The Batken oblast in the extreme South Western
corner of Kyrgyzstan is a remote and rarely visited part of
Kyrgyzstan. Most of the tourists who do find their way into
this far flung corner of Kyrgyzstan are from the neighbouring countries
of Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.
One reason for this is that Batken includes a
number of enclaves – tracts of land which whilst belonging to
one country are completely surrounded by the territory of
another. These enclaves straddle the main highway that
connects Batken to the rest of Kyrgyzstan.
Rowan Stewart in the Odyssey Guide to Kyrgyzstan
talking about the enclaves refers to “Island Hopping in
Southern Kyrgyzstan” – and these
“islands” can present a number of problems to
For example, transit through Sokh can be
problematical and requires an Uzbek visa. A detour
(“obyezd” in Russian) exists. However,
whereas the road through the Sokh enclave itself is about 12km long,
the detour is about 90km – over what has been described as
“an army assault course …, which, should be done
in a tank (and probably has been judging by the craters in the
Those intrepid travellers who do make the journey,
however, are rewarded with a fascinating experience, friendly people
and interesting landscapes … and the knowledge that they
have been somewhere where very few Westerners have been before
The enclaves were created when the borders of the
republics were settled by a commission of the Soviet Union in the time
of Joseph Stalin. Sometimes it is difficult to see why the
border lies where it does – dividing the Ferghana valley as
it does. Some people think that Stalin deliberately ordered
the creation of the enclaves as part of a “divide and
rule” policy – but there are also suspicions that
it was a result of local politics with various personalities exercising
their political influence and “trading enclaves”.
There are seven enclaves altogether in Kyrgyzstan
– some very small, not much more than the size of a farm
– and one Kyrgyz enclave surrounded by Uzbek
territory. Here is a list of the enclaves in the Ferghana
valley according to the website, (which claims to list all the enclaves
in the world – www.abo.fi/users/rpalmber/enclaves.htm),
- Belonging to Kyrgyzstan: Barak.
A Kyrgyz village between Margilan and Fergana is surrounded by Uzbek
- Belonging to Tajikistan:
The village of Sarvan
is surrounded by Uzbek territory, whereas the other two Tajik enclaves,
the village of Vorukh
and a small, unnamed, settlement near the Kyrgyz railway station of
Kairagach, are surrounded by Kyrgyz territory.
- Belongng to Uzbekistan:
All four of the Uzbek enclaves are surrounded by Kyrgyz territory: the
towns of Sokh and Shakhimardan;
and two tiny territories, Chong-Kara
The largest enclave is Sokh,
(with 325 sq. km), which belongs to Uzbekistan. Although the
Sokh enclave is Uzbek territory, its population is almost totally Tajik.
The Vorukh enclave
(130 sq.km) is Tadjik territory and is linked to the 'mainland' of
Tajikistan by a road that goes from the settlement of Vorukh to Chorku
and Isfara (in Tajikistan and not to be confused with nearby Isfana in
Kyrgyzstan, itself). Apparently “Vorukh”
means "an open face" in Tajik. Both Kyrgyz som and Tajik
somoni can be used in border bazaars, (and even dollars - however, the
population of Vorukh are mostly poor people and dollars are a rarity.)
The enclave of Shahimardan
is 90 sq.km of Uzbek territory and is located in a gorge in the Alai
Mountains, 55 kilometres south of the Uzbek city of Fergana.
It was well-known during Soviet times as a holiday destination for
Uzbek and Kyrgyz Party bosses, and is now a popular retreat for
citizens of both countries who visit it’s mountain lakes and
take in the cool mountain air and picturesque scenery.
Accounts of how the region became an Uzbek enclave vary. One
account has it that the territory was lost by a Kyrgyz official in a
card game with an Uzbek colleague.