An official delegation headed by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister visited Uzbekistan’s Andijan region on October 1 for a visit that observers of the region hope could break a pattern of frosty relations.
News website Gazeta.uz reported that Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev led a delegation of around 130 government officials, “cultural representatives” and youth groups. State officials included representatives from the regions bordering Uzbekistan — Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad — and the mayor of Osh city, Aitmamat Kadyrbayev.
The large group of guests was ceremonially greeted by deputy Uzbek prime minister Adham Ikramov at the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing in Uzbekistan’s Khodjaobad district, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
During the one-day tour, the visiting delegation was taken to see a museum devoted to celebrated medieval poet and son of Andijan, Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur, a local university, the premises of a freshly built train station and the General Motors Uzbekistan manufacturing plant.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, reported that the trip concluded with the obligatory sealing of a memorandum of mutual cooperation that was signed by neighboring regions of both countries. A concert then followed.
Uzbek youth movement Kamolot uploaded video footage of an address by the visiting Kyrgyz onto its website entitled “Hello Uzbekistan!” In the video, one woman in her sixties, spoke in Kyrgyz to say that this was the first ever such high-ranking delegation to visit Andijan region.
“This visit of ours will become a bridge of friendship for future Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations. We are brotherly nations and should live in peace and harmony. Now, we await our Kyrgyz friends in Kyrgyzstan,” she said.
The sudden outbreak of bonhomie has come on the heels of President Islam Karimov’s death and the ascendancy of Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has stated that improving regional relations is a foreign policy priority.
The jubilant hyperbole may be a little premature, but it is not wholly unjustified. Cross-border encounters have typically been restricted to high officialdom and military personnel. The last time Kyrgyz officials traveled to Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley was in 2010, in the wake of the inter-communal clashes in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad that precipitated the flight of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks out of Kyrgyzstan.
And in mid-September, some two weeks after Karimov’s death, Uzbek police put an end to their weeks-long occupation of a Kyrgyz telecommunications tower on a disputed section of the border, thereby defusing tensions at a fell swoop. Tashkent then announced it had reopened a long-sealed border crossing with Kyrgyzstan to private citizens.
Central Asian history expert Maxim Matnazarov told EurasiaNet.org that he believed that this sudden thaw in relations appears to be the product of Mirziyoyev’s personal initiative ahead of his certain permanent election to the presidency on December 4.
“Of course, before the election, Mirziyoyev wants to receive support from the population of the Fergana Valley and to create the image of a peacemaker in a conflict-ridden region. But the important thing here is not to tip over into populism but to really solve border problems between the countries and populations,” Matnazarov said.