A brawl broke out in a contested section of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the weekend — the latest of many such incidents caused by failure to forge a solution on joint use of the area.
As usual, the picture has been muddled by duelling accounts of precisely what happened.
On January 21, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, Kenesh Salikhov, told media that a representative of the Tajik police came informed him that some villagers from the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Tash had assaulted a citizen of Tajikistan. Despite the nominal border, the two communities have homes side by side, in what is sometimes described as a chessboard configuration, so dust-ups can break out apparently trivial matters.
Salikhov said that his information led him to disbelieve the Tajik police account.
“Later, we found out this person was not assaulted by our citizens and the Tajik police had no case to make, but on the next day, the victim summoned about 15-20 people and came to our village for a showdown,” he told Zanoza.kg.
The bout of verbal sparring from both sides then escalated into stone-throwing. As a result, the informal village leader of Kok-Tash, Raziya Osorova, was injured and had to be taken to a hospital for severe head injuries.
Turmush.kg news website reported this dispute involved around 20 residents from the Kyrgyz village and nearly 100 residents of the Tajik side. Witness accounts of such events, however, should be treated with caution since either side typically inflates the size of opponent contingents in the interests of their narrative. One house and four cars are said to have been damaged in the fighting.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement on 49 non-demarcated sections of the border, signaling another positive development in neighborly relations.
Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 1 that the accord was the result of field surveys by working groups in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Batken on October 22-31.
This momentum is the result of a telephone conversation on October 26 between Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev and acting Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who discussed the mutual advantageousness of successfully concluding joint work on delimitation, the Uzbek statement said.
Further working group coordination is due to take place in Uzbekistan.
The language about the agreements on disputed sections of the border remains provisional so far, but the number is impressive all the same. The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is almost 1,400 kilometers long, but 324 kilometers of it in almost 60 separate locations have heretofore remained unresolved.
Such uncertainty has precipitated on occasion in flareups along unmarked portions of the border. Earlier this year, Uzbek troops parked armored personnel carriers along a Kyrgyz road in one such spot in a reprisal at Kyrgyz unwillingness to allow Uzbek workers to travel freely to a reservoir under their management.
A delegation of senior officials from Uzbekistan has paid a visit to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, reciprocating a trip earlier this month that presaged a possible thaw in relations between the two nations.
The 47-person delegation that traveled to Krygyzstan’s Osh region on October 26 was led by Uzbek deputy Prime Minister Adham Ikramov and also comprised the heads of the Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana regions, representatives of several government agencies, including the National Security Service, and members of the Kyrgyz diaspora.
As happened during the visit to Uzbekistan in early October, the officials passed through the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
So far, these encounters have focused primarily on pleasantries. The Kyrgyz hosts laid on a series of cultural events under the gaze of the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Osh.
"During the visit, the delegation visited Osh State University, where they learned about the activities of the medicine faculty. Addressing the students, Adham Ikramov spoke of the inviolability of friendship and good neighborliness between the two countries. He stressed that good neighborly relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan should become a cornerstone for the further development of joint cooperation,” Uzbek news website gazeta.uz reported.
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.
In the wake of a fresh boundary dispute, Uzbekistan has re-opened a border crossing with Kyrgyzstan and started allowing the passage of private citizens.
Uzbek news site Anhor.uz reported that the crossing began to operate normally on September 19 following telephone negotiations between the presidents of the two countries.
On the face of it, the move marks another surprising thaw over border issues, which had been strained intensely after a helicopter of Uzbek policeman last month occupied a Kyrgyz telecommunications tower on a disputed mountain and detained four technicians working there. The men have since been released and the telecommunications tower was abandoned by the Uzbek police officers over the weekend.
But Kyrgyz residents living near the crossing in question have told EurasiaNet.org that private citizens have not been able to get into Uzbekistan through that point for many years now, so claims the situation will revert to that before an earlier border dispute in March are highly confusing. The only relatively operational land crossing between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is in the latter’s Kadamjay district — a fact that all but cripples trade and communication between the two countries.
Despite the uncertainty, even the news of potential new border crossings is heartening Uzbek exporters, like Tahir in Tashkent.
Tahir exports cherries to China’s Xinjiang province and is eager to see the border working efficiently.
Uzbekistan has released four citizens of Kyrgyzstan it detained last month during an ongoing border dispute standoff, ratcheting down the tension between the countries.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on September 9 that that men were released by the Uzbek police following negotiations.
The four were reportedly in good health.
“Our health is fine. We are experiencing no problems and they looked after us well. Everything is good,” one of the released men, Zhenish Tashmatov, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.
While that takes the sting out of the situation, the dispute that precipitated the men’s detention continues to rumble on.
Kyrgyz border guards have said around 20 Uzbek police officers are still occupying the telecommunications relay tower on Ungar-Too mountain where the four Kyrgyz men were detained. An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22.
Ungar-Too is nominally one of the disputed chunks of territory, although the real prize for Tashkent is the Kasan-Sai reservoir, which is operated and de facto controlled by Uzbekistan, despite being several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan.
Access to Kasan-Sai is currently blocked by Kyrgyz police checkpoints and another line of Uzbek defenses at the facility itself. At the site, there are numerous houses inhabited by Uzbek technicians and their families. Uzbekistan is aggrieved that it is not being given free and unfettered access to the reservoir, to which it holds territorial claims, by Kyrgyzstan.
Other than Uzbekistan, few are eager to see the formation of yet another enclave on the fringes of the Fergana Valley, which is what Tashkent’s desired outcome would entail.
Uzbekistan has landed more police helicopters at the disputed Ungar-Too mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan in a sign of Tashkent looking to cement its position in an ongoing standoff.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said that on September 2 that the helicopter brought drinking water for around 15 to 20 Uzbek policemen stationed at the mountain, which is the site of a relay station for Kyrgyz communications companies.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying Uzbek policemen first landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
Kyrgyzstan says it has sent reinforcements to the area in a bid to pressure the Uzbek police to leave the site, but to no avail. Uzbekistan is reportedly holding firm until Kyrgyzstan removes its checkpoints to Kasan-Sai reservoir. That facility is a few kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan but is claimed by the Uzbeks, who point to the fact that they built the reservoir in Soviet times and continued to maintain it ever since as grounds for their position. Water from the reservoir is used to irrigate crops in villages in Uzbekistan’s crowded Fergana Valley.
The continued stalemate — particularly around the fate of the four jailed Kyrgyz men — is provoking much distress among activists and politicians inside Kyrgyzstan.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, has appealed to the government to intensify its search for a solution to “avoid any self-initiated acts by citizens that could lead to an even greater escalation on the border.”
Uzbekistan’s control over a communications relay station on a disputed mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan leaves the latter vulnerable to being cut off from mobile, internet and broadcasting services.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Information Technology and Communication sought to reassure the public on August 25, however, with a statement saying that transmission of radio and television stations had not been disrupted by the situation at Kerben station on Ungar-Too mountain.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
The Kyrgyz communications agency met with representatives from major telephony and broadcasting companies to coordinate on the fallout of the standoff.
“According to information given by communications providers, at 1500 hours [on August 25] telephone, mobile, internet, as well as state television and radio transmissions, in analogue and digital formats, at Kerben were being carried out as normal,” the agency said in its statement.
That is only half reassuring though, since the Uzbeks could presumably suspend signals being relayed by Kerben at will. There is no immediately available public information about the reach of territory covered by retransmission services at the Kerben station.
Police from Uzbekistan have detained four citizens of Kyrgyzstan in a contested border zone, threatening to unleash a new wave of tension between the two nations.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on August 24 that Uzbekistan deployed a group of police officers to the disputed Ungar-Too mountain, site of a Kyrgyz-run television relay station, and took four men into custody.
The mountain and surrounding areas were object of a testy standoff in March that culminated with Uzbekistan deploying several armored personnel carriers. The situation was resolved peaceably after negotiations.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service reported about an Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landing on Ungar-Too on August 22, but news of the detentions only emerged later.
“According to Uzbek side, four Kyrgyz citizens working at relay station were taken to Yangikurgan police department in Uzbekistan for procedural measures. According to the Uzbek border service, there is no cause for concern about the detained Kyrgyz citizens,” Kyrgyzstan’s border service said in its statement.
As happened earlier this year, this dispute is centering around disagreement over which country can post which law enforcement and military personnel where. Kyrgyzstan says it is in talks with Uzbekistan to have it remove its forces from the disputed mountain. Uzbekistan is in turn demanding that Kyrgyzstan in turn remove its police checkpoints leading to another disputed facility — the Kasan-Sai reservoir, whose water is used to irrigate fields in Uzbekistan.
This latest standoff has been brewing for almost two weeks. Kyrgyz border guards had earlier reported that Uzbek policeman was detained after allegedly illegally crossing the border on August 13.
With nerves on the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border only now dissipating, authorities in Bishkek have embarked on the potentially foolhardy move of helping themselves to four Uzbek-owned resorts at a popular tourist destination.
Local media has been full of the news about embattled Prime Minister Temir Sariyev signing a government order to appropriate the resorts on Issyk-Kul lake on April 4.
The timing is awkward, although it could stand to help Sariyev out of a tight spot.
On March 26, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan pulled back troops from a disputed section of shared border, ending an uneasy week-long standoff sparked by the sudden deployment of Uzbek soldiers and military vehicles to the area.
On balance, it feels like Uzbekistan lost the battle of wits and nerves. It withdrew its forces first from the high-altitude territory without ever properly explaining what prompted it to mobilize its men in the first place.
Still, the episode did momentarily blow some wind into the beleaguered opposition’s sails, so Sariyev may be looking to shore up his position and exploit the patriotic card to forestall an expected vote of no-confidence in parliament.
By all appearances, this looks like an ill-conceived gambit. According to a report by Tazabek.kg, only one of the four resorts seems to be long-term leased to a commercial organization, while the other three were controlled by state-owned Uzbek entities.
The agreements underpinning the ownership of the resorts date back to the Soviet era, when power-brokers in Moscow decided to boost Issyk-Kul’s profile as a place of rest and therapeutic treatments.