While the last American troops were packing up and pulling out of the Manas air base near Bishkek this on June 3, a much less publicized exodus was taking place in southern Kyrgyzstan the previous day.
Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry for Emergency Situations sent six trucks to the Barak exclave to bring construction materials and the belongings of 35 families from Kyrgyzstan…to Kyrgyzstan.
The Barak exclave is near Kyrgyzstan’s southern city of Osh, but Barak is totally surrounded by Uzbekistan. Barak is only separated from the rest of Kyrgyzstan by some four kilometers but the road, controlled by Uzbekistan, is often closed.
Life has been hard for years for the people of this Kyrgyz outpost in Uzbekistan but after the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, life for the Kyrgyz of Barak became increasingly untenable.
The short road through Uzbekistan was closed for most of last year. Residents of the Barak exclave ran short of food, coal, matches, and candles. They could not make it to attend weddings and other celebrations, or funerals, in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan even closed the road ahead of Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day last year (which is the day before Uzbekistan’s Independence Day).
Small wonder that the people of Barak have had enough and would rather live in Kyrgyzstan proper.
Barak is not totally uninhabited, yet. RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk reported June 4 that there are some 30 families still in Barak.
In March, Azattyk interviewed the Barak administrative chief, Burkanbek Ashurov who said that, as of that time, there were 35 families still living in Barak, even though he said there were officially 135 families residing there.
Even the official figure would show how much the situation in Barak has changed in just over a decade.
In March 2003, Kyrgyzstan’s then Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev was in talks with Uzbekistan about the problems Barak residents had crossing through Uzbek territory to reach Kyrgyzstan. Tanaev put Barak’s population at some 1,500 people.
In February 2011, then Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva was in negotiations with Uzbekistan about Uzbek exclaves in Kyrgyzstan and Barak in Uzbekistan.
Otunbaeva described Barak like this: "The area of the Barak enclave is 350 hectares of fertile and irrigated land. About 728 people live there. All of them are our citizens.”
So, according to those two officials, the population of Barak had dropped by more than half between 2003 and 2011.
The violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 left the Kyrgyz of Barak in a precarious position. Many Uzbeks in eastern Uzbekistan have relatives among the Uzbeks of southern Kyrgyzstan.
The Bishkek government started programs to bring the residents of Barak back to Kyrgyzstan.
In August 2011, a group of 25 families left Barak to resettle in Kyrgyzstan’s Kara-Suu district. More have followed.
Kyrgyzstan’s government insists it will not abandon Barak to Uzbekistan but Kyrgyz authorities continue to view Barak as a bargaining chip, to be traded to Uzbekistan.
That is another reason Barak residents are leaving. They really do not have much of a future there.
-- Bruce Pannier with contributions from Ulan Eshmatov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service