Fergana Valley Enclaves
what are Fergana Valley Enclaves?
An enclave is generally a territory or a part of one state which is surrounded by the territory of another state. For instance, a small piece of locked land inside another country, belonging to another one. Enclaves cause some extra issues for traveling as the roads sometimes cross the enclaves with border control stops, especially in mountainous regions like in Central Asia, where you do not always have the freedom to plan the roads freely.
Fergana valley has in total six enclaves which are divided between the sovereign post-Soviet states of eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan. It is though a bit unclear how accurate the number is because some territories are small and their locations and the decisions between the states are not very clear. We are fairly certain that the seventh enclave that used to exist, called Barak near Osh, has now been given to Uzbekistan in exchange to some land in the Ala-Buka district in the Northern Fergana valley.
As mentioned, three countries share the Fergana valley and all of them have historic and economic claims to the region’s transport routes and natural resources as well as the fertile soil. Negotiations within the three countries are frequently tense and it is not rare to have armed conflicts between the countries on a village level. In 2021 and 2022 the issues have concentrated in the Batken area between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
How did enclaves appear in Fergana Valley?
It is difficult to say precisely how and when enclaves emerged on the territory of Central Asia. During the Soviet Union, all this land belonged to something like a big friendly family of the Soviet states, where all peoples and nations were tolerant and lived in the “dream” that this ideology would never fall.
Enclaves emerged due to the policy of the Soviet government when the Fergana Valley was split without full consideration of the national composition of the border territories. Soviets did a big work designing the borders of Central Asia, drawing and redrawing it several times, but in the end the work was not fully completed and there are villages of some states inside the others.
Issues between the sovereign states started slowly after independence. Borders were raised between the countries and visa regimes presented, which of course resulted in issues for the enclave residents. The villages were separated from their native countries, often by several kilometers of foreign territory and many logistic, social and geopolitical problems emerged.
Where are the enclaves of Central Asia?
There are eight enclaves in Central Asia and they are all located in the Fergana Valley.
- Uzbekistan has four enclaves within Kyrgyzstan: Dzhangail, Shohimardon, Soh, and just next to it Qalacha (green color in the map below)
- Tajikistan has three enclaves: Vorukh and Qalacha in Kyrgyzstan (blue color) and Sarvak in Uzbekistan (red color)
About Fergana Valley Enclaves
Six of the Fergana enclaves are located in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region. Batken region holds four Uzbekistan’s enclaves with Soh and Shokimardon as the two largest and significant ones. There are also two enclaves of Tajikistan in Kyrgyz Batken region named Vorukh and another very small called Kairragach. Uzbek Fergana Valley also has a small enclave of its own called Sarvak. It is just 14 km long and 500 m wide and belongs to Tajikistan.
Sokh, Shohimardon and Vorukh are the largest enclaves and worth having a close look but they have also been recently the ones most prone to conflicts. All three of them are located in the Batken area, at the edge of Kyrgyzstan’s Fergana valley. Sarvan, Kaygarach, Qalacha and Jangyy-Ayyl are the small ones and basically have nothing in particular to see from a point of view of a tourist.
Uzbekistan enclaves in Kyrgyzstan
Situated at the foot of the Pamir-Alay mountains, Soh is the largest exclave in Central Asia with territory about 325km2 and with more than 80,000 people. Soh’s district belongs to the Fergana region and its capital is Ravon as well as another village in the district the Limbur. Despite being a part of Uzbekistani territory, the population of Sokh is mostly ethnically Tajik.
Founded in the 1940s, Sokh was given by Moscow to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In the 1990s, it became a suspected shelter for armed Islamic extremists. From 1918 to 1924 Soh along with Kokan were one of the centers of the Basmachi uprising. During that time Sokh was still connected with Uzbekistan. In 1955 Moscow captured most of the northern section of the then Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, since then Sokh has been an exclave within Kyrgyzstan.
Qalacha / Chon-Kara
Chon-Kara or Qalacha is a tiny village roughly 3 km (1.9 mi) long and 1 km (0.62 mi). Chon-Kara is on the Sokh river, between the Uzbek border and the Sokh exclave.
Shakhimardan (Shohimardon) town of Uzbekistan is almost lost in the Alay mountain range and surrounded by the Batken oblast of Kyrgyzstan. It is definitely the most spectacular enclave in the region. The village is located 55 km south of Ferghana Valley, situated at an altitude of 1500 meters above the sea level. The town is bordered on both sides by the Oak-Suu and Kok-Suu rivers, which eventually merge into one river forming the winding Shakhimardan-Sai.
Shakhimardan became a part of Uzbekistan in the 20th century when Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan exchanged territories. Therefore it became an enclave of Uzbekistan territory that remains surrounded by Kyrgyzstan and is separated from the rest of Uzbekistan by a distance of 17 km.
Jangyy-Ayyl also as Jani-Ayil or Dzhangail, a dot of land barely 3 km (1.9 mi) across.
Tajik enclaves in Kyrgyzstan
Two more enclaves belong to Tajikistan: Vorukh, a large, 130km2 enclave west of the regional capital that is connected by road to Isfara in Tajikistan, and Kairagach, another tiny settlement north of Suluktu in the far west.
Vorukh is a mountain and beautiful village in Tajikistan surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. Vorukh is a rural community that belongs to the Isfara district of the Sughd region of Tajikistan. The population of the village is about 23121 with the Tadjik majority and Kyrgyz minority. Work is located on the Kshemysh River, the right tributary of the Karavshin River.
Vorukh is the hottest point in Central Asia and situation is tense here. Residents of the enclave and surrounding areas mutually accuse each other of settling in disputed areas. Due to the inherent territorial limitations of the exclave, violent conflicts over land ownership, access to pasture, and shared water resources have become more common.
One of the problems with Vorukh is the pass that connects the enclave with the mainland as well as it operates as one of the main roads to connect Kyrgyz towns with its regional center. For instance, the Leilek region connected with the rest of Kyrgyzstan lies through Vorukh road. Meanwhile, another road has been built for years and is still not complete. In spring 2021 after another tension, Kyrgyz authorities announced the beginning of Min-Bulak-Chorgo-Ak-Sai road in the Batken region. It will become an alternative to the existing road to the Ak-Sai village, located on the border with the Tajik enclave of Vorukh.
Kairagach is one of the smallest pieces of the land just 2 km long. It lies at the very end of the Batken province almost next to the Tajikistan mainland.
Tajikistan enclave in Uzbekistan
Sarvan is a Tajik enclave of the Sughd region surrounded by Uzbekistan. Sarvan is situated 1.4 km north of the Tajik-Uzbek border. The village covers a valley with an area of about 8 km² and holds a population of just around 150 people.
Kyrgyzstan enclave in Uzbekistan
Barak is a Kyrgyz village with about 1000 residents. Barak is surrounded by the territory of Uzbekistan. Administratively the village is part of the Kara-Suu district of the Osh Region. Barak enclave is encircled by the Andijan region of Uzbekistan. It is located about 4 km northeast of the road from Osh and about 1.5 km from the Uzbek/Kyrgyz border, near Ak-Tash village.
Border disputes Related to Enclaves
Fergana Valley borders have always been highly challenged and led to disputes. Because of the the Tian Shan and Pamir mountains in the southern half of Batken region, for easy land travel to Tajikistan, particularly to the major city of Khujand.
Since the independence of the old Soviet republics, the valley has been the scene of ethnic conflicts of land ownership between the countries and people still sometimes feel that they are on the wrong side of the border concerning their cultural identity. Division of Ferghana and other enclaves is a potentially destructive ethnic dispute there, and ethnic violence still happens there from time to time.
There have been proposals on all three country’s sides to exchange enclaves/exclaves in hope to create easier and less messy borders, but as of now, there are no plans.
Uzbekistan improved relations with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Until 2017, relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were quite cold, making travel between the states difficult. In the late 90s, Uzbekistan had a clash with its border with Kyrgyzstan and tried to take Kyrgyzstan’s Barak exclave for itself by cutting off-road access, leading Kyrgyzstan to transport willing citizens to main Kyrgyzstan’s mainland. Sarvan also caused problems when there were droughts taking place and a terrorist attack happened in the early 2000s. It led Tajikistan to close off the border with Uzbekistan for a while, leaving Sarvan isolated.
With the arrival of the new president in Uzbekistan’s relations have improved with the bordering neighbors, which is also partly due to the specifying the borders and enclaves with Kyrgyzstan. Since spring 2021 the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan has been greatly simplified.
Tajikistan - Kyrgyzstan enclave disputes
Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan relations have been tense in recent years. Refugees and anti government fighters in Tajikistan have crossed into Kyrgyzstan several times, even taking hostages. It has not been totally clear if the water resources, roads or even drug trafficking or something else have been the reasons for the latest conflicts.
In spring 2021 during our journey to Kan Fortress from Batken, we tried to pass through the Soh enclave as it is the fastest way with a better road. However, the guards denied entry for a citizen with foreign (Non Uzbek or Kyrgyz) passport holder, justifying the denial with the reason that only the passport holders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan can enter the Soh enclave. Visa was not needed in this case. Guards also replied that they do not have the necessary stamping equipment in the enclave border stop.
After making some calls, guards suggested getting an Uzbek stamp in the passport by crossing the Kyrgyz – Uzbek main border near Osh, called Dostuk. Dostuk is located between Osh and Andijan. But finally they did not respond if it will guarantee the entry to Soh or any other enclave for foreigners.
It means that there is no certain answer to how foreign passport holders can enter the enclaves at the moment. Updates will follow as soon as there is new information available.
We do not recommend visiting Kyrgyz – Tajik enclaves due to the recent events and the safety situation in the region!