Saturday, August 18, 2018

Can Central Asia’s Complex Exclave/Enclave Situation Ever be Resolved?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Exclave/enclaves exist in many places in the world – with each being viewed as an exclave by the country with which they are related and an enclave by the one which surrounds them.  Kommersant not long ago offered alist of 78, using a slightly more expansive definition (

            But few regions have a more complex pattern of exclave/enclaves than post-Soviet Central Asia, and they are now again attracting attention less because of the history of conflicts in which they have been involved than because of a territorial swap between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan that will solve one of them (

            Of the countries in the region, only Turkmenistan lacks any at all. Kazakhstan has two in Uzbekistan but does not have any on its own territory. Tajikistan also lacks any inside its borders, but has one in Uzbekistan and two in Kyrgyzstan.  Uzbekistan has two Kazakh, one Kyrgyz and one Tajik exclave on its territory, while Kyrgyzstan has one exclave in Uzbekistan and four Uzbek and two Tajik exclaves within its borders.

            Recently, two Central Asian scholars have devoted extensive articles to these enclave/exclaves: Salamat Alamanov, to their history (“Enclaves of Central Asia” (in Russian), Post-Sovetskiye issledovaniya, 1:5: 451-460 at, and Tatyana  Zvergintseva, to the current state of play (“Borders without Friendship: Why Enclaves have Become a Headache for the Countries of Central Asia” (in Russian), at

            Both recall the observation of British expert Nick Mcgoran of the University of Newcastle last year that there are three possible variants for the resolution of these Central Asian enclaves: an exchange of territory, the creation of corridors from the borders to them, and a special regime governing border territories (

            Zvergintseva is skeptical about all of these: “An exchange of territories works and then with great difficulties only with regard to small enclaves.” Creating territoires also requires major efforts and expense.  And creating a special border region regime works only if the two countries involved are both willing to allow it.

            But the existence of such a regime, which is what Mcgoran favors, “strongly depends on relations between the countries, on the significance of the nationality question and on a common legal culture,” she continues.  In many cases, countries prefer to retain the current situation to put pressure on their neighbors or to mobilize their populations about a threat to their nations.

            And there is another problem which many prefer not to talk about, Zvergintseva says. If borders are kept relatively open, that allows for the freer flow of criminal elements and radical Islamists from one country to another, a challenge that all four of the Central Asian states with enclave/exclaves very much face. 

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