Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyz and Tajiks Clash Along Disputed Border

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Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyz and Tajiks Clash Along Disputed Border

A blocked road and blocked canal feature as catalysts for the latest border skirmish.

On August 3, citizens from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan threw rocks at each other in the latest chapter of perpetual skirmishes along the convoluted border. How the latest incident started depends on which side you asked. Such incidents are fairly regular in the Fergana Valley, where Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have a pockmarked border, exclaves, and sometimes trigger-happy border patrols (reports on other notable incidents in 2015 are here and here).

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Asia-Plus writes, share a 978 kilometer border–only 530 kilometers of which has been delimited. The disputed sections run between Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s Batken province, the scene of the most recent incident.

The Kyrgyz border service said in a statement that the trouble began when Tajik citizens blocked a road to a cemetery used by Kyrgyz citizens from the village of Kok-Tash. In response, the Kyrgyz blocked a water canal supplying the Tajik village of Chorku. In a region where water is increasingly a point of conflict, this set off the rock throwing incident.

The Tajiks tell a similar story, though reordered: the Kyrgyz blocked the canal first. On August 4, the Tajik border service claims, villagers from Kok-Tash used shotguns and molotov cocktails against Tajik citizens in Somoniyon village. According to RFE/RL, officials from Tajikistan’s Isfara district said that four Tajiks were wounded by gunfire:

The deputy chief of Chorkuh, Anduhalil Sharifov, said the shooting came from the Kyrgyz side of the border and broke out when Tajiks resumed work on building a water pipe crossing a disputed area.

According to AKIpress, citing a Tajik border service statement, the trouble was orchestrated by Razia Osorova, the local government head in Kok-Tash. “She pushed people for disorders with the purpose to make the territory of the commonly used cemetery as territory of Kyrgyzstan.”

The village of Kok-Tash in question is near Vorukh, a Tajik enclave surrounded by Kyrgyz territory and a key point of tension in the region. In January 2014 border troops from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan clashed near the enclave. Osorova told IWPR at the time that the road running through Vorukh was important for the people of Batken. In order to travel from east to west in the Kyrgyz province, the main road traverses Vorukh.

The Kyrgyz say that the latest rock-throwing incident included 120 Tajiks and 80 Kyrgyz and resulted in five wounded, seven damaged homes, and a damaged car on the Kyrgyz side. In relation to the Somoniyon incident, Asia-Plus reported that sources in IIsfara say that Kyrgyz border guards opened fire on Tajiks, wounding two. The sources say several houses in Somoniyon were set on fire by Kyrgyz.

The heads of the Kyrgyz and Tajik border services had a phone call Tuesday, and have agreed to work jointly to calm the situation, sending deputies to the area to work with local government and elders.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remain an an impasse in delimiting the rest of the border. The Kyrgyz insist, according to Asia-Plus, on using maps from 1955-1959 while Tajikistan has recommended using maps from 1924-1927. The Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic was created in 1924 as an autonomous republic within the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic–with Dushanbe as the capital. In 1929 it gained status as a union republic, no longer an autonomous area within the Uzbek SSR. In 1929 the Khujand region–which had been part of the Uzbek SSR–was transferred to the Tajik SSR. Khujand, which was called Leninabad between 1936 and 1991, is now the second largest city in Tajikistan and is the capital of the region now called Sughd.

While delimiting the entire border will fix an administrative problem, it may not necessarily settle tension between people living along the Kyrgyz-Tajik frontier. Borders exist as solid lines on maps, but are invisible on the ground.