Monday, May 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kyrgyz Flight Opens Way for Fight with Tajiks over Vorukh Exclave

Paul Goble

Baku, May 26 – Kyrgyz are leaving the southern portion of their country in order to find work in the Russian Federation, a situation that Tajikistan is exploiting by sending in more of its own citizens not only to its exclave Vorukh, 20 km inside Kyrgyzstan, but into the region around it in order to take control of productive agricultural land.
And these two movements of people are creating a situation in which Dushanbe feels itself to be the master de facto of what Bishkek is supposed to be de jure, a recipe for more conflicts between the two sides and possibly a full-scale war, according to a Kyrgyz analyst (
In an article posted online yesterday, Kubanychbek Omuraliyev describes the outflow of Kyrgyz from the southern portions of his country as people there have left and the massive influx of Tajiks in the regions they have left. Many Tajiks go to the Vorukh exclave, which belongs to Tajikistan, but ever more of them are buying up land between Vorukh and Tajikistan proper.
As a result, Tajiks if not Tajikistan is in effective control of a much larger portion of the southern part of Kyrgyzstan than just Vorukh, a situation compounded by the route of the main road from that region which passes through Vorukh, Tajikistan’s desperate need for farmland, and the absence of any border treaty regulating the activities of the Tajik border guards.
The latter, Omuraliyev says, frequently cross the border, selectively enforcing Tajik laws on Kyrgyz citizens and acting like they own the place. Their approach has encouraged even more Kyrgyz to flee, as the Tajiks probably intended, and means that the number of conflicts between Tajik and Kyrgyz militia has dramatically increased in recent months.
According to the Kyrgyz writer, the Kyrgyz in this region have been subjected to “discrimination and repression in their own country by Tajiks” since Soviet times, and now things are so bad that “nowhere in the world is there a country on whose territory its own citizens are repressed by citizens of another country.”
Because the Tajik border guards are in control, he continues, Kyrgyz who want to travel to Tajikistan are subject to all kinds of humiliations and even violence while Tajiks can do almost anything they want with impunity, a pattern that has raised inter-ethnic tensions to the boiling point.
The Kyrgyz and Tajiks clashed in this region in 1989, but many people, including Omuraliyev, expect any new conflict to be far more serious. On the one hand, the ethnic balance has shift in favor of the Tajiks. And on the other, the Tajik government is far more committed to not backing down.
Dushanbe needs the lowlands in Kyrgyzstan to grow food since 93 percent of its own territory is too mountainous to do so. And thus, the Kyrgyz analyst argued, one should view what it is doing now as a pursuit of “Lebensraum” – he uses the German – for the Tajiks at the expense of the Kyrgyz.
One indication of how serious the Tajik threat now is, he said, is that the Tajik population of the Vorukh exclave is now almost twice what it was only two years ago; and another is that Dushanbe is already putting out maps showing that not only Vorukh but the territories adjoining it are Tajik.
If nothing is done, Omuraliyev continued, the Tajiks will simply slice off “peacefully” approximately 10,000 km2 of Kyrgyz territory.
But as bad as that is, the Kyrgyz analyst said, it may not be the worst thing that will happen. The Tajiks control most of the drug trade in the area, and the expansion of Tajik control into this portion of Kyrgyzstan will lead to the expansion of Tajik drug operations there as well, something that will further weaken the Kyrgyz society and state.
According to Omuraliyev, Bishkek has not done much to counter all this up to now, but he said that he “wanted to believe” that Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov’s statement that he would not permit the further resettlement of Tajiks in the border regions “will not remain an empty promise.”
Unfortunately, given how far things have gone and the lack of effective control in this portion of Kyrgyzstan, implementing those words almost certainly will lead to violence, something the Tajiks may at present be in a better position to exploit that the Kyrgyz, however much right is on their side.

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