Nine Potential `Karabakhs’ in Central Asia Heating Up

Eurasia Daily Monitor (Jamestown)
May 28 2013

Nine Potential `Karabakhs’ in Central Asia Heating Up

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 100
May 28, 2013 05:40 PM
By: Paul Goble

That the ethnic and political borders in Central Asia do not
correspond is widely recognized; but the region’s nine ethnic
exclaves, territories within the borders of one country that are
ethnically distinct and politically part of a neighboring state, has
attracted little attention in the past because most are very small.
However, now these nine entities are being put into play for political
purposes – in some cases by the people of the enclaves themselves, in
others by the countries to which they belong or in which they are
located, and in still a third group by Moscow. As a result, the
situation around each of them is heating up, with the risk that one or
more of them will become a Central Asian `Karabakh.’

Tajikistan has three such exclaves: Sarvan, an eight-square-kilometer
area inside Uzbekistan, Vorukh, a 130-square-kilometer area inside
Kyrgyzstan, and Kaigarach (Western Qalacha, a one-square-kilometer
area also inside Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan has five exclaves within
Kyrgyzstan: Sokh which covers 325 square kilometers, Sakhimardan which
extends over 90 square kilometers, Qalacha which covers less than one
square kilometer, Dzhangail with less than one square kilometer, and
Tayan, an even smaller space as well. And Kyrgyzstan has a single
exclave in Uzbekistan: the village of Barak (or Barak-ail) between the
Uzbekistani cities of Margilan and Fergana (for maps of these areas,

Most of these are so small in size and population that they have
remained irritants rather than become political problems. But the two
largest, the Tajikistani exclave of Vorukh in Kyrgyzstan and the
Uzbekistani exclave of Sokh within Kyrgyzstan, have been the most
problematic because of their relatively large area and populations – the
former has a population estimated at close to 30,000, 95 percent of
whom are Tajiks, and the latter has a population of perhaps as many as
70,000, around 99 percent of whom are ethnic Tajiks. Both their size
and the lack of balance between political control and ethnic
composition have made them potential flashpoints whenever disputes
have arisen between the two countries (see EDM, January 9, 30).

Vorukh has been the bigger problem. For more than a decade,
Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have operated a border crossing facility on
what is Tajikistan’s territory despite a 2008 accord between Dushanbe
and Bishkek to shift it to Kyrgyzstan’s control. This border crossing
has created problems for local Tajiks and sparked acts of violence and
arson, most recently at the end of April when hostages were taken and
law enforcement personnel were beaten – in many ways a replay of a
similar violent clash that originated in and around Sokh in January.
The conflict escalated when the Kyrgyzstani military cut the road
between Vorukh and Tajikistan, provoking the residents of another
Tajik village to block a nearby road that Kyrgyzstan’s citizens
regularly use. Blocking access to Vorukh has become a regular event,
occurring on at least ten occasions in 2012 alone

Earlier this month (May 8), officials from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
met to try to calm the situation, but they agreed only to ban any
future construction of housing and roads in the area, lest that
further destabilize the situation, and to create working groups to
address the issues of the exclave and its relations with the
surrounding territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. Those steps are unlikely
to solve anything. As Tajik observer Hairullo Mirsaidov points out,
`such bilateral meetings have been held frequently, immediately after
each conflict on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border,’ but in no case has `the
situation as a whole changed in any way.’ Few decisions are in fact
taken, and even fewer, he says, have been implemented. Officials from
Dushanbe say that the two sides are dug in and have refused even to
agree on a common map.

Developments there and in Sokh recently suggest that the region’s
national governments and even Moscow may be getting involved,
provoking the escalation of conflicts in the pursuit of their
interests. One Kyrgyz commentary notes that Tashkent appears to be
orchestrating clashes in Sokh in order to pressure Bishkek on a
variety of issues, including the construction of an upstream
hydro-electric dam in Kyrgyzstan that Uzbeks fear will deprive them of
water they need for their crops and population. Any action by
Uzbekistan will only further inflame relations between the two
countries (

There is an even greater danger, however – one implied by the Kyrgyz
analysts. Moscow may be involved and working to exploit conflicts over
these enclaves to pressure Uzbekistan to shift away from its
pro-Western orientation. If such Russian intervention does happen, it
would represent the continuation of an old tradition: after all,
Joseph Stalin drew the borders in Central Asia not to resolve ethnic
tensions but to promote them, and not to allow the peoples involved to
resolve their problems but to create a situation in which the only
basis for order would be a strong hand from the outside.


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