Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | March 10, 2008

National territorial delimitation II

In 1924 a special institution was established responsible for territorial delimitation of Central Asia, namely, a Special Commission for the National Territorial Delimitation. According to Bergne, “within this Special Commission, three sub-committees were established: Uzbek, Kyrgyz (i.e. Kazakh) and Turkmen” (ibid.42). All of which are Turkic speaking communities. Interestingly, sub-committee for the Tajik people was missing. Primarily, the nation-building-plan didn’t envisage building a state for Tajiks. Tajiks were supposed to be organised into an Autonomous Oblast within Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR). According to Bergne, Usmankhan Ishanhojaev, People’s Commissar for Education in the Turkestan ASSR voiced out that “with regard to the Tajik Autonomous Oblast, no Tajik has participated in the commission and there has not been a Tajik sub-commission” (ibid. 50). The response to his critique was that it was the Uzbek sub-commission’s responsibility to enrol Tajiks to work, but apparently, according to one of the Uzbek delegates, “the matter… was resolved unanimously”, and there was no need for Tajik enrolment (ibid.). This makes it clear that Tajiks were excluded from the process of delimiting their territory; this had consequences on the map that large cities with large Tajik population were left outside of present Tajik territory. As Bergne points, “hundreds of thousands of Tajiks were left within the frontiers of Uzbekistan” (ibid. 48), all of which later resulted in territorial disputes between the two countries, namely, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

By 1936, according to Dadabaev, “Central Asia was divided along ethnic lines into five states, named according to the majority ethnic group residing in those territories” (ibid. 133). It took about twelve years to delimit Central Asian territory into Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1924 Uzbek and Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR) were established, a year later, Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast within Kazakhstan ASSR appeared on the map; 1929 Tajikistan increased in status from Autonomous Oblast (within UzSSR) to Tajik SSR; seven years later, Kyrgyz and Kazakh SSR were established, and Karakalpak ASSR was integrated into the UzSSR (ibid. 133).

The Commission for National Territorial Delimitation of Central Asia had tremendously difficult task to divide the undividable area. As the Chairman of the Central Asian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party himself acknowledged the mistakes and impossibility of constructing inviolable borders:

It would be extreme self-sufficiency to assume just for a minute that while deciding the national question of Turkestan, we had been free from any mistakes, particularly, that in the process of formation of National Republics, and specifically, in the process of setting territorial boundaries, one could have expected firm decisions not allowing for any further corrections. There was neither sufficient knowledge of statistical economy and national composition of the regions nor sufficient knowledge of certain localities even by indigenous workers. Moreover, with the diversity of nationalities variety of economic relations etc of small regions villages, one can say beforehand that it will be impossible to set inviolable boundaries right away. In future, depending on the will and desire of the population, a certain reconsideration and correction of boundaries is possible. (Sengupta 2002: 82)

However, no matter how strongly criticised, Central Asian States nowadays treat their boundaries as sacred and non-questionable. Boundaries became inviolable, and no further “reconsiderations and corrections” are possible at the moment, and nor was it possible in the immediate aftermath of collapse of the Union. As Sengupta puts it: “national elite groups of all [newly independent] the Central Asian states clung to the existing map of Central Asia as sacrosanct” (Sengupta 2002: 104). She further argues that current national boundaries, drawn in 1920s, are represented as “embodying ancient civilisations. Therefore, she suggests “the borders of Uzbekistan with all its irregularities is defended by the Uzbeks as legacies of the glorious Timurid civilization and guarded as sacred lines separating the ancient Uzbek nation from other national groups” (ibid.).

Some of the many of the problems of National Territorial Delimitation team were:

1) lack of or non-existent concept of national identity among the indigenous population

2) vague and unclear identities, Russian ethnographers couldn’t classify

3) lack of reliable census, statistical data

4) geographical ‘intermingledness’ of communities, difficult to separate (see Bergne 2007; Sengupta 2002)

5) the more densely populated territories prove to be more difficult

One of the major problems was that the idea of clear national division wasn’t possible in Central Asia. The primarily European notions of ethnicity, nationality and homogeneity of a nation were alien to Central Asian conditions, where identities were multiple and fluid, where language wasn’t an indicant of affiliation with an ethnic group (see, for instance, Berg 2007; Sengupta 2002). Instead, the whole bunch of alternative identities was in interchangeable use. I will in the next section try to illustrate some of the problems of territorial delimitation on the examples of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.


  1. Tajiks of Uzbekistan. Part 1:

    Tajiks of Uzbekistan. Part 2:

    (to be continued)

  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Pilotage.

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