Maria Merkulova's Blog

Before we unite

March 22, 2013


“Before we can unite, and to unite, we must first firmly and definitely delimitate”

The concept of “border” was never perceived in CA as it is nowadays, for many centuries borders in that region were only “natural” - based on rivers, lakes and mountains because the borders of the “states” of those historic period were shifting. After Russian Empire came into region it was a concept of Empire’s frontiers that was added to “natural’ understanding of borders. During the Soviet period the idea of “administrative” borders emerged in the region, but only after facing the independence Central Asian countries finally met “borders” as one of the parameters which define the State.

Today there is a big unresolved issue in the whole region - delimitation and demarcation is still unfinished. The only state that finished this process is Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan still has some arguable areas, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have a lot of borders section to discuss - mainly in Ferghana Valley. Additionally, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have one more complex problems concerning territories - all of them have enclaves and the juridical aspect of connection of this enclaves to the mainland is vague and unsteady.

Discussion of borders problem dates back to Soviet delimitations of 1920-1930s[i]. I’m using plural form of the word “delimitation” because there were several attempts to deal with Central Asian territorial divisions. The first idea was not to divide this territory into national republics, so in the beginning there were Kyrgyzstan ASSR and Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1924, based on the idea that class struggle should prevail over ethnic struggle[ii], Tajik ASSR (now Tajikistan), Turkmen SSR (now Turkmenistan), Uzbek SSR (now Uzbekistan), Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (now Kyrgyzstan), and Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (now Karakalpakstan) were created. Divisions were made by counting - they investigated the ethnic compound of any disputed village and decided the territory is uzbek if there were majority of uzbeks, as kyrgyz if there were majority of kyrgyz, and so on. There is a point of view that they did it in the summer, when a lot of people were tending cattle elsewhere and that affected the results and understanding who is the majority in the village. In 1930s the region faced one more step of dividing and renaming which finally gave us Tajik SSR, Kazakh SSR, Kirghiz SSR, Uzbek SSR, and Turkmen SSR.

When independence happend, new states had to discuss borders and institutionalize them, since the only institutionalized borders were made by Soviet Union it’s the only authority and basis to refer to. In this sense it’s perfectly clear why Tajikistan is asking Russia to send them historic documents[iii] on the Soviet borders, and it’s easy to understand why Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan refer to different Soviet delimitations. The process is so stretched in time not only because it’s hard and centralized system of governance makes it long, but also because in some years countries stop negotiating at all. The process of delimitation and demarcation in CA could last very long, but not only CA countries are concerned about borders - this issues agitated EU so much that The Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA)[iv] was created to impose border management principles that allow trade to flow easily through the borders, and at the same time to raise security importance, to seize drug-trafficking, illegal trafficking of goods, and protects CA countries from the threat of extremism.

Both of the BOMCA main goals are to bring order and profits, the problem they face is essential to any initiative in this region - it is a Central Asian regional rivalry, headed by authoritarian-style leaders. In summer of 2012 Tajikistan and Uzbekistan fully demonstrated this in conflict around Tajikistan’s Hydroelectric Plant project and Uzbekistan’s closing of the border with Tajikistan and even demolishing the railroad connecting these states. Continuing problem with access to Uzbek enclave in Kyrgyzstan and small mean tricks in the areas where borders are still vague are also meaningful.

Anyway, border issues are used in CA in politics in a following ways:

  1. As sanction on the neighbouring country - the example of Tajikistan-Uzbekistan conflict describes this using of border politics at it’s best.
  2. Regulating migration. The major trend for the future in Central Asia is migration, and according to it’s law - people flow where the money flows. In this case borders can become, and sometimes already are, an instrument of keeping people from migration to other states, or from other states. One can easily find a lot of information on mining the borders, shooting people who cross it, violence outrages of people[v], and simply closing it so noone can pass.

The question that arises then is the following - how can we be sure that the goods and people we want to flow through the New Silk Road will arrive to their destination?

What we need in Central Asian borders issue is the regional legal framework - it’s the question of multilateral coordination on the borders delimitation and demarcation that will help to eliminate one way violation of the two-sided agreements and laws.

To exclude from regional relationships the “border issue” is a goal which is more complex than just border delimitation, and should be considered as one of the main goals in a long process of stabilizing and developing the region.

[i] Бакыт Джусупов, ИСАП, 04.06.2007

[ii] Ожукеева Т. О., XX век: возрождение национальной государственности в Кыргызстане, 1993. Стр. 19

[iii] Вечерний Бишкек, 21/01/2013, “В трех странах ЦА выбирают карты для определения границ на спорных участках”

[iv] BOMCA web-site

[v] Alisher Khamidov “Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: Clashes on Volatile Border Growing Vicious” April 20, 2011 - 10:57am,

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