Enclave Shakhimardan: big problems of a small township
Deputies of the parliament of Kyrgyzstan advised the government to claim enclave Shakhimardan from Uzbekistan, last autumn.
As far as lawmakers are concerned, Shakhimardan was turned over to Uzbekistan in the Soviet period of history for recreation of top Uzbek functionaries. There is even a legend that some Kyrgyz party functionary lost Shakhimardan to his Uzbek colleague in gambling.
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border still includes several areas both countries claim for their own. In the meantime, the process of demarcation and delimitation has been under way for years, ever since the signing of the friendship treaty between the countries in December 1996.
Problems are encountered in the process of drawing legal documents on where the border runs. A lot of territorial time-bombs were planted in the Ferghana Valley in the years of "ethnic demarcation". The problems rooted in the eras of Lenin and Stalin 80 years ago are encountered by grandchildren of the then cartographers.
New Central Asian countries disintegration of the Soviet Union left behind do not divide the territory only among themselves. Borders with other countries are being revised too. China ended up with almost 95,000 hectares of Kyrgyz lands by the international accords ratified in 2002. The news caused a public outcry in Kyrgyzstan. The so called Aksy events followed. Some lives were lost, and the government of Kyrgyzstan was forced to resign.
Chairman of the government Nikolai Tanayev backed the Shakhimardan initiative of the Kyrgyz parliament. Tanayev went public calling the enclave "territory of Kyrgyzstan."
As it turned out at a later date, Kyrgyz lawmakers had been eyeballing the piece of Uzbek land for at least two years already. But the so called Enclave Issue was discussed privately then, in the corridors of the parliament. As soon as the initiative was made public, however, all of the world discovered the existence of Shakhimardan.
Comments in Russian media outlets on the news from the Ferghana Valley were gloomy. "Territorial dispute between Bishkek and Tashkent may become the first step towards appearance of major conflicts in Central Asia," Rossiiskie Vesti wrote. "The Uzbek-Kyrgyz territorial discord may deteriorate into an armed confrontation," Nezavisimaya Gazeta surmised. "Any riot in the region may easily shift to the ethnic dimension," Gazeta SNG warned. These are but a few quotes from Moscow-based newspapers. Comments and opinions offered by foreign media outlets proved hasty and shallow.
And what was Uzbekistan's reaction to all of that? No reaction at all. Foreign Ministry, presidential press service, and the parliament have remained silent. It is hardly surprising. This is how things are done in Uzbekistan. The president alone is permitted to air opinions on matters of importance - particularly on foreign political issues. Moreover, Kyrgyzstan has never approached the authorities of Uzbekistan officially.
It stands to reason to assume that leaders of Kyrgyzstan decided not to take the lawmakers' initiative seriously and prime minister knows better to press the matter. No official appeals to Uzbekistan will probably be made. Kyrgyzstan has parliamentary and then presidential elections forthcoming. New foreign political problems are not something it needs at this point.
All the same, some questions remain unanswered. Is there a territorial problem of Shakhimardan indeed? What do we know of the history of the peoples that lived there in antiquity? How does its population live today, in partial isolation? How does it earn its daily bread? What is the situation in other enclaves scattered all over the Ferghana Valley? What do Uzbek and Kyrgyz politicians and citizens think of the potential territorial changes in Central Asia?
Ferghana.Ru news agency suggests an open discussion of the matter. Regional politicians and journalists, businessmen and officials, scientists and laymen are welcome to participate and air their opinions. Send your articles and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Experts of the Central Asian Center of Information will answer all your letters. The best materials will be published by Ferghana.Ru news agency.
A series of our own articles on Shakhimardan will follow. We will acquaint you with the history, economic situation, ethnography and anthropology of the unique mountainous area. Exclusive photos by Ferghana.Ru staff correspondents will be available.
We are convinced that only a public and unprejudiced discussion of the border problems will benefit the peoples and governments of Central Asian countries.
Daniil Kislov, Ferghana.Ru News Agency Founder and Chief Editor (Moscow)