Eurasianet says the president of Kyrgyzstan has ended the year on a populist crowd-pleasing note by ordering that a town in the country’s southwestern-most corner be renamed after a local hero.

But the decision to change the name of Isfana to Razzakov is reportedly not only a tribute to the man who served between 1950 and 1961 as the first-ever ethnic Kyrgyz head of the Kyrgyz Communist Party, the move is also an unambiguously nationalist gesture that comes at a time of heightened tensions with neighboring Tajikistan.

Abdylat Doorov, the editor of Isfana-based newspaper Ata-Jurt, has been campaigning for this to happen for more than a decade.

“[Isfana] is a Tajik name. Is- means fragrance, and -fena means soul.  And we should uproot all Tajik names from all over Kyrgyzstan.  Especially in our district,” Doorov told Eurasianet.

Eurasianet says regional politics aside, Iskhak Razzakov has long been embraced as a historical figure of towering importance by the people of the Leilek district, where he was born and grew up. Statues of Razzakov are dotted around Isfana, the district center.  

President Sadyr Japarov has reportedly been alive to the political upsides of advancing the myth of Razzakov.

Nishangul Sulaimanova, the administrator of the Razzakov Museum in Isfana, said in an interview to Eurasianet that Japarov told voters in the town that he favored the renaming proposal when he came visiting during the presidential election campaign.

The violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan’s border with Tajikistan earlier this year lent new urgency to this initiative, however.  Fighting between communities on both sides of the border initially spiraled from a squabble over use of a water intake facility used to distribute irrigation water. Border guards were almost immediately embroiled in the fighting, which began far from the Leilek district, but eventually expanded to that locality.  The scale of fatalities and damage on the Kyrgyz side has fueled suspicions that the Tajik government may have instigated the trouble as part of an intended land grab.

Eurasianet notes that one recurrent anxiety in Kyrgyzstan about the future is that Tajikistan could one day seize territory that would isolate the western section of the Batken region – which mainly comprises the Leilek district – from the rest of the country.

Doorov told Eurasianet that renaming local place names would consolidate Kyrgyzstan’s moral and historical claims over the land.

“We should do it, otherwise the Tajiks will say that these places have been named in their language,” said he said.  “We’ve got Margul, Larkhun, Darga, we need to translate all these places into Kyrgyz.”

Japarov on December 25 ordered the government to take two months to consider the Isfana renaming question.