Vienna, May 7 – Officials in a district in Tajikistan along the Uzbek border, have told residents there who are Uzbekistan nationals that they can become citizens of Tajikistan or go to Uzbekistan, the latest indication of rising tensions in that border region and something that could trigger more serious clashes between the two countries.
In an article posted on Ferghana.ru yesterday, journalist Taliv Rasul-zade said that Penjikent officials had told him that people were completely free to choose under the terms of Tajikistan’s citizenship law. And according to the reporter, 40 households in one village have expressed their desire to take Tajik citizenship (www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=6158).
Many people in border regions in Central Asia have taken advantage of the sometimes ambiguous status of the citizen of one country living in another toavoid avoid paying taxes or serving in the military even though not having local citizenship has restricted their access to educational institutions and the franchise.
But now the governments of the region are seeking to regularize the situation by setting up commissions like the one in Tajikistan and insisting on everyone defining their status, most often by becoming a citizen of their country of residence. Tajik officials told Ferghana.ru that they had hoped that Uzbek officials would work with them in this, but that has not happened.
Another reason citizenship has remained undefined until now is that there are many border disputes and unusual administrative arrangements. The village of Plotina, for example, is claimed as an inalienable part of its territory by Tajikistan, but administratively, it remains subordinate to the Jami mahallah of the city of Bekabad of Tashkent oblast in Uzbekistan.
According to Noziyat Akhromova, the president of the Jami mahallah, Plotina is “conditionally divided” into two parts – those who live “this side of the city club” are citizens of Uzbekistan, she said, while those who live “on the other side of the club” are Tajikistanis – an indication of the fact that citizenship as such has not meant a lot to many residents.
But that is changing: Individuals increasingly need to have their diplomas recognized, they need to gain access to social servics, and they require travel documents of one kind or another. And the central governments of these countries are increasingly concerned about tax collection and effective control of border regions.
One Tajik official, Zokirjon Mahmudov, head of border village in Spitamensk district, said that resolving the citizenship issue will require the intervention of the presidents of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Lower level officials simply lack the authority to take the necessary steps, and he said that he hopes to dispatch a letter to the two leaders proposing a meeting.
But other officials are prepared to act without waiting for such a bilateral accord: They want to tell residents on the territories of their villages and regions that they must “become citizens” of the country where they live of “leave,” either on their own or with the assistance of their homeland.
Such actions on “passport questions” could help to ignite clashes along the border of these two countries, especially following the Russian government’s invocation of the defense of citizenship as a justification for its military intervention in Georgia, a justification that many countries around the world were willing to accept or at least not challenge.
The governments in both Dushanbe and Tashkent are certainly aware of that precedent, and the fights of citizenship in several border regions could thus easily become broader military engagements, especially given the disputes these two governments have over water, drug trafficking, and other issues as well.