Discovery Kyrgyzstan
 
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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The Enclaves
The Enclaves

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 travellers. 

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 so-called road)”. 

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 them. 

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 territory.
  • 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 and Dzhangail.

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.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #9

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