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Central Asia In Focus: Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan Border

In this week’s edition: possible Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border reopening, Uzbek police convicted for role in Karakalpak violence, and more.

Burnt market in the village of Arka in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region, after the armed conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border on August 16-17, 2022.
Burnt market in the village of Arka in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, after the armed conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border on August 16-17, 2022. Aibek Biybosunov (RFE/RL).

In the Region

Tajikistan Says Border with Kyrgyzstan Will Open, Kyrgyzstan Says Not Just Yet

The governor of Tajikistan’s Sughd Province said an agreement to reopen the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has been reached, but Kyrgyz officials say there are still some matters that need to be resolved.

Kyrgyzstan closed its border with Tajikistan shortly after the clashes between the two countries April 28-30, 2021.

On August 3, Sughd Governor Rajabboy Ahmadzoda announced an agreement was reached with Kyrgyzstan about reopening border crossings.

Sughd Deputy Governor Davron Zohidzoda said during recent Kyrgyz-Tajik talks that Abdikarim Alymbaev, the governor of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province, stressed the need to reopen the border.

The Kyrgyz government said later on August 3 that first the process of border delinon and demarcation needs to be completed before a gradual process of reopening the border could start.

Clashes with both sides using mortars and artillery have erupted along the Kyrgyz-Tajik frontier twice.

During the April 2021 conflict, 36 Kyrgyz citizens and and 19 Tajik citizens were killed.

The September 14-17, 2022 clashes left 63 Kyrgyz citizens and 41 Tajik citizens dead, though RFE/RL’s Tajik Service Ozodi released a list of 83 citizens killed in that conflict.

In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, bilateral trade totaled $67.7 million. In the first seven months of 2022, trade between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan amounted to only $3.2 million.

The communities on both sides of the border have been hit hard by this sharp decline in trade.

Why It’s Important: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the two poorest countries in Central Asia. Since the April 2021 clashes, they have increased their defense spending.

The situation along the border remains tense and arguments between members of the closely packed border communities quickly lead to armed stand-offs.

It’s good the two sides continue talking, especially about reopening the border.

Uzbek Police Convicted for Their Role in Deadly Karakalpak Violence

Three Uzbek policemen are the first members of law enforcement to be convicted for their part in the unrest in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan Republic that left at least 21 people dead last year.

An Uzbek court found two policemen guilty of using torture on suspects and sentenced them both to seven years in prison.

The third policeman was found guilty of negligence resulting in a person’s death and of perjury. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Large protests started in Karakalpakstan on July 1 after people there learned proposed constitutional amendments would strip Karakalpakstan of its nominal status as a sovereign republic.

Karakalpakstan would also have lost its nominal right to hold a referendum to secede from Uzbekistan.

When police and security forces moved to disperse the large crowd that had gathered outside the administration building in the regional capital Nukus, violence started.

The violence continued into the next day and when it was over, in addition to those who were killed, 243 people had been injured.

In two separate trials, one that concluded in January 2023 and another in March, 61 of the protesters were convicted. Forty of them were given prison sentences of seven years or more.

Why It’s Important: Of the 21 people killed in the Karakalpakstan violence, four were law enforcement officers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in November 2022 that among the protesters killed and injured there were “some with the most horrific injuries.”

HRW said, “Uzbek security forces unjustifiably used lethal force and other excessive responses to disperse mainly peaceful demonstrators.”

Improper use of stun grenades and teargas cannisters seems to be the cause of most of the severe wounds inflicted during the unrest.

The three policemen were not charged with any crimes related to use of excessive force during the violence. The report on their convictions did not mention if any other law enforcement officers would be put on trial.

The convictions of the three policemen do little to show that Uzbek authorities’ commitment to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the direction of domestic politics in the five Central Asian states and what domestic and foreign forces are influencing or supporting their policies.

The podcast is timed with the upcoming 32nd anniversary of independence in the Central Asian states. We discuss how the politics of the first decades shaped the situation in the five countries now, and where those policies are leading them.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Russian Military Recruiting in Kazakhstan

Reuters reported that advertisements to join the Russian army are appearing on Internet sites in Kazakhstan.

The report said the advertisements offer “a one-off payment of 495,000 Russian rubles ($5,300) to those who sign a contract with the Russian military,” and a monthly salary equivalent to $2,000.

The advertisements also say recruits would join Russian forces on Sakhalin Island, north of Japan and far from Ukraine.

Russia’s military has been recruiting among the Central Asian migrant laborer community in Russia, most of whom are Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen.

This is first report I’ve seen of efforts to recruit people inside Kazakhstan.

Remittances to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Way Down

Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank announced remittances for the first six months of 2023 dropped by 28.5 percent compared to the January-June period in 2022.

Uzbekistan’s Central Bank said remittances during the first six months of this year decreased by 21.5 percent.

Eighty percent of Uzbekistan’s remittances and 90 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s come from their citizens working in Russia.

Fact of the Week

During the August 3-5 Kazakh-Afghan Economic Forum in the Kazakh capital Astana, Kazakh media stated that trade between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in 2022 increased to $987.9 million.

In 2021, the year the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, trade between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan totaled $473.3 million.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,