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Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Border Shooting Prompts Theories, But No Answers

Last week, two Uzbek border guards were killed on the tense and poorly demarcated boundary dividing Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek media have covered the event very differently, leaving little room for objective interpretations of what actually happened.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Fergana Valley, the fertile and densely populated heartland on which Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan converge, has hosted water conflicts, land disputes and inter-ethnic clashesAbout 90 kilometers [ru] of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border has still not been delimited, creating headaches for herders in the region and increasing poverty on both sides. The Uzbek government is reported to have mined [ru] their side of both the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border and the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. A difficult situation is further complicated by the existence of geographical enclaves and exclaves that have proved hotbeds of conflicts since the republics gained independence in 1991.

The Fergana Valley and the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Picture is taken from Google Earth 2011.

Usually, more Kyrgyz die on the border than Uzbeks. On June 20, for instance, Uzbek border guards killed a Kyrgyz citizen in circumstances that were never clarified. Despite the fact that the two sides regularly meet [ru] to discuss border issues and work together to demarcate unmarked sections of the border, shootings keep occurring.

According to Kyrgyz mass media, the blood of two Uzbek border guards was found on Kyrgyz territory – local Kyrgyz authorities claim two Uzbek border guards illegally entered the Jetizagar district of Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region on July 23. Kyrgyz border troops subsequently demanded that the impostors retreat, the narrative runs, before their Uzbek counterparts opened fire, leading to a skirmish in which two of the offending Uzbek contingent were fatally wounded.

Coverage from Uzbek news sites 12news.uz and podrobno.uz meanwhile, left Kyrgyz netizens bemused. Several articles on those two sites and one on uzmetron.com claimed [ru] that drunk Kyrgyz border guards had drifted [ru] into Uzbek territory and simply opened fire on the Uzbeks [ru]. The author Неъматжон Мадаминов [Nematzhon Madaminov] published [ru] the following on podrobno.uz:

Сегодня на территории Наманганской области произошел очередной кровавый инцидент, виновником которого, как всегда, стали пьяные кыргызские пограничники.
Вооруженные до зубов кыргызские военные вторглись на территорию Узбекистана и открыли ничем не спровоцированный огонь по узбекскому пограничному наряду.

Today yet another bloody incident happened on the territory of [Uzbekistan's] Namangan region, and, as usual, drunk Kyrgyz border guards are to blame. Armed to the teeth, Kyrgyz soldiers invaded the territory of Uzbekistan and without any reason opened fire upon the Uzbek border guards.

Podrobno.uz also mentioned the following day that Kyrgyz authorities had apologized [ru] for the murders, although Kyrgyz officials immediately denied [ru] this information. Other Uzbek news portals did not cover the incident at all.

With Uzbekistan's internet tightly restricted, and Kygyzstan's free, the majority of online reactions to the border shooting came from the Kyrgyz side of the cyber divide. Kyrgyz netizens were generally supportive of their border guards, although some called for more peace and unity with neighbors. Others were simply surprised by the Uzbek version of the incident.

One interesting discussion emerged on Akipress, a Kyrgyz media outlet. A user of the service KG.Liga said [ru]:

Молодцы наши Пограничники!!! но как ниже написано “не здоровая фигня”

Good for our border guards!!! Still, as was mentioned earlier [this] “crap isn't healthy”

Suer claimed [ru] to know some real Uzbek border guards:

У нас получается обяснимая ситуация, скорее всего правильно поступили наши пограничники. Только непонятно как узбеки наших безоружных убиваеют и ничего не обьясняют. Лично сталкивался с узбекскими пограничниками, не дай бог кому нибудь такие унижения, ведут себя хамски, вседозволенность, одним словом “животное”!

Our story makes more sense, so our border guards probably did everything correctly. Less understandable is how the Uzbeks kill our unarmed [people] and don't explain anything. I have personally met with Uzbek border guards. I hope no one will feel the humiliation [I felt] – they act with boorishness and a lack of restraint, like “animals”!

Frunze17 tried to bring [ru] some objectivity to the discussion:

Ничего хорошего, что вы пишете – “молодцы, наградить, месть”. Мы же не в состоянии войны с Узбекистаном находимся, чтобы радоваться – вот расстреляли врагов-оккупантов. На нашу территорию (если она наша, не спорная) зашли представители пограничной службы соседнего государства, необходимо было их задержать и разбираться в установленном порядке.

It's not good that you [commenters] write – “good for them, give awards to the border guards, revenge.” We are not even at war with Uzbekistan so as to be happy that we have killed enemy-invaders. If the border representatives of a neighboring country entered our territory (and it really was our [territory], rather than contested territory), we should have arrested them and investigated the incident properly.

Pessimist answered:

frunze17, когда люди с оружием в руках конфликтуют, кто быстрее среагирует тот и выживет. Награждать предлагают не за то что убил – за это не награждают, а за проявленное мужество и четкое выполнение устава. Кстати, при нападении на караул или пост, по уставу открывают огонь на поражение

frunze17, when people with guns start a conflict, the fastest to react will survive. And we want to award them not for killing – no one should be awarded for this – but for brave actions and the proper implementation of our border codes. By the way, if someone attacks a sentry or a checkpoint, those codes say: shoot to kill.

Bek2 wrote:

Давайте без эмоций. Кто такие узбекские пограничники? Во-первых, это сыны нашего тюркского братского народа. Во-вторых, это представители власти дружественного нам государства. На счет инцидента – по каждому случаю надо разбираться отдельно. Не сформировавшиеся молодые люди (и те и другие), у них в руках оружие, такие инциденты могут происходить по-молодости. Главное чтобы принимающие решения зрелые взрослые люди не поддавались эмоциям.

Let's remove the emotions. Who are the Uzbek border guards? First of all, they are the sons of a fraternal Turkic people. Second of all, [the guards] are representatives of a friendly state. Regarding the incident, every case should be investigated separately. Guys that are too young (both [from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan]) holding lethal weapons in their hands… such incidents will happen again and again because of their age. The most important thing here is to have mature and wise decision-makers who can react without emotions.

Over the course of a long series of interchanges on Akipress, an old Russian idiom was reiterated [ru] several times:

Худой мир лучше “доброй” войны.

Better a bad peace than a “good” war.

Adding a strange subplot to the event, eurasianet.org reported on July 26 that uzmetronom.com, a controversial news outlet in Uzbekistan, had been moved to shut itself down over “hysteria” from Uzbek government officials when it ran the “drunk Kyrgyz border guards” version of the incident “without receiving accurate information on this incident from relevant bodies.” Whether this is just an excuse to shut down a site that has irritated power-brokers within the Uzbek state in the past, or a sign that the repressive Uzbek government doesn't agree with the drunk shooting theory is unclear. Podrobno.uz, which also held to this version of events, is still in operation.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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