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Clashes in Ferghana Valley: Causes and Responses

4 min read
Why are there so many conflicts in the Ferghana Valley?

The fergana valley possibly the most troubled region in central asia it is located between two geographic giants russia to the north and china to the east

this fertile stretch of land is strategically important and the most populous region in central asia and it is shared between three countries Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan since the fall of the soviet union the Fergana valley has been witness to several clashes in conflict

the most recent clashes in April 2021 left dozens of people dead and hundreds injured. but what’s behind these ongoing conflicts many bore areas in central Asia’s former Soviet republics have been disputed since the collapse of the soviet union in 1991.

The soviets divided the people of central asia into distinct nationalities when in previous eras it was largely composed of nomadic tribes associated with the silk road

where identities were largely based on clan or religion in the 1930s Joseph Stalin designed a complex border for each republic but he ignored the fact that the Fergana valley was a patchwork of ethnicities not easily incorporated into national republics the situation is particularly complicated near the numerous enclaves in Fergana valley

where the borders of Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan and Uzbekistan meet the Fergana valley’s population consists mainly of Uzbeks Kyrgyz and Tajiks

however, each of the three countries in the Fergana valley contains significant minorities of the other two ethnic groups the way these borders were drawn left several communities with restricted access to what they would consider their home countries like this area in Fergana valley’s exclave of sok a small pocket of Uzbek territory which is located entirely in Kyrgyzstan yet whose residents are predominantly ethnic tajiks this bizarre border division has caused recurrent tensions and clashes between the former soviet republics.

Map ferghana
Map Of Ferghana valley and across the borders country

Access to water and energy resources have also been at the heart of recurrent disputes among kazakhstan kyrgyzstan tajikistan and uzbekistan over the last three decades the tension has been the sharpest where the valley converges the valley is a major source of food for central asia its principle crops include wheat cotton rice vegetables and fruit and as the economy of this landlocked region depends on agriculture there is a massive need for a huge uantity of water but water is becoming increasingly scarce

the glaciers and snows of the tianshan mountains around the fergana valley feed the sir darya and amudarya central asia’s two major rivers but due to the climate crisis the glaciers have lost 20 percent of their mass between 1961 and 2012.

The melt is four times the global average and as water supplies dwindle farmers from different national enclaves surrounding the valley are often fighting over water allocations fights and clashes over control of the irrigation canals can often lead to deaths injuries and diplomatic crises the overuse of water in upstream communities often leaves those downstream parched when these countries were part of the soviet union they had a resource sharing system energy rich countries like kazakhstan uzbekistan and turkmenistan supplied tajikistan with coal gas and electricity in winter and received water from them in the summer tajikistan for example controls the headwaters of many of the region’s rivers which the four other former soviet states depend on for irrigation but this system disintegrated in the late 1990s a few years after the fall of the soviet union

it was far more profitable for energy-rich countries to sell gas and electricity to foreign buyers than to supply it to their own neighbors kyrgyzstan and tajikistan often accuse uzbekistan of overusing river water to irrigate vast cotton fields while uzbekistan for its part fought kyrgyz and tajik plans to build dams upstream at various times shared resources have been used as a political tool with mutual threats of blocking downstream flow of water or switching off power grids

these conflicts over sharing resources have been aggravated by ethnic tensions when uzbekistan kyrgyzstan and tajikistan gained independence they began stressing their national identities despite having multi-ethnic enclaves

the division in recurrent hostility amongst the kyrgyz uzbekintagic people is further complicated by the economic hardships facing their countries and increasing competition for resources in 2010 deadly interacting clashes forced an estimated 400 000 uzbeks and kurdish from their homes in southern kyrgyzstan through the years

these conflicts caused thousands of deaths and even today relations between the countries remain tense especially between uzbekistan and kyrgyzstan the fergana valley’s mountainous territories are also an ideal hiding place for militants who have sought refuge and pose a security problem for the states that hold on to stretches of the fergana valley

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