A demarcation ceremony was held at the Gishtkuprik customs checkpoint on May 19 to officially delineate the Uzbek-Kazakh border. The demarcation process was begun in fall 2003. Gishtkuprik is located 17km from Tashkent. Astana and Tashkent plan to plant border poles along the entire length (2,351 km) of the Kazakh-Uzbek border, with both countries pledging to finance the operation. It is expected that the final demarcation of the border will be accomplished in three years. The most difficult parts to demarcate will be desert and mountainous sections of the border. Even with detailed border demarcation, there are some areas where the borderline divides the houses of local residents into two states. Murat Atanov, head of the Kazakhstani government delegation on border issues, stated that such house divisions have occurred along 8 km of the border (Fergana.ru, May 21, 2004).
The presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed the border treaty on September 9, 2002. It is not an exaggeration to state that prior to the signing, the border question remained one of the most acute in the relationship between the two countries. To illustrate, Tashkent unilaterally took over disputed parts of the border, surrounding those areas with barbed wire. Further, Tashkent, without consulting Astana, took under its jurisdiction the settlements Bagys and Turkestanets (located approximately 20 km north of Tashkent), although the majority of the residents in those settlements were ethnic Kazakhs. In protest, in January 2002, residents of those settlements announced establishment of the Independent Bagys-Kazakh Republic. This Jamestown correspondent, who was present in Bagys at the time, can attest that the population elected the government and even wrote a national anthem. Subsequently, Bagys returned to Kazakhstan, while Turkestanets remains a part of Uzbekistan. To avoid public outcry, Astana financed repatriation of 110 Kazakh families from Turkestanets to Kazakhstan. Currently, there are few Kazakhs left in Turkestanets. But Tashkent is still cautious about this recently rebellious settlement that is now surrounded by troops. Uzbek citizens are required to obtain special permission from border control authorities to enter Turkestanets.
The border remains a contentious issue between the two republics. While Kazakhstan is developing a relatively effective market economy, neighboring Uzbekistan remains economically far behind. The average salary in Kazakhstan is several times higher than in Uzbekistan. At the same time, prices for the majority of goods in Kazakhstan are significantly lower. Two years ago, in attempting to protect its domestic market, Tashkent introduced a 90 percent excise tax on all imported industrial commodities and a 50 percent levy on all consumer goods, including food. In consequence, shelves of Tashkent shops quickly became empty and crowds began crossing into neighboring Kazakhstan to buy consumer goods. The Kazakh city of Chimkent, 100 km north of Tashkent, began to experience an economic revival, much to the displeasure of Uzbek authorities.
In December 2002, Tashkent considerably tightened border control procedures. The border now can only be crossed for a “legitimate reason,” such as documented work-related travel, or to attend a documented family funeral. However, in practice, this attempt at self-isolation turned out to be futile. For example, in the village Chernyaevka, location of the Gishtkuprik border checkpoint, the border divides the village into two parts, often crossing residents’ backyards. Residents use this circumstance to advantage, allowing travelers to pay a small sum to cross the border illegally. This Jamestown correspondent has traveled along the entire Kazakh-Uzbek border. Currently, only border checkpoints are guarded. Detour roads are still available for smugglers of contraband merchandise.