06 December 2005

Central Asian Leases

A second thorny border issue in Central Asia is the leasing of other countries’ land. This swapping of territory has been going on for a long time (again, the quotes are from the 2002 report from the International Crisis Group):

Some examples of these territorial exchanges make clear how complex the issue is. In September 1929, the Khujand District of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan was handed over to Tajikistan and its name changed to Leninabad Province. A decade later, Uzbekistan was given a portion of that area back when a large canal was constructed in the Ferghana Valley. Tajikistan was not the only republic to exchange territory with Uzbekistan. The remote territory of Karakalpakstan began life in 1924 as part of Kazakhstan but by 1938 had been absorbed into the Uzbek Republic.
The full catalogue of land exchanges between the Soviet Central Asian republics is extensive, but territorial claims were further muddied by the frequent leasing of facilities or areas with natural resources from one republic to another. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan leased land from each other in 1946, and these leases were still in force when the USSR collapsed. Uzbekistan refused to give back its leased land when the lease expired in 1992, leaving the inhabitants of this area in a legal limbo between two states. In frustration, one village in the region, Bagys, declared independence from both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the beginning of 2002. Other countries had similar leasing arrangements. Uzbekistan leased gas fields in southern Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan in exchange leased pasture lands suitable for cattle raising. Again, the status of these territories has been a source of discord. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan alone managed to agree an amicable resolution of their leases. In 1993 the prime ministers of the two countries signed an agreement on returning all leased lands to their sovereign states by 1996.
Bagys’ situation, mentioned above, makes for particularly interesting reading:
The village of Bagys, some seven kilometers north of Tashkent, has been of particular concern. The area is part of lands given to Uzbekistan in a lease arrangement from Kazakhstan, which have remained in legal limbo following independence. Most inhabitants are ethnic Kazakhs and prefer being part of Kazakhstan, yet their salaries are often paid and taxed by Uzbekistan. Uzbek police patrol the area.

Under an agreement signed in 1991, part of the rented land did go back to Kazakhstan, but not Bagys. The village is next door to Turkestanets, which had been a military state farm for the Central Asian Military District during the Soviet period and remains this for Uzbekistan’s armed forces. Following independence the residents of both settlements hoped they would become part of Kazakhstan. Almost all the residents of Bagys are ethnic Kazakhs, as are 80 per cent Turkestanets. Nonetheless, Tashkent has been reluctant to cede the lands, and Astana did not press because it did not want to strain relations. The result has been an uncertain status for the residents. About half hold Kazakh passports and citizenship, while the other half have Uzbek passports but not citizenship. Those who work on the state farm are paid in Uzbek soms, while in the school and other structures are paid in Kazakh tenge.

In a gesture indicating their deep frustration, residents staged a rally on 30 December 2001 during which they proclaimed the Independent Kazakh Republic of Bagys and elected a president and a legislature. Subsequently, Uzbek police swept down on the village and arrested 30 individuals. Further arrests of independence activists took place on 20 January 2002, and seven leading agitators were forced into hiding.
This article from the Jamestown Foundation gives the most current update of the situation that I could find. Apparently Bagys has gone to Kazakhstan and Turkestanets to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has demolished homes on the border .

I first learned about these leases when we met someone from a Sary Moghul, a village in southern Kyrgyzstan lives on land leased by Tajikistan. The residents have Tajik visas but are citizens of Kyrgyzstan. Since they have Tajik visas, they are not allowed to live in any other part of Kyrgyzstan; they can travel around though. Tajikistan is supposed to provide basic city services, but they have no reason to, and neither does Kyrgyzstan. It makes Sary Moghul a difficult town to live in.

Uzbekistan also leases oil and gas fields in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan allowed Uzbekistan to continue to manage the fields after independence because Kyrgyzstan simply didn’t have the resources to manage them. However, Kyrgyzstan wants them back now, but Uzbekistan refuses to discuss the issue. In 2001, Kyrgyzstan accused Uzbekistan of being $180 million behind on lease payments. Kyrgyzstan has refused to give up some of its leases in Uzbekistan, but it’s not much incentive since the land is used for grazing livestock.

I didn't have much luck finding more recent information about these leases. I'm surprised there wasn't more about them because they are a major issue here. Many people's lives are greatly affected by these leases and enclaves.

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