Radio Liberty says Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov surprised many at a recent press conference in Bishkek by proposing a land to exchange territory with Tajikistan to help resolve a long-standing border dispute.

At his October 23 press conference, Japarov spoke about “275 meters” of land that was recognized as Tajik land in a 2009 agreement that also provided for Kyrgyzstan to lease that land for 49 years, saying the land belongs to Kyrgyzstan and he does not accept the 2009 agreement.

RFE/RL says the person on the Kyrgyz side who signed that document was Adakhan Madumarov, a long-time politician who in 2009 was the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council. More recently, Madumarov ran against Japarov in the presidential election in January 2021.

Madumarov responded that the document was a nonbinding agreement and that discussions on the matter were to be continued.

But Japarov said the Tajik side is insisting in talks that the agreement is valid and that land was transferred to Tajikistan in 1924 when it became the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

“I answered that, if that is so, in 1924 we handed over Murgab to you, some 3 million hectares. Why don’t you return it to us?”

Japarov said the Tajik side rejected his proposal.

There was really no way Tajikistan could agree to it and Japarov’s proposal may have led to increased tensions along an already tense border.

The Tajik government has not made any official response to Kyrgyz president’s remarks so far, but the Democratic Party of Tajikistan released a statement on October 26 saying that, since the formation of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, Murgab has been part of Tajikistan’s territory.

The comment on returning Murgab received a lot of attention on social media in Tajikistan, much of it predictably negative.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have not yet resolved the border delineation problem.  Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the Fergana Valley, where the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet.

The border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has been the scene of unrest repeatedly since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

It has been difficult to demarcate the Kyrgyz-Tajik border because over the course of some 100 years Soviet mapmakers drew and redrew the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, incorporating land that had traditionally belonged to one people in the territory of the other Soviet republic.

Exclaves appeared and temporary land use agreements were signed.

All of this survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have various Soviet-era maps they use to justify their claim to specific areas along the border.

Border talks between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan began in 2002.  Only slightly more than half of the 970 kilometers of border shared by the two countries has been demarcated despite decades of attempts to bring the matter to a close.  The border delineation problem has led to conflicts between rival ethnic communities. 

The latest clash along Tajikistan’s common border with Kyrgyzstan that took place in late April was the bloodiest one in the region over the past 20 years.  The countries have agreed a complete ceasefire after the worst violence in decades along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border that killed 55 people and wounded more than 300 other people.

In May, Kyrgyzstan unilaterally banned passage of Tajik nationals and transport through its territory.

The Kyrgyz government imposed its temporary restriction on Tajik citizens entering, leaving and transiting its territory on May 21. Authorities also halted the passage and transportation of goods across multiple land crossings.  Diplomatic officials and government representatives are exempt from the rules.

The then Prime Minister Ulukbek Maripov said two days later that the restrictions would remain in effect “until problematic issues are resolved.”

Bishkek’s Manas international airport said 177 travelers arriving on May 25 from Dushanbe on a chartered Somon Air flight were made to return within the day.  Nine other foreign individuals were permitted to enter Kyrgyzstan.

Recently, Kyrgyzstan, however, decided to allow a limited number of Tajiks to enter the country.  Some 1,932 Tajik university students, who were unable to start the academic year due to the disruption, may now cross into the country, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers Edil Baisalov announced on October 21.

Japarov emphasized that this is the only concession he is ready to make.  Other Tajik citizens will not be permitted to enter until the two sides agree on the precise whereabouts of their border.