Jul 26 2012

Drawing Lines And Fire

Category: In The Media,KazakhstanChrisM @ 2:24 pm

Although the 2011 terrorist attacks here in Kazakhstan have, thankfully, not continued this year, the Central Asia region as a whole remains unstable in some areas. Within Kyrgyzstan there was the ethnic violence against Uzbeks, and border clashes and car bombs in Tajikistan, around the Badakhshan region.
For the unseasoned reader (I definitely include myself in that category), what territorial disputes are really about in this area can be hard to fathom sometimes. Back in Britain, where your typical argument over boundary disputes are more likely to be about a neighbour’s fence that is allegedly two foot into your garden, or a farmer taking issue with ramblers veering off established rights of way, the worst that can happen is a legal judgement against you. Here in Central Asia, disagreements over where one legal entity starts and another finishes can have extrajudicial consequences. With national boundaries often drawn up in Soviet times, ethnic groupings can find themselves arbitrarily split across two or even three countries, even if it is a relatively small land area. In Britain, one neighbour may well blame the other by claiming that a fence was moved whilst they were on holiday, and that valuable land has effectively been stolen from them. Over here, governments will often blame militants from minority religions in the area and/or Afghanistan-based groups. This tends to draw sympathy (rather than condemnation for excessive violence and persecution) from the international crowd, and diverts attention away from human rights abuses.


Although official news sources (such as government websites, or press agencies run by relatives of officials) are obviously not great for understanding the real story behind sometimes shocking headlines, as my old history teacher always tried to ensure we took in, propaganda is useful in it’s own right to comprehend what the powers that be in a certain area want conclusions outsiders (as well as their own citizens) are supposed to make. Check this page from the BBC to see how ethnic groups are dispersed amongst the former Soviet republics (and how political borders cut these groupings into different states) in Central Asia. The latest information to come from the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is that Uzbek and Kyrgyz border guards exchanged fire, with one death recorded. However, both government obviously dispute who fired first, the provocation that initially caused this flare up of violence, and whether boundary disputes are to blame or not.
For more information and links to (mostly Russian language) related articles and government press releases regarding this incident, see EurasiaNet’s article here.