Soviet Union’s Map Decisions Contributed to Unrest in Central Asia

I have watched very closely what is happening in southern Kyrgyzstan, in Osh particularly. I can’t remain silent too long without blogging about the ethnic unrest.  I have American friends in Bishkek who have friends in Osh and it is of great concern to them what is happening.  (Coincidentally, and totally off topic, one of my Am. friends living in Bishkek who I have known since 1993  when I lived there also has a niece competing this weekend in the Miss Minnesota pageant, it truly is a small world.  Of course I’ll be rooting for my niece Aja!!!).

Back to the sad news that has many Central Asians and those of us who live close to this violence in Kazakhstan wanting to know what will happen next to the nation south of us.  Living in northern Astana, close to the Russian border, we are much farther away from the instability that has happened since April 7th.  Naturally there was MUCH under the surface we didn’t know about.  It has taken years for it to reach this point so it leaves us wondering how did this unrest begin.  The following is from an article written by Radio Free Europe titled “Ten Things You Need to Know about the Ethnic Unrest in Kyrgyzstan.”

How are the effects of the Soviet Union’s demarcation of the region still being felt today?

That’s probably the biggest contributor to the problems today because traditionally the Central Asians were divided between sedentary (Uzbeks) and nomadic (Kyrgyz) peoples. That changed a little over the course of time, and there were two khanates and an emirate that would have included representatives of all the peoples, but no one would have recognized themselves as being Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Kazakh, or Tajik. They would more have identified themselves as being from Kokand Khanate or the Emirate of Bukhara, or something.

So, when the Soviet mapmakers came along between 1917 and the mid-1930s and redrew all the maps, they really had no meaning. But since the fall of the Soviet Union, those lines they drew on maps 80 years ago have suddenly taken on great significance. And people really do recognize that there is a border of a Kyrgyzstan, of an Uzbekistan, whereas until 1991 or ’92 that had almost no meaning at all. And traditionally the people — and by traditionally I mean hundreds and thousands of years — would have just wandered freely from one place to another without recognizing any borders or without there having ever been any borders there.

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