Vienna, June 7 – Ethnic enclaves, territories belonging to one country but located inside another, are, as recent events in Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated, one of the most serious “poison pills” left over from the Soviet system, continuing sources of ethnic tension and possible triggers of violent conflict between the now independent countries involved.
There are two such Uzbek enclaves inside Kyrgyzstan, Sokh and Shakhimardan, and one Kyrgyz enclave inside Uzbekistan, Barak. In addition, there is a Tajik enclave inside Kyrgyzstan, Vorukh, which has a population of approximately 20,000 people, according to Moscow commentator Aleksandr Shustov (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=3078).
In an analysis posted online yesterday, Shustov notes the dangers these enclaves present: Specifically, “under conditions of rural overpopulation and arguments about borders, there constantly arise conflicts on questions involving the distribution of water and agricultural lands,” particularly grazing areas.
The “epicenter” of conflicts between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Southern Kyrgyzstan during May was the Uzbek enclave of Sokh, which is situated inside the Batken oblast of Kyrgyzstan. “Cut off from the main territory of Uzbekistan,” Shustov notes, “it is constantly generating tension.”
And those tensions, he says, “quickly moved beyond the local framework and acquired an interstate character with the prospect of growing into an armed confrontation.” The first clashes between Uzbeks living there and Kyrgyz border guards “began on May 26, when Kyrgyz officials refused to allow the Uzbeks access to pastures the latter had been using.
The Kyrgyz officials said that the Uzbeks had not paid the required rent, Shustov says, but “as it turned out later, the point concerning rent for the pastures had somehow disappeared from the new version of the inter-governmental treaty, and the residents of the Sokh [enclave] simply could not pay it.
The Sokh Uzbeks, he continues, “attempted to attract attention to their problems with the help of a show of force.” After being denied access to the pastures, some “residents of the Khushyar village there beat up the passenger of four cars which wanted to pass through to the Kyrgyz village of Sogment.”
The following day, the Kyrgyz and Uzbek sides assembled crowds of 300 to 500 people. The residents of Sogment returned to their homes only after “long negotiations” with representatives of the local administration, “and the next day, the standoff between the two sides was renewed.”
Then, on May 29, Khushyar residents escalated the conflict by destroying the road and the water pipeline leading to the Kyrgyz village of Charbak, “which is located on the territory of Uzbekistan.” That left the Charbak Kyrgyz “in complete isolation. And “in response, the residents of Batken oblast near the village of Zhash-Tilek blocked the road to an Uzbek town.”
Talks aimed at lifting these blockades proved fruitless. And “as a result, on May 30, the Border Service of Kyrgyzstan closed all border points located in Batken oblast on the border with Uzbekistan,” effectively leaving the ethnic Uzbeks in the Sokh enclave cut off from their country.
Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials have traded charges as to who is responsible for this. Radio Liberty reported, Shustov notes, that Tashkent had sent “approximately 1000 special forces troops” up to the border, a show of force that the Kyrgyz government was not in a position to respond to directly.
Tensions continue also within the Sokh enclave, especially around the village of Chardak, where some 400 Kyrgyz citizens live. They began to experience “difficulties with drinking water and food,” prompting Kyrgyz activists to try to seek to deliver both across the Uzbek border.
On June 1, S. Ayzhigitov, the governor of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken oblast, and Kh. Musayev, governor of Uzbekistan’s Fergana oblast, met with leaders of the border services and heads of local militias to try to find a way out. The Uzbek side announced its willingness to draw down forces and on June did so.
But there is no indication that this conflict is over, Shustov says. Moreover, “the delimitation of borders among the former republics of the Soviet Union, even if it can be successfully completed, will not resolve the problem of over-population and the extremely sharp shortage of land and water resources” in the region.