Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Swap Territories to Eliminate an Ethnic Exclave and Resolve Border Disputes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 14 – Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials have agreed to transfer from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan the Kyrgyz exclave of Barak, which has an area of 230 hectares and a population of 30 families, and in exchange, to transfer from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan a border region equal in size, population and fertility.

            This action, assuming it is ratified by the two governments and the populations involved, eliminates one of the smaller exclaves in Central Asia and allows these two countries to reach agreement on the delimitation of 85 percent of their border (interfax.az/view/741241,

            But more than that, it is another indication of three things about borders in the post-Soviet space that many often forget. First, borders among the republics often changed in Soviet times; second, ethnic exclaves can be eliminated as well as created; and third, the swapping of territory has often been and appears to be in this case a useful device for reaching an agreement.

            The current author has a particular interest in this subject because 28 years ago, he suggested a possible solution for the Karabakh dispute was for Baku and Yerevan to swap territories, with Karabakh being transferred from Azerbaijan to Armenia and Zengezur, the land bridge between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakchivan, going from Armenia to Azerbaijan.

            (For the original discussion of this idea, which became notorious as “the Goble Plan,” see “Coping with the Karabakh Crisis,” Fletcher Forum, 16:2 (1992) at dl.tufts.edu/catalog/tufts:UP149.001.00032.00004. For a discussion of the fate of this idea, see reliefweb.int/report/armenia/how-goble-plan-was-born-and-how-it-remains-political-factor.)

            Obviously, each case is different; but it will be well worth watching how successful – or not – the Kyrgyz-Uzbek agreement proves to be.  If it does work out, those two countries may move to resolve other exclave issues, including several larger ones; and other countries may be willing to consider something they have not been willing to in the past. 

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