with the Uzbeks around Osh – many people link the “orange”-style revolution there with their presence, the problems with the Tajiks in the southern portion of the country are likely to threaten the ethno-political situation in the country as a whole.
The situation in the Vorukh district and throughout the Kyrgyz-Tajik border area involves “water and territorial disputes, … the illegal use of pastures and forest resources of the oblast, [and] the systematic violation of the border regime” by citizens of Tajikistan.
(Tensions between Bishkek and Dushanbe over Vorkuta have a long history. For a useful survey of their origins and history, see the article in “Kommersant Vlast’” at www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?fromsearch=b326a9a4-423b-4e4c-942b-0dcd585925e2&docsid=399461, which also details Kyrgyz-Uzbek tensions in Sokh.)
The number of Tajiks in Vorukh now stands at 40,000, 42.5 percent more than in 2001. “Such a sharp growth,” the report says, “can be explained by the activization of the process of the resettlement there of people from Tajikistan itself. And the number of Tajiks moving into adjoining areas during this period has been high as well.
Forty-six percent of the population of Tajikistan is under the age of 16, and consequently, that poor and war-ravaged country faces serious and intensifying problems in providing them with food, shelter, water, energy, work, and pasturage, all of which are leading some in Dushanbe to look at the adjoining territories in Kyrgyzstan.
And by promoting the introduction of Tajiks into that country, Dushanbe has effectively seized approximately 600 hectares of Kyrgyz land and threatens to take another 2,000 hectares in the near future, as well as strengthening its ethnic position in the Vorukh exclave.
The situation deteriorated last year, according to the study, when Tajik border guards illegally crossed into Kyrgyzstan and when Tajiks living there used force to extort money from Kyrgyz businessmen, incidents that suggest Dushanbe is behind what Bishkek sees as a land grab.
In the near future, the study warns, Bishkek should “expect a further intensification of these negative ‘expansionist’ tendencies,” given that Dushanbe has no chance by itself of solving its domestic problems anytime soon and that Kyrgyzstan does not have effective control in southern parts of the country.
Consequently, the report concludes, the Kyrgyz government needs to take action now, promoting a discussion of this issue in the Kyrgyz press to alert the population to the problem, improving the ability of its border guards to respond to illegal actions by Tajiks, and forcibly remove Tajiks who are in illegal possession of Kyrgyz property.
Whether Kyrgyzstan itself is capable of doing any of these things remains to be seen, but an effort by Bishkek in any of these directions will fan the flames of interethnic conflict and set the stage for more violence in a region that has seen so much over the last 15 years.
Meanwhile, as Uznews and Radio Liberty have reported, there is another territorial conflict heating up in Central Asia: A hitherto unknown group, “Free Karakalpakstan,” is calling for the independence of that region from the rest of Uzbekistan.
Under the Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakia, the impoverished area just south of the Aral Sea, has the right to secede from Uzbekistan but only if Tashkent agrees, something that means this challenge will not succeed but may intensify tensions as it falls short (http://www.svobodanews.ru/Article/2008/04/04/20080404163221730.html).