The first two papers in this series examined the 1999 Spring Border Crisis between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and the various reactions and responses to it. This final article concludes the series by detailing developments in the autumn which centred around disputes over border demarcation.
After the end of the Batken fighting a new development emerged that threatened to spark an even graver crisis between the two states than the events in the spring: Uzbekistan's unilateral demarcation of its border in the Ferghana Valley. There had throughout the year been persistent comments by Kyrgyzstani journalists and politicians concerning territorial disputes. Some accused Uzbekistan of advancing border checkpoints along roads into Kyrgyz territory. Around the start of October onwards Uzbekistan began in earnest the job of erecting a barbed-wire fence around large sections of its territory in the Ferghana Valley, apparently as a means to prevent continued incursions into Uzbekistan by armed opponents of President Islam Karimov's government. To the surprise and dismay of many, there was no official Kyrgyz response to the Uzbekistani action. Bishkek had established a border commission in the spring to respond to developments, but it had not materialized on the ground.
Demarcation of the border in the Ferghana Valley is proving to be extremely complicated, because the borders were in the Soviet times barely more than lines on maps, having little relevance to everyday life. Soviet-era economic planning decisions, likewise, were made without taking borders into consideration. As a result, today large areas of land officially claimed by one state in the Ferghana Valley are being farmed by citizens of the other states, an example of which lies along the Batken-Isfara (Kyrgystan-Tadjikistan) border, where over 1300 hectares of land are reportedly disputed. Industrial enterprises frequently overlap borders, an example being Uzbekistan's carbide production plant in the Kyrgyz region of Kadamjoi. Water systems are also intricately interconnected, with Uzbekistan drawing water from reservoirs located in Kyrgyzstani territory such as Kempir-Abad and Kerkidan, and with waterways such as the Southern Ferghana Canal criss-crossing the Aravan-Andijon border in multiple locations.
Although numerous demarcation commissions were formed during the Soviet era, none ever fully resolved questions relating to issues such as: isolated territorial enclaves; temporary land leases which were never returned; rent agreements which were left unpaid; promises to resettle or recompensate those forced to move due to reservoir or other constructions which were never honoured and conflicting maps showing the borders running in different places. Given the tangled borders (complicated by issues of interconnected gas, electricity and water supply networks), border demarcation would appear to be a complicated process, requiring compromise in order to achieve a consensus. Unilateral demarcation by one state at breathtaking speed would seem to be a recipe for dissatisfaction and conflict.
Life in a border village
To observe the effects of this demarcation first hand, at the start of December I visited the small village of Jar along the border with Kyrgyzstan's Aravan and Uzbekistan's Marhamat regions. Aravan shares only a roughly 80 mile (125 km) border with Uzbekistan, but along this over 350 hectares of land is disputed between them. Jar village consistis of one long, straight road, which happens to be disected by the border. When I visited on November 2, the Uzbekistani authorities had dug up the road to prevent vehicle tranpsort and had set up a long row of concrete columns stretching away through the fields in both directions, but had yet to erect any barbed wire. Along this stretch the land was not disputed, but a densely knit community existed that would soon be cut in two. Locals were shocked, barely able to believe what was happening. Almost everyone had relatives on the 'other side', where the village school and the cemetry were also located, and as we stood talking numerous people crossed the border with wares or livestock they had bought one side or the other. They knew that in a matter of days such contacts would come to an end, and were frightened about the future -- about having to take large detours to see their families a few yards away. Some spoke of the fear that a mandatory visa regime would be eventually introduced. The sense of resignation to the inevitable was expressed by one man who said, "Everyone is just shocked. People are unhappy, but the politics behind this is very powerful.
"Into the 21st Century
It is sobering to think that all this is occuring in an area where until two years ago it was possible to travel across state boundaries almost as though they were internal ones. Who is to blame? The Batken events, as well as the shooting incident which left 10 dead on November 15, when (according to offical Uzbekistani news channels) gunmen entered Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan, provides ample evidence of the gravity of the security situation and the threat to Uzbekistan's boundary. It is perhaps true that Kyrgyz authorities have not responded as effectively to issues this year as they might have done, but resources are scarce and it must be acknowledged that efforts have been made to address the border issue over the past few years. For example, a significant amount of energy has been devoted to the question of the Chinese-Kyrgyz border, and it is perhaps unfair to blame the government for not foreseeing how the complexities of Uzbek and Tajik politics would impact its own territory so greatly.
President Karimov's criticism of Kyrgyzstan in the spring and autumn had some merit, but the conciliatory approach taken by President Akaev served to somewhat defuse a tense situation. Rather, at the heart of existing tensions lie ideas of political philosophy. The 'solidification' of the international boundary as part of internal state identity building processes throughout the region is a tragic, but perhaps inevitable consequence of the application of the 19th century European concept of the sovereign nation state to Central Asia. In Europe, it took many generations to reverse that process and bring the borders down again through the European Union, and it will take more than the signing of a treaty of 'eternal friendship' to arrest that same process in the Ferghana Valley. In the meantime, it is the people who live, work and travel along the border who will continue to feel the effects.
Nick Megoran is a PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. Submitted 6th November 1999.