could be the last straw for a disillusioned population, creating the threat of 
a new round of anti-government demonstrations.  By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek


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A land giveaway to Kazakstan could be the last straw for a disillusioned 
population, creating the threat of a new round of anti-government 

By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

Although the Kyrgyz political scene has been unusually quiet since the December 
parliamentary election, popular anger is mounting over widespread poverty and a 
rushed privatisation process that is expected to raise utility prices.

These issues alone might have been enough to fuel a new round of street 
protests, and give the opposition a stick with which to beat the government of 
President Kurmanbek Bakiev. The chances of that happening rose dramatically 
last week after parliament ratified a deal handing over a number of border 
areas to Kazakstan. 

Territory is a potent issue in Kyrgyzstan, as seen in recent years when a 
similar handover of land to China became a major campaign platform for 
opposition groups. 

Parliament’s decision is viewed with particular suspicion because it came 
shortly before a visit by President Bakiev to Kazakstan. 

Under the border agreement, Kyrgyzstan cedes three formerly disputed areas to 
the Kazaks – a granite mine in the northern Talas region, the Karkyra area in 
Issykkul region, and a strip of land where a main road route runs along the 
river Chu, not far from the capital Bishkek. In addition, the Kazaks get a 
long-term lease on four tourist complexes on Lake Issykul, a popular summer 
holiday destination. 

In return, Kyrgyzstan acquires a piece of land in the northern Chuy, resolving 
a situation where residents of the village of Stepnoye have had to make a long 
journey around a protruding piece of Kazak territory just to get to their 
farmland. (For a description of that situation, see Unclear Kyrgyz-Kazak Border 
Makes Life Tough for Villagers, RCA No. 521, 12-Dec-07.) 

The agreement to redraw the borders was originally signed by Kazakstan’s 
Nursultan Nazarbaev and the then Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev back in 2001, but 
the Kyrgyz parliament never ratified it, both because the ceding of land proved 
so controversial at home and later because of continuing domestic political 

Akaev was ousted by the opposition in 2005, but his parliament remained in 
place even though elections to it had prompted the mass protests that forced 
him out. In December 2007, the Ak Jol party, set up only shortly beforehand by 
his replacement Bakiev, won an overwhelming majority in a new parliament. 

This new dispensation undoubtedly opened the way to a speedy ratification of 
the agreement. 

The fact that the legislation went through so close to Bakiev’s April 17 visit 
to Astana has led to some suspicion that his administration is keen to seek 
favour with the country’s oil-rich and – by regional standards – prosperous 

The Kazaks are already leading investors in Kyrgyz banking and other sectors, 
and are an important source of imports, including grain. 

Anara Dautalieva, an activist with a Kyrgyz pressure group, suspects Bakiev is 
also on a mission to win the political backing of the powerful Kazak leader. 

“The president may be preparing for the 2010 election and trying to gain 
support from Nazarbaev. There is every reason to think this – if it weren’t the 
case, why would these lands and resorts be given up so easily?” she asked. 

The speaker of parliament, Adakhan Madumarov, rejected this kind of 
speculation, saying the proposal to speed up the ratification process had in 
fact come from parliamentarians, not the president. 

For many people in Kyrgyzstan, the deal looks like a poor one because their 
country seems to give more than it gets. 

The opposition, catching the mood of public disquiet, called a “kurultay” or 
open assembly on April 12 at which it demanded that the land exchange be 
annulled immediately. A resolution passed by the meeting argued that this 
parliament did not even have the right to sign off on the deal as it was not 
yet a legitimate institution – no detailed breakdown of the December polls that 
elected it has yet been published. (The opposition’s concerns about the results 
are discussed in Kyrgyz Opposition Queries Election Figures, RCA No. 537, 

Opposition leaders pledged to organise public protests if the demands set out 
in the resolution were not addressed. 

Ata Meken party member Bolot Sherniazov said the government was setting itself 
up for future ownership claims by citing a Soviet-era arrangement where 
Kazakstan paid for the construction of resort facilities in Kyrgyzstan – long 
before either of them became a proper country. 

“When the Kyrgyz authorities say the Issykkul resorts were ceded to Kazakstan 
because the buildings were erected with Kazak funds, they are simply not 
behaving intelligently. Tomorrow we might be asked to provide documents to 
prove that all our other assets, including the strategic hydropower stations, 
were built with our money,” said Sherniazov. 

He believes this agreement will set a bad precedent for future bilateral 

Political analyst Syrgak Abdyldaev told IWPR the deal lacked legitimacy, first 
because there had been no public consultation about it in Kyrgyzstan, and 
second because the exchange of territory was unequal. 

“According to international law, if there is an exchange of land during the 
demarcation of borders, it should be equal for both sides. Was there an equal 
exchange of lands? No, there was not,” Abdyldaev. 

The decision was defended by Zainiddin Kurmanov, an Ak Jol member of 
parliament, who said the deal was being misrepresented. He argued that disputed 
territory was defined under international law as being “ownership-neutral”, so 
that technically the land that was ceded was not actually Kyrgyz. 

“Disputed territories count as no-man’s land,” he said. “In addition, 
international law dictates that border agreements should be ratified quickly, 
as prolonging the process can lead to serious international conflicts.” 

Whatever assurances are given, many people in Kyrgyzstan – and not just those 
in the opposition – remain gravely concerned about giving away territory. 

Parallels are being drawn with a 2002 deal under which the Akaev government 
ceded a strip of land to China, sparking protests across the country. 

One of the parliamentarians involved in the campaign against the China deal was 
Azimbek Beknazarov, whose subsequent arrest enraged his constituents in the 
Aksy district of southern Kyrgyzstan. Protests over his detention led to 
heavy-handed police action which left six people dead in March 2002. 

Aksy remains an open wound in the national psyche, and a live political issue. 
(See Kyrgyz Leader “Guilty” of Aksy Killings, RCA No. 538, 19-Mar-08.) 
As with the Chinese treaty, the deal with Kazakstan could be the kind of 
controversial issue about which there is sufficient public concern to bring 
people out into the streets in support of the opposition. Omurbek Tekebaev, who 
heads Ata-Meken, which failed to be awarded any seats in the parliamentary 
election despite being one of the strongest opposition parties, told IWPR he 
believed most of Kyrgyzstan’s population was unhappy about territorial 
“concessions” that demonstrated “the current leadership’s lack of understanding 
of the national interest”. 

Dautalieva said mass protests now looked very likely. 

“I am afraid it will become a second Aksy. There are now all the prerequisites 
for massive protests,” she said. “This agreement has become the detonator.” 

Elina Karakulova is IWPR’s chief editor for Reporting Central Asia, based in 
Bishkek. Gulnara Mambetalieva, a journalist in Bishkek, contributed to this 

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