When the water flows in Batken Province, a hardscrabble patch of southwestern Kyrgyzstan, tempers flare.
“The conflict area is well established,” said Taalay Ibraimov, a community leader in Batken’s Aksai District. Warning visitors not to stop in the nearby ethnic-Tajik village of Khozhayi, he describes rising tensions over land rights and water resources along the largely un-delimited border with Tajikistan. “Every year we have the same problems when irrigation begins.”
The confrontational mood this year is especially fraught with the risk of violence. Already, residents and troops on both sides have destroyed property and detained each other. With the painful memory of last summer’s ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, many fear Batken, and Tajikistan’s Sughd Province across the “border,” could become the next flashpoint for upheaval in the Ferghana Valley.
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Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.