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The Madumarov Mess and the Kyrgyz-Tajik Border

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The Madumarov Mess and the Kyrgyz-Tajik Border

The drama around the Madumarov matter obscures the lack of tangible progress by the Japarov administration in coming to an agreement on the border with Tajikistan. 

The Madumarov Mess and the Kyrgyz-Tajik Border
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Ben Paarmann

Since 2020 Adakhan Madumarov and his party, Butun Kyrgyzstan, have faced what they deem a campaign of “unthinkably threats, psychological pressure and criminal prosecution.”

“Today, the Butun Kyrgyzstan party is going through very difficult times,” the party said in a statement on September 4, two days after Madumarov was taken to a pre-trial detention center by the State Committee for National Security (SCNS or GKNB). Madumarov is reportedly facing charges of treason linked to a 2009 protocol he signed with Tajikistan as part of a Kyrgyz government delegation.

Madumarov has been under direct pressure since at least 2022, with the 2009 protocol serving as the rationale for a petition from the country’s prosecutor general to the parliament in February 2022 to revoke Madumarov’s parliamentary immunity and permit charges against him. In March 2022, parliament denied the request. But in June 2023, Prosecutor General Kurmankul Zulushev returned with another request. Lawmakers denied part of the request that pertained to charges related to “preparing mass riots” and an attempt to seize power, but agreed to allow the case regarding “abuse of power” – the 2009 protocol matter – to go ahead.

On September 2, Madumarov was detained and reportedly charged with treason.

Butun Kyrgyzstan, which means “United Kyrgyzstan,” was founded by Madumarov in 2010. It won its first seats in the Kyrgyz parliament in the October 2020 election that precipitated the collapse of the Sooronbay Jeenbekov government and the rise to power of Sadyr Japarov. The October 2020 poll was swiftly annulled, but Butun Kyrgyzstan won six seats in the November 2021 parliamentary election.

“We have no doubt that the Protocol of 2009 is just a pretext for the total destruction of our party and our leader,” Butun Kyrgyzstan said in its statement.

As I’ve summarized previously, the 2009 matter is rooted in Madumarov’s stint as secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s security council. In that role, he signed – with his Tajik counterparts – the minutes of a working meeting held in 2009 in Khujand that included a 49-year lease of a patch of land along the countries’ disputed border to Kyrgyzstan to build a road and a bridge. 

In recent days, a 2005 document has surfaced, with references to the “mutual acquisition of land plots” between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. However, former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov (2005-2006) told that the 2009 matter has nothing to do with the 2005 agreement. Instead, he stressed in comments to the Kyrgyz media outlet that the protocol Madumarov signed was based on a 2008 agreement endorsed by the two countries’ presidents. The 2009 protocol references the 2008 agreement, noting that Madumarov was obliged to “resolve the issue of leasing a 275-meter road to the Kyrgyz side.”

“If we are talking about treason, then a completely logical conclusion suggests itself that its origins were laid down by the president,” Kulov said.

Kulov also pointed out that under the Kyrgyz Criminal Code there is essentially a statue of limitations. As summarized: “A person is released from criminal liability if the period has expired from the day he committed the crime. In the case of a particularly serious crime, the sentence is 10 years.”

Although Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry confirmed that Madumarov has been charged with treason, there has been little explanation of the details of his alleged treasonous crime. From what has been reported so far, it seems that in 2009, in his official capacity, Madumarov signed an protocol as directed by the sitting government. The trouble is the unsettled nature of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, which in recent years has resulted in significant violence. Prosecutors appear to be arguing that the land which the 2009 protocol leased from Tajikistan is disputed territory, and the signing of the agreement de facto recognized it as Tajik territory. From there, prosecutors make the jump to treason.

January 2022, when Kyrgyz authorities began sniffing around the 2009 protocol, Japarov gave an interview in which he said he first learned of the protocol while in Tajikistan when the Tajik side said the protocol settled the matter of that particular stretch of the border. Japarov had visited Tajikistan in July 2021, several weeks after deadly clashes erupted on the disputed border.

Despite some negotiations between the two sides, there has been no significant progress on resolving the border issues. In November 2022, Japarov said he expected border delimitations with Tajikistan to be completed by May 2023. As Farangis Najibullah reported for RFE/RL in February 2023, “Although many think it unlikely the May deadline will be met, both Kyrgyz and Tajik officials have reported ‘progress’ and are seemingly optimistic about the ongoing efforts to finalize mutually acceptable demarcation lines.” May came and went, with no border breakthrough.

Almost half of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, which is around 970 kilometers long, is undemarcated. It has been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union made firm international borders out of what had been lines on maps that in practice were very fluid boundaries, hardly noticed by people living near them. 

The drama around the Madumarov matter obscures the lack of tangible progress by the Japarov administration in coming to an agreement on the border with Tajikistan. Casting Madumarov and his party as treasonous also serves to poison a well of voices critical of the Japarov government. Madumarov placed a distant second against Japarov in the 2021 presidential election, with 6.8 percent of the vote.