Kyrgyz Block Water to Kazakhstan, Demanding the Return of “Their” Land

During the enforced brotherhood of communism, land and water were not a source of friction for the peoples of Soviet Central Asia. Over the course of two decades of sovereignty, however, arguments over the delimitation of national borders and access to trans-boundary rivers have complicated relations between the region's governments, poisoning ties between communities living at the frontiers of independent republics.

The most recent flare-up began on July 7, 2013, when over 200 residents of Kara-Bura District, Talas region, Kyrgyzstan, blocked the canal “Ahmed” by building a makeshift stone dam, preventing the flow of water into Kazakhstan. According  to [ru] the protesters blocked the channel to demonstrate their opposition to a border demarcation agreement between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that entered into force over four years ago. Negotiations aimed at unblocking the canal are ongoing [ru] as Kazakh officials implore their Kyrgyz counterparts to restore order in the region.

The treaty [ru] On the Delimitation and Demarcation of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz Border was signed by the leaders of the two countries on December 15, 2001, and ratified by the Kyrgyz parliament much later in 2008. But now – half a decade after ratification – villagers on the Kyrgyz side aren't satisfied. As Talaibek Izatov, a protester in Kara-Bura, told [ru] the Kyrgyz newspaper Fabula yesterday:

Нельзя отрицать, что отход земли в Кок-Сае к казахам это вопрос, вызывающий недовольства не только у одних таласцев, но всего кыргызского народа. Священной обязанностью каждого кыргызского гражданина является – беречь нашу землю как зеницу ока, сохранить ее. Если мы не защитим свою землю, и будем сидеть с раскрытым ртом, отдавая свои земли, то как нас простят потомки? Не простят. Поэтому, даже если на другое смотрим равнодушно и безразлично, но никогда нельзя быть равнодушным к земле.

It is undeniable that the handover of the Kok-Sai territory to the Kazakhs is a matter that causes discontent not only for residents of Talas but for most of the Kyrgyz people. The sacred duty of every Kyrgyz citizen is to protect our land and keep it as if it were the apple of our eye. If we do not protect our land, and we will sit with our mouths shut giving away our land, how will our descendants forgive us? They will not forgive us. Therefore, you can be indifferent and uncaring towards other things, but never towards land.

Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Prime Minister for Security, Tokon Mamytov, met with the residents of the area to discuss the situation on July 9. Mamytov explained to journalists that locals believe [ru] the borders have been marked incorrectly in their area and that many Kyrgyz territories have fallen under Kazakh control illegally. Mamytov subseqently explained [ru] to journalists that the residents of the area have changed their demands several times:

image taken from

The makeshift dam built by Kyrgyz villages in Kara-Bura district. Image taken from

“At first they demanded to stop the process of sharing pastures along the border. Then they began demanding the denunciation of the treaty… Now, since they have been informed that a denunciation of the 2001 Agreement is impossible, they are demanding to open a criminal case against Askar Akaev, the first President of the Kyrgyz Republic, and 76 deputies of the third convocation of the [Kyrgyz] parliament, who voted for the ratification of the treaty with Kazakhstan.”

Significantly, Mamytov explained to villagers that “destructive forces” could manipulate their protests in order to destabilize the state, a possible reference to Kyrgyzstan's increasingly aggressive nationalist opposition.

Finally Mamytov explained [ru] that it wasn't just Kazakhs that have lost access to water as a result of the villagers decision to dam the canal. Eleven kilometers of the canal run through Kyrgyz territory, feeding into other villages in Kyrgyzstan's Kara-Bura District downstream of the makeshift dam.

The Kazakh government, meanwhile, urged the Kyrgyz authorities to address the issue  seriously and take all measures necessary to avoid a possible conflict.

The current situation has facilitated heated discussions between internet users reacting to updates of the situation on Kyrgyz and Kazakh news sites.

Annonim commented on Kazakh news portal [ru]:

В Киргизии правит толпа!

In Kyrgyzstan, the mob rules!

Another user that preferred to stay anonymous replied [ru]:

Там не толпа правит, а гражданское общество. Если их не устраивает что-то они говорят об этом, и обращают внимание власти на себя, и действуют, и власть все равно вынуждена к ним прислушиваться. Данный поступок конечно неразумный, Казахстан здесь ни причем, договоры заключало их прошлое правительство, но суть не в воде или границах, а в том, что они готовы отстаивать свои интересы раз власть не выполняет свои функции и тянет с решением вопроса.

A civil society rules Kyrgyzstan, not the mob. If they don't like something, they talk about it, and get the attention of the government by acting, and forcing the authorities to take measures. This act [blocking the water] is of course not a rational one, because Kazakhstan has nothing to do with it – the agreements were made by the previous government, and the issue is not about water or borders, but about their readiness to take a stand for their interests in cases where their government is not performing its function, delaying the resolution of a problem.

SAM OREZ stated [ru]:

вообще даже обидно от “братьев” киргизов нож в спину получить. сто человек портят авторитет миллионов. странно, что их выбранный Президент бездействует.

It hurts to get a knife in the back from our “brothers”, the Kyrgyz. A hundred people spoil the reputation of millions. It is strange that their elected President takes no action.

Skazka Almatinskaya issued a statement addressed to the Kyrgyz people [ru]:

Да вы даже на той земле, которую имеете, не можете порядок навести. Зачем вам еще ? Честное слово, уже надоели ваши революции . Лучше жить стали ? Нет. Так может надо идти другим путем ? Просто работать не пробовали?

You can't even restore order on the land that you have. Why do you need more? Honestly, we are so tired of your revolutions. Do you live better now? No. So, maybe you should choose another way? Have you tried getting a job?

H2O, likely a netizen of Kyrgyz origin, made an interesting prediction [ru]:

Во всем мире особенно в Китае, Индии в ЦА будет большие проблемы с водой и орошением в ближайшие годы и десятилетия. Возможно будут войны за воду. Например между Египтом и Эфиопией или Турцией и Ираком. Вода это новое супероружие (для тех кто богат на гидроресурсы как Киргизия) и скоро будет дороже чем золото+нефть. Тай что готовьтесь платить. Киргизы же платят за газ, бензин итд.

The whole world, especially China, India and Central Asia will experience huge problems with water and irrigation in the coming years and decades. There even might be wars over water. For example, between Egypt and Ethiopia or Turkey and Iraq. Water is the new super-weapon [for those that are rich in hydro resources like Kyrgyzstan] and soon it will be even more highly prized than gold & oil. Therefore, get ready to pay us. Because Kyrgyz have [long] paid for [your] gas, gasoline etc.

Talgat Smagulov, a Kazakh, wrote [ru]:

Мы им экономическую помощь, а они нам воду перекрывать. Неблагодарные.

We give them economic aid, and they block [our access to] water. Ungrateful.

Anonim, another Kazakhstani netizen, waxed analytical [ru] on the political situation in Kazakhstan's poorer, yet more democratic neighbor:


“…Democracy and poverty- are incompatible…” our President [Nazarbaev] quoted Churchill. It turns out to be true. Revolutions, pickets, demonstrations and all sorts of different events. They always have their yurts and protesters out on their main square…Today they protest for one issue, tomorrow for another. The main thing for them is not to do any work. Kyrgyzstan as a state will probably stop existing soon.

N.B Generally, Kyrgyzstan's border with Kazakhstan is less problematic than its borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Last month RFE/RL reported that Uzbek security guards had shot a Kyrgyz citizen near the republic's western border with Uzbekistan. According to the report: “Shootings along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border are common and often stem from the theft of animals such as horses, cattle, or sheep.”

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