A tense situation is unfolding near the South Kazakhstan–Uzbekistan border. In a program approved by Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister, Shavkat Mirziyaev, local authorities are planning to demolish settlements and private dachas that happen to be located in the zone of border delimitation. Two districts of the Tashkent Oblast of Uzbekistan — Tashkent and Kibray — have been targeted. The Uzbekistan Cabinet of Ministers has no plans to financially compensate the locals who will lose their homes due to the process of border delimitation. The authorities have already begun demolishing several dacha settlements located along the frontier (Fergana.ru, January 9).
After years of seemingly endless negotiations, an agreement on the delimitation of the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was finally reached in July 2003. Prior to the signing of this bilateral agreement, many residents of the Uzbek villages adjacent to the border unilaterally reassigned themselves to Kazakh jurisdiction, a shift mainly motivated by Kazakhstan’s higher standard of living. In some cases this redistricting led to peculiar situations. For example, after unsuccessful attempts to acquire Kazakh jurisdiction, residents of the Turkestanets and Bagys settlements, which are located 30 km north of Tashkent, announced the establishment of the “Independent Bagys Kazakh Republic” on December 2, 2001. The population elected a representative government and even created a national anthem. After the border delimitation was completed, the Bagys settlement joined Kazakhstan, while Turkestanets was incorporated into Uzbekistan. However, in order to avoid tensions in the local population, Astana was forced to finance the repatriation of 110 families of Turkestani Kazakhs back to Kazakhstan (Novye izvestiya, August 28, 2003).
Yet, after reaching the border delimitation agreement, authorities from the two countries almost immediately encountered a new problem. In the Soviet period the borders between republics were notional, and many settlements that were established along the border include houses that straddle the border line, with one room on Kazakh territory and another room on Uzbek land. Often a house is located on the territory of one state, while the courtyard is on the territory of the other. Contraband smugglers take advantage of the border settlements as they funnel goods across the border through the private courtyards, a route that allows them to circumvent official customs posts. This scenario explains why the Uzbek authorities’ decision to demolish the border settlements is not without merit.
Nonetheless, the speed and urgency with which Tashkent started to demolish the border settlements raised suspicions among some analysts, who think that Uzbekistan considers Kazakhstan to be a potentially hostile state.
According to the website Fergana.ru, during a recent meeting with World War II and other veterans, the hokim (head of the local administration) of the Kibray district of the Tashkent Oblast, Shakir Ikramov, and representatives from the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan directly stated that the government of Uzbekistan views Kazakhstan as a probable military adversary and a source of terrorist threats (Fergana.ru, January 5).
Accordingly, Tashkent’s decision to demolish the border settlements is a logical continuation of the ongoing confrontation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which began after Tashkent accused Astana of harboring terrorist training camps on the territory of Kazakhstan, from where suicide bombers prepared to launch terrorist acts in Uzbekistan (Centrasia.ru, January 10; EDM, November 18, 2004).