Friday, January 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Uzbekistan Dragging Its Feet on Border Issues, Kyrgyzstan Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – A Kyrgyzstan official responsible for the demarcation of that country’s borders says that Uzbekistan is dragging its feet on border issues by refusing to agree on what documents the sides must rely, constantly changing the membership of its negotiating team, and ignoring all proposals by others, including his own.

            According to Kurbanbay Iskandarov, head of the Kyrgyzstan delegation for delimitation and demarcation of the borders, Uzbekistan’s unwillingness to move forward toward anaccord is in the words of “the main reason for border arguments andconflicts” across Central Asia (

            Iskandarov told the new service’s Ekaterina Ivashchenko in an interview posted online yesterday that Uzbek obstructionism is visible at all three stages iin the process of defining state borders: delimitation when a line is agreed upon and drawn on the maps, demarcation when it is marked by posts or fences, and border construction when crossings are established.

            As bad as things are now, Iskandarov continued, they were even worse two decades ago. At that time, residents in frontier regions were often killed when they moved about and set off mines that the Uzbek authorities had put in place because they “did not even have an understanding of what a border is.”  Now, thanks to these deaths, they have learned.

            But there is a second cause of border conflicts, the Kyrgyzstan official says. It consisted in the low level of training of border guards.  They come from rural areas and don’t know how to deal with anyone who is in any way different than they are. And a third cause is that they and others in the system are terribly corrupt.

            Establishing borders is no easy thing, Iskandarov continues.  The governments of the countries involved often disagree on what documents are relevant – there have been many over the last 90 years – and find themselves unsure how to deal with the small border changes that local people arranged when these were administrative rather than inter-state lines.

            It often happened in Soviet times that the heads of collective farms would agree to shift a field or two among themselves, effectively changing the border between the two union republics that in 1991 became independent countries. Now, the “losers” of these earlier shifts want “their” land back, while the “winners” show no intention of giving it up.

            Disagreements about which documents should be used as the basis for discussion is only the beginning of the problem, Iskandarov says.  Uzbekistan’s delegation is constantly changing, while Kyrgyzstan’s has remained the same despite all the political changes in that republic.  And there are also problems because Tashkent often decides not to talk at all.

             “Kyrgyzstan will never give a single meter of its lands” to anyone else, and Uzbekistan has taken the same position, Iskandarov adds. But there is a basis for compromise.  The conflicts over the Uzbek-dominated Sokh region inside of Kyrgyzstan should never have happened, but unless it is addressed, they will keep occurring over time.

            That enclae was established in1955, reports. “According to one of the legends, an Uzbek party leader won the territory from his Kyrgyz colleague in a came of guards.  According to another, the land was transferred to Uzbekistan becaue the main roads from Sokh leader deep into Uzbekistan.”

            Santzhan Eratov, deputy representative of Bishkek in Batken oblast, said that the situation in Sokh had become especially tense over the last few months became the Kyrgyzstan government had “begun to devote attention” to border issues  “And that question touched on the interests of the Uzbek side.”

            “Uzbekistan is a country which is iin a position to control everything, there is discipline and order,” Eratov continued, saying he “does not believe that there the people simply came out into the streets against us.” Instead, one needs to look deeper on both sides to understand why there are conflicts.

            Kyrgyzstan has failed to address many of the social needs of people in this frontier area, he pointed out, and Uzbekistan is furious about Bishkek’s plans to build a hydro-electric dam at Kamarat. References to border posts and the like is simply a transparent effort to cover up the real reasons. But unless they are addressed, the situation threatens to get much worse and soon.


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