Peacekeeping: The Fergana Powder Keg

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January 21, 2013: There is growing unrest in the lush Fergana Valley of Central Asia. The valley is 300 kilometers long, 70 kilometers wide, and comprises 22,000 square kilometers (8,900 square limes) fed by two rivers. It is a very large oasis in an otherwise semi-desert region. The densely populated valley is home for 11 million (25 percent Kyrgyz Turk, 19 percent Tajik, and 56 percent Uzbek Turk). The Uzbeks see the Kyrgyz and Tajik as interlopers (courtesy of the Soviet Union era borders) in what they consider a Uzbek valley. Meanwhile, the Uzbeks are divided into several factions who have not historically gotten along but are now united in a desire to control the entire valley. That is a possibility, as Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million compared to Kyrgyzstan with six million and Tajikistan with eight million. But all three countries are poor, although per capital income in Uzbekistan (about $1,800 a year) is about fifty percent higher than the other two. 

There is not a huge demand for peacekeepers yet, but the three nations owning portions of the valley are seeing more violence and not much willingness to compromise. Russia, still the major power in the region, has advised the three countries to work out their differences. Russia will only send peacekeepers as a last resort.

During the Soviet period (1920-91) the provincial borders in the Fergana Valley made little difference and local ethnic groups (Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyz) intermingled. Those old Soviet provincial borders are now national frontiers and the ancient ethnic animosities have reappeared because crossing these borders is now a crime and the border guards shoot to kill.

The Kyrgyz portions of the valley contain a lot of Uzbeks because when the Soviets rearranged the borders they did not move people. Despite all the water in the valley, there are too many people. In the last century population has increased five-fold. The result has been poverty and government corruption that has made the Fergana valley a hotbed of discontent. Some of the unrest is led by Islamic radicals but everyone in the area is unhappy with the Uzbek government.

 

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