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KYRGYZSTAN-TAJIKISTAN-UZBEKISTAN: Working to reduce conflict in the Ferghana valley

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

OSH, 19 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Children in Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz national dress performed a play recently at a UN-sponsored summer camp designed to confront border tension in the poverty-stricken Ferghana valley region of Central Asia.

The piece of theatre - in which children from different communities in the border region were able to resolve conflict despite their ethnic and linguistic differences – marked the end of the camp.

The event was organised by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Preventative Development Programme (PDP) office in Kyrgyzstan. The programme started operating in pilot villages in the southern Batken province in 2000.

The Batken region of Ferghana - where Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan meet in a confusion of jagged frontiers and enclaves -is vulnerable to cross-border conflict. This is due to scarce resources, like water, schools and healthcare - being randomly divided by a number of international borders imposed when the three nations became independent in 1991.

During the Soviet period the borders that crossed the Ferghana valley were administrative only. When the three republics became independent, rivalries led to the introduction of a harsh border regime, dividing communities and fuelling tension.

“We are one common family, we have to be more tolerant of each other, then we can reach peace even over difficult disputes over land or water,” said some of the young cast during the camp, in Arslan-Bob, a village in the southern Kyrgyz province of Jalal-Abad.

“We have learned how to be tolerant and how to resolve conflict situations, what’s more, I now have friends from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,” Iftihar, a 16-year-old Tajik boy from Isfara in western Tajikistan, said.

“In the future, I will try not to allow other children from my village to quarrel with Tajiks or Uzbeks,” said Jenish, a 15-year-old ethnic Kyrgyz boy from Jalal-Abad province.

The PDP is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Norwegian government.

In 2004 the PDP supported 26 community projects in three Kyrgyz provinces at a cost of around US $138,000. The projects are all aimed at fostering cross-border cooperation and often focus on building schools, providing water to villages or supporting local health clinics.

Another key part of the PDP’s work is getting communities on the borders together in order to share problems and to seek collective solutions.

“Some of these young people [at the camp] are prospective leaders, and we hope this summer camp will make them more open to cooperate with each other in the future,” Abdiraim Jorokulov, the PDP’s programme manager, said in the southern city of Osh.

“It is very good that they helped us to build another room for our school. Now our children are able to study in Uzbek in our [Kyrgyz] village,” Bahtiyar, a father of three children, said in Suratash, just outside Osh, where the PDP helped build an Uzbek language school following requests from ethnic Uzbeks.

There are plans to get local and national media involved in the conflict prevention programme. “We want to make television programmes that look at regional challenges and that help people to understand each other,” Mamatjan Berdikiev, chief editor of the PDP-assisted Batken provincial TV, said.

The programme has had success in bringing Tajik and Kyrgyz people together but there is still suspicion and lack of trust from those living on the Uzbek side, partly fuelled by Tashkent’s less than positive attitude towards its smaller neighbours, community workers said. “Today there is a positive integration process between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which is a great example of what can be achieved,” Bahrom Faizulaev, Tajikistan national cross-border cooperation head said.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Sardar from Namangan in eastern Uzbekistan said with tears in her eyes: “It is sad that training and the summer camp has finished. It very hard to go home, we became like brothers and sisters, but I see that we are all the same people, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbeks.”


 Theme(s) Democracy-Economy-Education-Food Security-Health-Peace Security

Reducing cross-border water conflict,  9/Feb/05

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