Tajiks Buying Up Kyrgyz Homes Near Border

As Kyrgyz move out in search of a better life abroad, their neighbours from Tajikistan are buying up homes.

Tajiks Buying Up Kyrgyz Homes Near Border

As Kyrgyz move out in search of a better life abroad, their neighbours from Tajikistan are buying up homes.

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan are concerned that people from neighbouring Tajikistan are buying up homes as residents move away from the south of the country to escape a life of poverty.



Officials have expressed fears that if Tajiks become the dominant population along some parts of Kyrgyzstan’s southern border, it could lead to a form of de facto annexation on a frontier where many stretches have yet to be demarcated.



Tajik officials refused to confirm or deny rumours that people were being given loans to buy homes across the border.



The issue gained national prominence earlier this month when State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov said, “Tajik and Uzbek expansion in the south of the republic is taking on threatening dimensions.”



In remarks quoted by the AKIpress news agency on June 20, he said,

“All the young people in Kyrgyzstan are leaving the border areas, and there is creeping expansion from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan… This is because we are unable to provide them with a decent life. So they’re going off to make money in Russia and Kazakstan.”



ECONOMIC EXODUS CREATES SPACE FOR INCOMERS



Batken region is the poorest part of Kyrgyzstan, and unemployment is high. With no industry to speak of, agriculture is the main source of income, although water shortages make it impossible to grow the more profitable crops – cotton, tobacco and grains.



Many people choose to move to the richer north of Kyrgyzstan or further afield to Russia and Kazakstan in search of work. Most migrate seasonally, while a proportion eventually settle permanently in their new place of work.



As Kyrgyz member of parliament Murat Juraev explained, “We calculate that around 40 per cent of people in the Batken and Lailak districts [both part of Batken region], close to Tajikistan, have gone off to Kazakstan or Russia. About ten per cent of the population here has moved permanently to those countries.”



Anarbek, a 40-year-old farmer in the village of Dostuk in the Batken region, said that some settlement are now populated only by children and the elderly because so many people have left for Bishkek, Russia or Kazakstan.



“There’s no work in the village, there’s permanent unemployment, and there’s a serious problem with irrigation water, so many villagers are leaving,” he said.



Batken forms a sort of peninsula in the southwestern corner of Kyrgyzstan, and is sandwiched between Uzbekistan to the north and Tajikistan to the south.



Although the Kyrgyz are leaving because they find economic conditions unsustainable, the area is still attractive to Tajiks, squeezed by poverty at home. Many buy or rent homes from the Kyrgyz migrants.



“When they leave, people in these border areas sell their houses, but their fellow villagers don’t have the money to buy them and instead they are purchased mainly by Tajik nationals,” said Juraev, adding, “A parliamentary group has found that in one village alone, Tajik nationals had bought up 95 houses, and if you were to go around all the border villages, that figure would be multiplied dozens of times over.”



Tahmina, 35, was among those seeking a better life when she moved to Kyrgyzstan with her husband Omirjon and their three children to a few months ago. They left their home in the Tajik border town of Kistokus and bought a small house in the village of Tash Tumshuk.



“Kistokus is a very densely populated town with 50,000 residents. We had no jobs, and no land on which to grow vegetables or keep animals,” explained Tahmina. “It’s easier for us to feed the family and give our children a future if we’re living in Kyrgyzstan. The locals treat us well and we haven’t fallen out with any of them.”



FEARS OF EVENTUAL LOSS OF SOVEREIGNTY



The sense that the de facto occupation of Kyrgyz lands has greater political implications – including possible territorial claims by Tajikistan down the line – is a common theme among officials.



“We’re very worried about this as the border areas are emptying,” Dosmir Uzbekov, deputy head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Migration, told IWPR. “As people leave, these areas are naturally resettled by people from adjacent parts of neighbouring states. And that is not good news – it could mean we could lose our territory, because a state consists principally of people, rather than just land.”



A former regional official from Batken, who did not want to be named, added the warning that “if the settlement of Kyrgyz villages by Tajiks continues at the present pace, they will become the majority population in border areas in ten years’ time. So one can therefore predict that in 40 years, Lailak and Batken districts will become part of Tajikistan.”



While Kyrgyz residents of Batken region interviewed by IWPR said they get on well with Tajiks, some echoed the concerns about loss of sovereignty.



“We don’t have problems with Tajik nationals. If ever there are any problems, it’s over mundane issues,” said Nurbek, another resident of Dostuk. “But all the same, this is our land. More and more Tajiks are coming here, so what will happen in 100 years’ time? Will it only be Tajiks living on our land?”



The Tajik foreign ministry refused to comment on Madumarov’s comments, telling IWPR it possessed no information on the matters he raised.



A source at the Soghd regional department of the State Committee for National Security dismissed the allegations out of hand.



“There’s no expansion taking place; it is all just rumour,” said the source, adding that such issues would be resolved once and for all when the two governments finally establish where the border lies.



Work to map the frontier and demarcate it on the ground – on a route which cuts through farmland and inaccessible mountain terrain – has being going on for four years. As the security source pointed out, the process is both difficult and costly.



In the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, human rights activist Sadikjan Mahmudov accused politicians of exaggerating the level of immigration to boost their patriotic credentials.



He pointed out that official government statistics show that ethnic Kyrgyz still account for 95 per cent of Batken region’s population.



“The politicians are saying the Tajiks are expanding in Batken while the number of Kyrgyz is dropping day by day, but the statistics tell a completely different story,” he said. “Who should we believe - members of parliament, the State Secretary or the statistics?”



HOUSES BOUGHT IN ILLEGAL TRANSACTIONS



Kyrgyz laws prohibit the sale of property to foreigners, but practice is thought to be common. The transaction is conducted without formal documentation and the authorities are not informed.



Rumours are also circulating that the Tajik authorities are actively helping their citizens buy up Kyrgyz houses by granting them loans for this purpose.



“I’ve heard that the Tajikistan authorities are deliberately giving their citizens small loans so that they can buy houses in Kyrgyzstan,” said Nurbek.



He added that the loans meant Tajiks were able to price Kyrgyz buyers out of the market. “It’s to an owner’s advantage to sell to whichever person offers the highest prices,” he said.



Taalay Ibraimov, head of the village council in Aksy, also in Batken region, said there have been cases where Tajik buyers had paid two or three times the going rate for homes.



Tashtemir Eshaliev of the Batken regional administration said that even through it was definitely illegal for Tajik nationals to buy real estate, it was hard to identify offenders as local officials could be bribed into supplying documentation to make such sales look legal.



“It’s also impossible to prove that this purchase was illegal, because the legal documents for the property are drawn up correctly.”



Ilhom Jamalov, a spokesman for the Soghd regional government in northern Tajikistan, was unable to confirm or deny allegations that the authorities were lending people money to buy Kyrgyz homes.



RESIDENTS BAND TOGETHER TO STOP SALES TO OUTSIDERS



In the face of what they see as government inaction, some villagers in have taken matters into their own hands and banned residents from selling to foreign nationals.



“We’ve observed an increasing number of Tajiks on our lands, and if things go on like that, everyone will soon forget these lands belong to Kyrgyzstan. So we decided to take control ourseves,” Kanibek Ibrahimov, the community leader in the village of Mingbulak, told IWPR. “Our community prohibits the sale of houses and land to citizens of other countries, and we supervise each purchase and sale ourselves.”



He added that no attempt would be made to reverse purchases that have already been made. “We can’t drive Tajiks out of homes they purchased illegally, because they have registered these houses [ostensibly] according to the correct legal procedure, although circumventing the law,” he said.



Some people are unhappy with such arrangements. Murat Ajibekov left the village of Isfana ten years ago to settle in Russia, and became a citizen of that country. He returned home recently to sell his house and take his family away with him – “from poor Isfana to rich Yekaterinburg”.



But the locals are preventing him from selling to Tajik buyers.



“There’s no one in the village who’s in a position to buy the house. I’d sell it to my fellow villagers for half the price, but they don’t even have that much money. And the Tajiks are offering me good money. Why shouldn’t I sell? At the end of the day it’s my house… I think I’ll sell it to Tajiks anyway despite the ban.”



ATTEMPTS TO IMPROVE LIFE FOR KYRGYZ RESIDENTS



Central and local government are concerned about the exodus of Kyrgyz from the south and are attempting to improve conditions so that people will choose to stay.



“The state has started to deal with this problem,” said local government official Ibraimov, “The Batken regional administration and our own [Aksy] village council have recently been…. Explaining things to people and asking them not to sell, but rather to remain and live on their land.”



He noted that some practical steps had been taken, for example a project to supply the village of Tam Tumshuk with electricity from the end of August, and a new primary school for the same settlement.



President Kurmanbek Bakiev visited the region in March, and according to Ibraimov, house sales subsequently showed a dip.



“At a public meeting, he told them they shouldn’t sell their houses. If they do decide to leave and sell up, [he said] they should sell it to the state. It will buy their house,” said Ibraimov.



Uzbekov of Kyrgyzstan’s migration committee said the fundamental problems facing people in Batken should be addressed by economic measures rather than government edicts.



He called for special programmes designed to correct the vast imbalance between living standards in rural and urban areas, including better schooling and healthcare and improvements to agriculture.



“These programmes must finance an increase in the living standard of village residents, raise the level of teaching and education at village schools, and improve medical services,” he said.



That is the sort of help Oygul Turgunova, 35, might welcome. She is a resident of Oksoi, a village which belongs to Batken region but is physically an enclave in Tajikistan, and complains that the Kyrgyz government is doing nothing to address the problems of unemployment and poverty there.



“The young people here go off to Russia to work. Our lives here are very hard, and the Kyrgyz government doesn’t care about us. We have very good relations with the Tajiks, but what good is that friendship on an empty stomach?”



Elmurad Jusupaliev and Gulnara Mambetalieva are IWPR contributors in Kyrgyzstan, and Alisher Akhunov and Akmal Kadamov are contributors based in Tajikistan.
 

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