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The Unsolved Issue: Can the Exchange of Territories Bring Peace to Kyrgyzstanis and Tajikistanis?

Delimitation and demarcation of borders should remove 30-year tension at the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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The border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is nearly thousands of kilometres long, and almost half of it is undefined. Almost 70 per cent of border areas are disputed. They cause regular tensions in border villages. In the last 10 years, the number of conflicts is 10-12 a year.

Presidents Sooronbai Zheenbekov and Emomali Rakhmon agreed to put an end to the border issue last June during the official visit of the leader of Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan.

“We suggest that the negotiations be more dynamic and effective. I am confident that our joint efforts will make our borders the doors to something new, peace and well-being,” Zheenbekov said at the meeting.

Photo: CABAR.asia

Peace is superior to territories

Back in January, Vice Prime Minister Zhenish Razakov said at the session of the international affairs committee of the parliament that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan agreed on the exchange of two equal border areas in the border villages of Batken region.

Kyrgyzstan offered to exchange Aryk-Asty plots in the village of Kok-Tash and Samarkandek in the similarly named village. Tajikistan, as reported by the media, offered  the choice of four land plots. In fact, the Tajikistan territories suggested for the exchange have not been named in public.

Until March 1 this year, survey groups should have worked the agreed choices of equal land plots to be exchanged between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

On February 11, 2020, Zhenish Razakov reportedly resigned and was replaced by Akram Madumarov. No update on negotiations is available now.

“As we know, Dushanbe and Bishkek have agreed to exchange 114-115 kilometres of the border.  The case is the residential places that are located in a staggered order in the territories of both countries. The border is rather relative,” political analyst Igor Shestakov said to CABAR.asia.

However, according to the expert, it is easy to say and hard to do. The problem is that the determining borderline passes through houses and garden plots in some areas. The locals are happy about the initiative of the authorities to exchange land plots, yet they want to have their opinions heard.

Waiting for news

Abdyrakhman Karazakov lives in Teskei, village of Samarkandek, Batken region of Kyrgyzstan. One of the plots in this village may be transferred to Tajikistan.

Abdyrakhman Karazakov. Photo: CABAR.asia

“Former Vice Prime Minister Zhenish Razakov came to us and discussed the exchange of land plots with total area 1.25 hectares in Teskei from the side of Tajikistan. But we have not heard any news since then,” Karazakov said.

Some residents of border villages of Kyrgyzstan are against the exchange of territory, others do not want to say anything and wait for some information from the government. However, they all share the same opinion – the authorities have to coordinate the issue with them before exchanging the land plots.

Rasul Rakhimiyon. Photo: CABAR.asia

The other part of the border waits for the same actions. Rasul Rakhimiyon is a geography teacher and philologist of Vorukh jamoat of Isfara district of Tajikistan. According to him, the maps of the 1928-1970s, as well as the opinions of the residents of border areas should be taken into consideration to solve border issues.

“Today, the houses in some villages are located in a staggered order. Therefore, the exchange of land plots is a right choice that will help to solve the conflict. However, we still do not know what villages Tajikistan is going to exchange. I think the working group should arrange a meeting with the residents of Vorukh and hold an open and transparent dialogue,” Rakhimiyon said.

A resident of the border village of Chorku and a blogger who asked not to be named said that frequent conflicts on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan made him feel interest in politics, although he is a farmer.

According to him, the resignation of vice prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, Zhenish Razakov, has brought all their achievements to nought and the working group will most probably start their work again.

“We know the land plots that they want to exchange. These are the villages of Somoniyon in Tajikistan and Samarkandek in Kyrgyzstan. Somoniyon is located at the head of rivers, and Samarkandek have issues with water supply. Therefore, we don’t want this option. If we give our village, the whole town will remain without water. This exchange will not solve the issue, but only aggravate the situation,” said the resident of Chorku.

We’d like to note that information about the exchange of Somoniyon, Tajikistan, has not been approved. Asia Plus reported this information referring to the sources in law-enforcement bodies.

Alternative opinion

Clashes in the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border have been going since the USSR period. The conflicts used to be seasonal and often occurred during spring field works due to resource issues: water, and land. During the independence period, illegal traffic has become one more issue.

Mamat Aibalaev. Photo: bbc.com

According to ex-governor of Batken region Mamat Aibalaev, the delimitation issue should have been solved just after the republic gained independence.

“Kyrgyzstan has missed the opportunity. We should have done it right at the very beginning when there was no corruption, and people and managers were not corrupt. Now it is hard to do. I am the native of Batken region and I know what happened there and happens today,” Aibalaev said.

However, this issue may be solved today, according to him. However, it’s people not territories that should change. According to the former plenipotentiary envoy, he voiced this idea at different levels many times.

“The issue should be solved not with land plots, but with people. The clashes are between the residents. The exchange of land plots will not remove the tension. So, I think it would be better to exchange the villages. As far as I know, Tajikistan has nearly 17 villages and two districts where the Kyrgyz reside. To normalise the situation, Vorukh, Kok-Tash and other border villages should be resettled. Then our border situation will become peaceful,” Aibalaev said.

According to him, when he was the governor of Batken region, the Kyrgyz who lived in border areas used to come to him often. They often told they wanted to move to Kyrgyzstan with the support of the authorities.

However, the negotiations over the exchange of territory have already began, but the process is not going to be fast and easy. Amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, when all attention and measures are taken to fight the pandemic, the border issue will most probably be postponed indefinitely. However, no official statements have been made in this regard.

Igor Shestakov . Photo: elet.media

“In Kyrgyzstan, it may happen that all issues are solved at the official level, and as soon as they are discussed at the public level they cause protests, rallies, etc.,” Shestakov emphasised.

According to specialists, it’s fear of public perception of the exchange that makes the authorities of two countries keep the people unaware of the border delimitation and demarcation issue.

Despite the official statements about the agreements, the official bodies of both states still have not determined the territories to be exchanged. People are kept unaware. But it is them who will have to change their routine in case of the arbitrary decision of leaders.

It is a good sign that the delimitation of the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border has again become active. But, according to experts, there should not be any expectations that the exchange will take place in 2020 and both republics will have a definite border.

“In my opinion, this is an issue not for one year or two. Besides, I think that the authorities of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have to create conditions for citizen diplomacy. What we need here is non-governmental organisations that will contribute to the mutual dialogue between the border areas. They could hold some joint campaigns,” the political analyst said.

In his opinion, citizen diplomacy may become the basis for mutual understanding and termination of border conflicts. So far, the dialogue is being held between the leaders of the two countries.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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