Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border: No Progress; Sokh Still Sensitive

01 Apr 2013

The 685 mile long Kyrgyz-Uzbek border has about 50 areas where demarcation problems exist. This photograph was by Zamir Ibrayev (for more see Sokh enclave, a month after the collision (in Russian) © Stan Radar).

Over March 25-28, the Kyrgyz-Uzbek joint commission for delimitation and demarcation of state borders, chaired by deputy prime ministers Shamil Atakhanov of Kyrgyzstan and Rustam Azimov of Uzbekistan met in Tashkent. The only reported outcome was the agreement on the dates of the next meeting in late April. Unfortunately, lack of results from these intermittent bilateral talks is rather expected. The joint commission has not made any progress concerning 350 kilometers of disputed border lands.

However, in contrast to previous sessions, the routine agenda became quite extraordinary because it involved a disturbing situation in the Ferghana valley, where both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have exclave territories.

Not long ago, in January 2013, a violent incident erupted in Sokh, an enclave of Uzbekistan in the Batken oblast of southern Kyrgyzstan. Residents of Sokh seized several dozen residents of a nearby Kyrgyz village in an apparent response to a conflict with Kyrgyz border-guards (for more see EurasiaNet's Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan: Border Quarrel Poses Political Test for Karimov).

Though the hostages were freed within days, tensions remained high. Both sides claimed injuries and damages. Kyrgyzstan blocked the roads connecting Uzbekistan with Sokh. Tashkent responded with similar measures against the Barak village of Kyrgyzstan, which is located 1.5 kilometers from Osh within the territory of Uzbekistan.

As expected, both Kyrgyz and Uzbek authorities accused each other of triggering the conflict and little real information was provided. One domestic outcome for Kyrgyzstan was the creation of a new deputy prime ministerial position. According to Kyrgyz PM Satybaldiev, Uzbekistan demanded such a representative from Kyrgyzstan in order to have bilateral talks.

However, there were reports that Uzbek President Karimov was hardly able to control some belligerent Uzbek generals who were ready to take "proactive" measures against Kyrgyzstan. In this light, the recent rumors of an imminent power succession in Tashkent added even more tension.

No less worrying was a remark by the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Nikolay Bordyuzha who praised the “wise” actions of the Kyrgyz authorities on the Sokh events, while talking about Uzbekistan as a third party, seemingly stressing the latter’s non-membership in the CSTO. 

The recent events in Sokh involving large groups of border residents involved in hostage-taking or confronting  border guards is rather new. The January events in Sokh that set things in motion involved several hundred villagers from Uzbekistan’s Khushyar village reportedly attacking Kyrgyz border guards, which led to the shooting and hostage-taking situations.

We should note that in June 2012, a large group of Kyrgyzstan residents in Batken took about a dozen citizens of Tajikistan hostage, demanding the release of a Kyrgyzstan citizen who had earlier been arrested for smuggling.

In an area where villages routinely deal with unclear borders, scarce water supplies, remote pasture areas, and aggressive border-guards, an extra effort is required from local governments to maintain trust and balance—perhaps the Kyrgyz-Uzbek joint commission for delimitation and demarcation of state borders should make this effort.

Shairbek Juraev is the deputy director of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. He blogs for PONARS Eurasia on Central Asian issues. The comments made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.