Thursday, April 8, 2021

Vorukh Likely Rock on Which Kyrgyz-Tajik Border Talks will Founder

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 5 – Now that Kyrgyzstan has reached a border accord with Uzbekistan by exchanging small parcels of land (, many are hoping that something similar can be worked out between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan ( and

            Unfortunately, there are three reasons for pessimism on that account. First, unlike Kyrgyz and Uzbek, both of which are Turkic languages, Kyrgyz and Tajik are radically different, the first being Turkic and the second Persian. Many are bilingual, but the linguistic difference reflects deep cultural ones as well.         

            Second, the Tajik government has been pressuring Kyrgyz nationals in Tajikistan to leave that country and go home, something that has radicalized opinion on both sides and prompted many to recall earlier conflicts (

            And third, the places that would have to be exchanged to make such an accord possible are not only larger but historically far more fraught than was the case in the land and body of water involved along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Most important, the largest one, the Kyrgyz-majority Vorukh exclave, is unique in that it was created by Kyrgyz action rather than Soviet fiat.

            Most of the enclaves and exclaves in Central Asia and elsewhere in the former Soviet space were imposed on local populations by Moscow with little regard for the feelings of the people involved. (On that history, see

            But the Kyrgyz exclave in Tajikistan of Vorukh was not created in that way. Instead, it was a compromise that followed outbreaks of violence between the two ethnic groups in the 1970s and 1980s. Before 1974, in fact, Vorukh was not referred to as an exclave at all. But the Kyrgyz insisted on it, and Moscow backed them to avoid further violence.

            People who lived through that violence or even were officials at the time are very much still alive and are committed to the idea that Vorukh should be a Tajik area as it was until the early 1970s even if the population there includes many Kyrgyz. And they are not prepared to yield on this point.

            Two articles this week underscore just how committed the Tajiks are to opposing any swap, even and perhaps especially because the Kyrgyz continue to claim that Vorukh is already theirs ( and

            Consequently, hopes for a quick resolution of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border disputes are likely to be dashed and could even be undermined by the kind of violence that broke out in 1974, 1989, and again in 2007. If that happens, it will be far more difficult to restore stability in two countries already with little of it than many now think.

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