Long-standing tension between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is creating hardship for those living along the two countries' shared border. Perhaps the most hard-hit area is the Kyrgyz enclave of Barak within Uzbekistan. The enclave's roughly 600 residents sometimes characterize themselves as castaways on an island.
Border controls along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek frontier have been dramatically increased since 1999, when insurgents belonging to the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan first became active in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek authorities remain wary of potential terrorist threats originating from Kyrgyz territory. In late May, for example, Tashkent bolstered border patrols following attacks against police stations in the Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad. In addition, Uzbek customs officials in recent months have moved to restrict cross-border trade.
The measures, undertaken in the name of state security, have exacted a considerable economic and social toll on Uzbeks and Kyrgyz living near the frontier, greatly curtailing the practice of shuttle-trading that is a major source of income for many in the area. Stricter border controls have also significantly reduced cross-border contacts, sometimes leaving individuals unable to see relatives living on the other side of the frontier. Conditions are such that following an early May visit to the border area, British and US officials expressed concern about the fate of local inhabitants, the Kabar news agency reported.
Complicating the border issue is the existence of several enclaves, including Barak and Sokh, an island of Uzbek territory within Kyrgyzstan. In Barak, exhaustive border checks have become part of the daily routine. Uzbek border guards limit access to the enclave largely to those listed as Barak residents. "Relatives are not allowed to pass through to the village, even for weddings or for funerals," said enclave resident Attoukur Torokulov. Another resident, Mamatislam Ashirov, added: "If there is a stamp of Barak village [in one's passport] then one can still pass through the post. But students who study in Osh [in Kyrgystan] are harassed and often are not allowed to pass."
Barak residents have repeatedly appealed to Kyrgyz authorities to relieve their plight, going so far as to stage a protest in February outside the provincial administration building in Osh. Around the same time, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev, then on a tour of southern Kyrgyzstan, was briefed on conditions in Barak and pledged to address the issue.
In mid March, Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials signed a protocol concerning Barak, which, on paper, eased restrictions on the movements of enclave residents. In practice, inhabitants say that little has changed in the border routine. Under the agreement, Uzbek authorities removed concrete barriers and filled in ditches across roads that had effectively blocked vehicular access to Barak. At the same time, customs officials have not done anything to simplify procedures for individuals entering and leaving the enclave. "The situation has remained the same as it was before. Nothing had changed," said Torokulov, the Barak pensioner.
Sabyr Jorobaev, a doctor at the Osh provincial hospital, complained that Uzbek authorities hampered a recent delivery of medicine and other essential supplies. "It was necessary to stay for two hours [at the customs post], calling Uzbek authorities and trying to persuade frontier guards" to let the supplies into Barak, Jorobaev said.
In recent months, minibus transportation has operated between Barak and the nearest major market in Kara Su. A round-trip ticket costs 24 Kyrgyz som, which is for many Barak residents prohibitively expensive. Those who can afford to make the trip complain instead about Uzbek regulations that places a 10-kilogram (22 lbs) limit on the weight of baggage belonging to those crossing the border.
By Mirlan Kimsanov,
Eurasianet, June 06, 2003