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Life On The Tajik-Kyrgyz Border

The poorly defined borders in parts of Central Asia have been a source of tensions for decades; this month, those tensions exploded into violence in Uzbekistan’s Sokh exclave, which is populated mainly by ethnic Tajiks and surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. But for many people, unclear borders and even uncertain citizenship are simply a fact of life. Photographer Svetlana Zelenskaya shot this photo essay about Gulbubu Isaeva, who lives on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Ferghana Valley. Photos courtesy of Kloop.kg

Gulbubu Isaevа, 71, is an ethnic Kyrgyz with Tajik citizenship. She and her family live in the Tajik village of Zaravshan, right on the Kyrgyz border.
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Gulbubu Isaevа, 71, is an ethnic Kyrgyz with Tajik citizenship. She and her family live in the Tajik village of Zaravshan, right on the Kyrgyz border.

Isaeva shows her grandson Kurbanbek a picture of herself and her late husband Abdusaim, whom she married at age 15. Abdusaim wrote in his will that the family should stay in the village where they were born.
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Isaeva shows her grandson Kurbanbek a picture of herself and her late husband Abdusaim, whom she married at age 15. Abdusaim wrote in his will that the family should stay in the village where they were born.

Isaeva says they are the only ethnic Kyrgyz family in the village that did not relocate to Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
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Isaeva says they are the only ethnic Kyrgyz family in the village that did not relocate to Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Isaeva regularly walks to the Kyrgyz side of the border to do her grocery shopping.
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Isaeva regularly walks to the Kyrgyz side of the border to do her grocery shopping.

She says that she often gives the border guards homemade food to help speed up her frequent trips across the border.
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She says that she often gives the border guards homemade food to help speed up her frequent trips across the border.

Isaeva pays her property tax in Tajikistan, but her electricity bills come from Kyrgyzstan.
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Isaeva pays her property tax in Tajikistan, but her electricity bills come from Kyrgyzstan.

A cow and a few donkeys help the family make ends meet. Isaeva says she struggles to get by on her Tajik pension of 150 somoni a month ($32).
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A cow and a few donkeys help the family make ends meet. Isaeva says she struggles to get by on her Tajik pension of 150 somoni a month ($32).

Isaeva has nine children, but most live in Kyrgyzstan. She lives with her youngest son, Myrza, and his two children.
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Isaeva has nine children, but most live in Kyrgyzstan. She lives with her youngest son, Myrza, and his two children.

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Four-year-old Kurbanbek is the youngest resident of the half-abandoned village. Here, he watches local Tajik television.
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Four-year-old Kurbanbek is the youngest resident of the half-abandoned village. Here, he watches local Tajik television.

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