A month has passed since the clash between the residents of the Aksai village (Kyrgyzstan) and Vorukh exclave (Tajikistan), but people on both sides of the border still live with anxiety. On April 4-6, in Dushanbe, the government delegations of the two countries held a meeting on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border. However, it is not clear which decisions were made at this meeting.
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April 10, Wednesday. Usually there are many people on the streets of Vorukh on this day of the week. “Vahdat” (“Unity”) market was opened here in 2008, but the people call it the Chorshanbe Bazaar, because it works only one day a week – on Wednesday (Taj. “Chorshanbe” – Wednesday).
Not only food, but also clothes, shoes and even construction materials are being sold here. Merchants come here mainly from the city of Isfara and the border villages of Kyrgyzstan.
After the opening of the border with Uzbekistan, businessmen from neighboring Uzbek villages began to come here selling meat products, clothes and sweets. Aksai locals bring flour and flour products, vegetable oil, livestock feed and mineral fertilizers for sale.
Bunyod, 45, is Isfara resident. He is a teacher by profession, but for the last 20 years, he regularly comes to Vorukh once a week to sell kids’ clothes. During this time, he has made a lot of friends and loyal customers here; he even sells goods to some by installments.
On March 13, the day of the incident, Bunyod was working on the market. He had good sales that day, because at the beginning of spring everyone starts to buy light clothes. According to him, the village then was calm and crowded.
“That day was filled with spring mood. Only closer to the evening, when I returned home, I heard that an incident occurred in Vorukh and the road was closed”, says Bunyod.
When he arrived to the market next week, as he says, he could not recognize it – there were very few people, almost no sales. This situation remains up to now. Bunyod believes that after the incident, residents still fear to leave their houses, and the customers from neighboring villages do not come either.
“After March 13, there are almost no sales. Earlier I was selling for 1,500 –2,000 somoni ($160–210) daily, after the incident the sales volume decreased by three”, says Bunyod
During the days of the confrontation between the residents of the Aksai village (Kyrgyzstan) and Vorukh exclave (Tajikistan), the so-called Vorukh Manifesto appeared on social networks. The author writes that Aksai residents’ lives depend on the trade with Tajiks. He calls out for a boycott of Kyrgyz goods and support for local entrepreneurs.
Some followed this call, which resulted in growth of sales of some Vorukh businessmen, mainly food, flour and oil sellers.
However, not everyone agrees to boycott Kyrgyz goods. Rasul Rakhimiyon works as a teacher in Vorukh. He believes that mutual trade with neighbors strengthens the economic situation of the area.
“Previously, there were many Aksai residents who sold goods on the market. However, after the incident, I did not see a single merchant from Aksai, although there were several customers. Manifesto is wrong. If we look back at history, we see that development is closely dependent on exports, imports, and generally good relations with neighbors”, says Rahimiyon.
Mutaib Alimov sells food at the Chorshanbe bazaar. He is Vorukh resident, and before the incident, he had an established trade connection with neighbors from Kyrgyzstan. Now, he has to bring all goods for sale from the city of Isfara. Despite good sales, he wants the border issue to be resolved as quickly as possible.
One bag of flour (50 kg, best quality) costs 175 somoni ($18) on the market now. Before the conflict, Kyrgyz merchants sold it for 150 somoni ($16). During the days when the road was closed, according to local residents, the price of flour rose to 200 somoni ($20).
Haitboy Hojimatov rented a storage container in the Chorshanbe market and began selling flour and oil three years ago. He says that after the incident, some merchants were selling flour at expensive price to cash in.
“Two weeks after the incident with the neighbors, the sales were successful. People were buying two or three bags of flour at a time. People were in panic, they stocked up with groceries. Now, there are no sales at all. Probably, everyone has calmed down”.
Locals say that not only the market, but also Vorukh people’s lives froze after the conflict.
A man about 60 years old, who stood at the entrance of the market, said that he wanted to start construction in early spring, but put it on hold. He does not want to spend money that are put aside from remittances of his sons who work in Russia.
“I bought material for kurpachi (national mattress – ed.). I wanted to marry off my daughter. However, the wedding is cancelled for now. As soon as the border situation is solved, we will safely organize the wedding”, said the woman who was shopping at the market.
Bunafsha Okilova has been working in Vorukh jamoat for about 15 years. According to her, the author of the Manifesto is a resident of Isfara, who was born and raised in Vorukh.
“The residents want to express their discontent with this boycott. Although at the meeting with the residents, the chairperson of the region advised everyone to maintain friendly and neighborly relations with Aksai residents, the people cannot forget the situation and resentment for the family of those killed. But everyone needs peace and tranquility”, says Okilova.
Medet, 30, is Aksai resident. For over five years, he has been selling food and fuel near his house along the road to Vorukh. Every day, hundreds of cars pass by and passengers are potential clients. He sells products at reasonable prices, and also gasoline, diesel and fuel.
Medet has many friends from Vorukh and Chorku, but after the border incident, his Tajik friends refused to buy goods from him.
“During the incident days, I was very scared for my family, for my children. However, everything that could happen already happened. Now, it does not matter whose fault it was. We cannot continue quarrels and offenses. We, the people of both sides, need peace. I want the leaders of both countries to make the right decision and, most importantly, decision in favor of the people of both countries”, says Medet.
Aibek, 26, businessman from the Kyrgyz border village of Kok-Terek is also waiting for authorities’ decision. He sells flour, food, household goods and fuel.
“I don’t know what will happen to my business. I do not want to think about it now. The main thing is that the leaders resolve the issue of demarcation and delimitation of borders quickly, because now we all dream only about peace. The common people – we all – suffer from these incidents”, says Aibek.
Tajikistan residents also wait for it. Muhammadrakhim Tuksanov, 73-year-old farmer, resident of the Maydon makhallya in Vorukh jamoat, is skeptical about the boycott. He has previously bought mineral fertilizers from Kyrgyz traders and does not plan to refuse their services.
“I have been farming since the 70s. On the collective farm, we worked together with the Kyrgyz. In those years, there were only 10-12 households in these areas. We all sat at the same table, we all had one school, one teahouse. The leaders of the countries should take into account our proposals. We want a separate road, the old Vorukh road to be built. We want our lands, roads, sidewalks, pastures to be identified. Only then can we feel safe for the future and for our families”, says Tuksanov.
The situation on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border is not simple. Heads of local executive bodies are trying to calm the population and lift the spirit. Despite the border that divides them, everyone has one dream and goal – peace and tranquility. Their eyes are on the leaders of their countries now.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.