This week the Kyrgyz and Uzbek presidents signed into law agreements related to their contentious border. They did so separately, however, rather than in a joint signing during an anticipated — but seemingly delayed — state visit by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Kyrgyzstan.
On November 29, in Bishkek, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed into law the ratification of the treaty agreed between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan relating to their shared border, particularly surrounding the Kempir-Abad (or Andijan as it is referred to by the Uzbek side) reservoir. The next day, in Tashkent, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev did the same.
The agreements, as outlined by Kun.uz, include a land swap, which sees Uzbekistan receive the 4,957 hectares on which the Kempir-Abad (Andijan) reservoir sits as well as an additional 19.5 hectares “for the maintenance and protection of the dam.” In turn, Kyrgyzstan receives 1,019 hectares of pasture land plus 12,849 hectares in a separate section of the border as compensation. An additional agreement relates to the joint management of the reservoir’s water, which Uzbekistan has been the primary user of since the reservoir’s creation in 1983.
Ultimately, the separate signings were a meek marking of what both sides hoped would be viewed as a diplomatic success. In light of the violence this year (and last) on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, progress in negotiating the settlement of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border had the potential to be a bright spot. Instead, dissatisfaction among a part of the Kyrgyz public and the arrest of more that 20 Kyrgyz politicians, diplomats, and activists vocal in their opposition to the deal somewhat mars the moment.
The raft of agreements was signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers on November 3 in Bishkek mere days after sweeping arrests on October 23 rounded up more than 20 people, ranging from politicians and former diplomats to activists and journalists. Those arrested were members of the recently formed “Kempir-Abad Defense Committee.” Bishkek alleged they were plotting mass riots, and most were sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention.
The relevant laws putting the agreements into place officially were adopted by the Kyrgyz parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, on November 17 and made their way through the lower chamber of the Oliy Majlis, the Uzbek parliament, on November 14 and the Uzbek Senate on November 18.
That paved the way for the final signing by the two presidents, once anticipated for an upcoming state visit by the Uzbek president to Kyrgyzstan. Japarov earlier made a state visit to Uzbekistan in March 2022, making it Mirziyoyev’s turn to take a trip. Kyrgyz and Uzbek authorities never pegged a date for the visit, describing it as “upcoming” in September, October, and as recently as the November 3 signing between the foreign minsters.
At the recent credential reception of a bevy of new ambassadors in Tashkent — including new Kyrgyz Ambassador Musa Dzhamanbaev and new U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Henick — Mirziyoyev heralded the agreements reached regarding the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border as an “unprecedented success for our countries.”
As for the Kyrgyz politician and activists who were detained in late October, there have been calls for their release from human rights organizations. In addition, after the first meeting of the People’s Kurultai (more on the body here) the body’s chairman, Kadyr Koshaliev, conveyed appeals from some members for the release of at least some of the detainees. According to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, Koshaliev raised the issue with Japarov. Japarov, he said, replied that “everything will be decided according to the law.” The Kyrgyz president then, it seems, leaned into a conspiracy theory common across Central Asia that some of those arrested received funding from abroad to “incite revolution.” No evidence has been presented to support that accusation.