Politicians and the mass media try to avoid the topic of interethnic relations of the communities inhabiting the border areas of the three states of the Fergana Valley - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, so as not to draw attention to it and misinterpret the events in the region’s ethnic sphere. The explanation is not convincing, given the fact that permanently occurring incidents at checkpoints of customs and border services, water and land disputes around the perimeter of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek and Kyrgyz-Tajik borders have long made this region one of the most explosive in Central Asia. And any ignoring of conflicts in the zone, whose population sits on the “powder keg”, is fraught with consequences. Especially territorial disputes, when the struggle for a "piece of land" inflames between members of ethnic groups for life and death.
The first serious confrontation due to the ownership of land in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan occurred in 1936, when residents of the Kyrgyz village of Bedek of the Samarkandek village council (now Tajik territory) and residents of the Voruh jamoat of Tajikistan came together in a fight. From this time on and to the present territorial disputes do not stop, sometimes resulting in armed clashes. The first victims in the “Ketmen war” appeared in December 1969, when a group of Tajik citizens prevented the cultivation of land by Kyrgyz peasants in the village of Ak-Sai, Batken District. The conflict managed to be extinguished by law enforcement agencies of both countries. Twenty years later, people again perish in the territory of another village council of the region because of the land.
“The issue of interethnic relations in the valley is, first of all, a question of territories unwittingly provoked by the Soviet authorities during the determination of administrative borders between the Union republics,” said Arslan Koichiev, author of the study “National-territorial delimitation in the Fergana Valley 1924-1927”. - It is not by chance that the majority of interethnic contradictions occurred in the areas of faults-discrepancies between ethnic and territorial-state borders, namely in the border areas.
In the border villages of only one Batken oblast, for eighty years, disputes over land between Kyrgyz and Tajiks poured 15 times into major clashes and countless small skirmishes. At the interstate level, the “apple of discord” represents 70 “controversial areas”, constituting approximately more than 3,000 hectares. land. Conflicts left their imprint on the relationship between representatives of two ethnic groups in other areas of life. Any misunderstanding is viewed today under the prism of interethnic relations.
“Most of these contradictions should be resolved at the local level,” said Baktybek Yusupov, plenipotentiary representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan in the southern region. - Local authorities could help in solving problems that contribute to the development of good neighborly relations between residents on different sides of the borders. Especially since this experience is already available. We have areas in the same Batken oblast where local authorities, together with non-governmental organizations, carry out various activities with the participation of residents of border settlements, issue joint numbers of newspapers, and so on.
One of the examples of negotiations at the local level is an agreement between the Sogd oblast of Tajikistan and the Batken oblast of Kyrgyzstan, adopted six years ago and regulating the division and use of land and water resources. The agreement to some extent contributed to the normalization of relations, but the level of tension in the ethnic sphere persists due to difficulties in determining the line of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. This process was stopped in 1998 for several years.
According to a Kyrgyz official who wished to remain anonymous, a delay in the negotiations is created by Tajikistan, possibly in the hope that the gradual migration of its citizens, entering the Kyrgyz territory in search of free land and pushing the actual borders to the north, will create advantages in its favor.
- Negotiations on border issues with Tajikistan resumed in 2002. 200 km. at the negotiation stage, it remains to determine about 800 more, - said Salamat Alamanov, head of the department of legal regulation of interstate border issues of the Government of Kyrgyzstan. - We have to study the processes that have been affected by the relations established during the economic development of land in the Fergana Valley, some legal issues. Somewhere it happened that the chairmen of collective farms transferred certain territories to their neighbors for temporary use. There were serious discrepancies in the border line.
The achievement of a final settlement on the delimitation and demarcation of the border is hampered by the conviction of each of the parties that significant territories are unfairly and illegally transferred to the jurisdiction of a neighbor.
The Kyrgyz side relies on decisions taken by the parity commissions of the two republics in 1958 and in 1989. The Tajik side denies the legal force of these documents, believing that they have not been ratified by its government and refers to an agreement signed by the Uzbek SSR and the Kyrgyz Autonomous Region in 1925 (until 1929, the Tajik ASSR was part of the Uzbek SSR).
Documents of each country recognize its legal claims to one or another "controversial" area. Two interstate meetings in February and August of last year were devoted to discussing these decisions. Judging by the lull in the issues of defining the borders of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, compromise options have not yet been found and the idea of the possibility of adjusting the configuration of the border in its favor remains in force.
While politicians and officials cannot find a common language, bogged down in disputes, dehkans, for whom the land is the only breadwinner, offer their own ways of settling territorial disputes. In an address to the president of the republic, sent last year, residents of the Batken region asked that the opinion of citizens living on both sides of the border be taken into account when determining the boundary line. The final decision should be made by the population, not the politicians.
“There is an experience of resolving such disputes by the method of public diplomacy in certain parts of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border,” said Robert Abazbekov, head of the branch of the Republican Public Foundation “For International Tolerance”. - Within the framework of the “Regional Dialogue and Development” project in the border villages “Samarkandek” (Kyrgyzstan) and Chorku (Tajikistan), with the help of our foundation, a supervisory joint council has been established. Its main mission is to monitor "controversial" areas in this region and preventive work to prevent conflicts during land development.