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Enclaves and exclaves

Kyrgyzstan's Batken Province has several isolated foreign enclaves within its territory. These eccentric political paint splatters on Kyrgyzstan's national map first came about when Stalin created the jigsaw of interwoven borders that characterises central Asia today. The various borders were drawn up between 1924 and 1936, ostensibly based on political and economic considerations that attempted to group linguistically distinct populations together. It is all too easy to argue that the creation of such enclaves was pail and parcel of Stalin's ruthless divide and rule strategy. This, no doubt, is part of the explanation, but it would seem that local politics came into the equation too, and that a certain degree of bartering of territories took place between local leaders at the time. Such territorial haggling was also probably responsible for predominantly Uzbek areas, such as that in the vicinity of Jalal-Abad, becoming attached to Kyrgyzstan rather than finding themselves belonging to what might appear to be their more obvious natural home in Uzbekistan.

Four of the Batken enclaves belong to Uzbekistan: Sokh, the largest territory at 325km2, which paradoxically has a population that is almost entirely Tajik; Shakhimardan, a territory of 90km2, which is mostly Uzbek; and two much smaller enclaves that are located to the north of Sokh and north of Shakhimardin, close to the Uzbek border - Qalacha and Dzhangail.

Two more enclaves belong to Tajikistan: Vorukh, a large, 130km2 enclave west of the provincial capital that is linked by road to Isfara in Tajikistan, and Kairagach, another tiny settlement north of Suluktu in the far west.

Kyrgyzstan is not alone in the region in having political enclaves. Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley also has two small enclaves of its own: Sarvak, just 14km long and 500m wide, which belongs to Tajikistan; and Barak, an isolated Kyrgyz village of just 600 that lies 13km from the Kyrgyz border stranded between the Uzbekistan towns of Margilan and Fergana. As Uzbekistan is one of only two double-landlocked territories in the world, that is completely surrounded by territories that are themselves landlocked (the other is Liechtenstein), it must follow that by a unique quirk of political geography both Sarvak (Tajikistan) and Barak (Kyrgyzstan) share the inimitable honour of being the world's only triple-landlocked territories.

The existence of these enclaves, which probably did not affect people's lives that much when they were first created, has serious consequences for those who live in them today. Political differences and frequent antagonism between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan has made ease-of-movement between the Uzbek enclaves and the surrounding territory problematic at times, while Barak, the lone Kyrgyz exclave within Uzbekistan, faces exceptional difficulties in terms of the movement of its citizens to and from the Kyrgyz 'mainland'.