Kyrgyz in Afghanistan

by Alec Metz on 11/6/2012 · 19 comments

The Afghanistan Analysts Network had a post recently summarizing the recent history of the Kyrgyz population of the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. Originally the Kyrgyz population in the area and in the larger Badakhshan region simply used the area as seasonal pasturage for their animals, but as Russia (and later the USSR) began to impose restrictions within its territories and to police the border, the Kyrgyz waiting out the problems inside the USSR found themselves cut off from the larger Kyrgyz population with Soviet Central Asia. Similarly, the conclusion of the Communist Revolution in China in 1949 resulted in a further influx of Kyrgyz from Xinjiang, although a sizable Kyrgyz population still remains in China. In 1978, approximately 1,300 of the few-thousand Kyrgyz fled to Pakistan after the Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, and most of those were eventually resettled in Turkey in 1982 (after other locations, such as Alaska, had been dismissed). Less than 2,000 are thought to currently remain in the Wakhan, in increasingly desperate circumstances. Hermann Kreutzmann in 2003 and Ted Callahan in 2007 are among the more recent scholars to address the problems of the Kyrgyz in Afghanistan.

While there have been discussions between the Kyrgyz elders of the Wakhan and the Kyrgyzstani government, no large scale resettlement of Wakhani Kyrgyz has yet occurred since the fall of the Taliban. Similar to and perhaps even more pronounced than the differences between Afghanistan Tajiks and Tajikistan Tajiks, Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz are reported to find little to relate to in their ethnic cousins in the Wakhan, and are less than enthusiastic about bringing them to Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz of the Wakhan, meanwhile, suffer one of the worst infant mortality rates in the region, and a pernicious and growing opiate problem. Consumed by a myriad of other issues, the Afghan central government in Kabul, and even the provincial authorities in Faisalabad, have had little inclination or ability to study or address the problems of the Kyrgyz in the Wakhan.

What happens to the Kyrgyz of the Wakhan in the next few years will be indicative of both Kyrgyzstan’s commitment to the Kyrgyz diaspora and Afghanistan’s abilities to deal with its minority populations. I am not optimistic about either.

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Alec Metz is an independent policy analyst focusing on security and development in South and Central Asia.

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RScott November 7, 2012 at 8:16 am

The only people/country that seems to have the ability to address such issues are the Turks, since the time of the Ottoman Empire breakup, when Turks were all over the middle-east and up into Europe, and Ataturk. The policy has been that anyone with Turkish origins in need of sanctuary was granted it. At least up to now, including the re-settlement of the Wakhan Kyrgyz in mostly eastern Turkey in the early 80s with land and villages. Anybody looked into what has happened to them since that time? As I remember, there was a large number of “Turks” allowed into Turkey in 1950 and resettled, the result of Mao policies. These could have been the Kyrgyz noted above. At least the Turks take care of their own in the context of a country that with its own economic problems.

anan November 7, 2012 at 11:37 am

Agreed RScott. I hope Badakshan gets more attention. But it won’t. The locals hate the Taliban and Pakistan. All security is ANSF lead [with anti Taliban militias playing an important role] and no non Afghans care about it other than maybe the Turks. Even most Afghans don’t care about Badakshan except to the degree it supplies recruits for the ANSF to fight elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately even most in Badakshan don’t really care that much about the Kyrgyz population of the Wakhan Corridor. Sad. Not sure much can be done about it.

Thanks for caring Alec Metz.

Afghan November 7, 2012 at 10:44 am

Leave our Kirghiz alone. They make our land beautiful! Go away!

anan November 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

Afghan, yes the Kirghiz make Afghanistan beautiful. Any Afghan has the right to move to a foreign country if they want. If you want to keep your many beautiful threads and minorities inside Afghanistan, you need to love them, take care of them and inspire them to stay in Afghanistan. Attacking foreigners for inviting them to move abroad makes no sense.

Afghan November 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

foreigners come and attract our population with false promises of paradise that is the problem. When our people move out of their pasteurs and wonderful natural environment, they are compounded in old apartment buildings crammed like animals in cages. You don’t provide a better life, you provide an alternate lifestyle, which in no way means improving their lives. Help them in their own environment, but don’t provide them false hopes of paradise when one doesn’t exist. I am reminded of an Afghan jew who immigrated to Isreal, his dad died of heart ache and despair in Isreal for missing his Kabul, but since he developed roots through marriage and new borns in Israel he couldn’t go back, and died a broken hearted man. I wonder how many of our Kirghiz have died broken hearted in Turkey.

Afghan November 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

anan, thank you for caring. I understand your point of view and I appreciate it, but I have an alternatve opinion.

RScott November 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm

And the Turks do not mis-treat the peoples they offer sanctuary to. They help them. In the 80s, my understanding is that they were given land and ready built villages. And in Turkey most of the villages keep their own sheep and goat herds with attached grazing grounds for that purpose. They dont promise, they do. But from the sounds of it the Turks helped more than the present Afghan government is helping. As you know the Kirghiz were driven out of Wakan into Pakistan by either the Afghan communists or the Soviets and the Turks in the embassy found them and offered to move them to Turkey. I doubt that any died of a broken heart being among friendly helpful Turkic speaking people in a rural setting with their own villages.

Afghan November 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Anan and others please read this article and see how much worse our Kirghiz are in Turkey: they lack jobs, they are crammed in apartments, and now they have become tools of the Turkish government to fight an inter-enthnic war with Kurds!

RScott November 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for the article. I was unaware of what happened to that settlement. In the photos, they dont appear to be bad off and there appears to be a lot of livestock, horses and open spaces where they live. The hay stack is standard for those areas where there is summer rain and deep grass…for livestock. It is an area of relative high altitude with cold winters. I worked in that area in the 1960s. And there is no place in Turkey where hospitals and medical services are very distant. When I am in Turkey next, I will go see for myself.

anan November 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm

RScott, please let all of us know what you find during your next trip to see the Kirghiz in Turkey.

Afghan, thank you for the article. If even the mighty Turks are not perfect then none of us are. 🙂

Susi November 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

When I was at the end of the Wakhan Corridor researching Opiate addiction I found that the Kyrgyz-Pamiris (as they are called in the area), had no access to proper healthcare or for issues related to addiction. Many of the non-Kyrgyz Wakhis at the end of the corridor before the mountainous pasture lands would go to the Kyrgyz-Pamir areas for work (and Opium). The workers were often given free Opium so that they could work longer and survive the harsh terrain. The area is beautiful but desperately needs proper infrastructure — medical, a proper DDRP, and educational (to name a few). The Kyrgyz-Pamirs bare little to no relation to their Kyrgyz cousins either in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan and merging the area makes no sense. After decades (and longer) of being in different terrain and countries, their customs and daily practices have diverged greatly at least in the three groups I have studied: Murghab, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz-Pamirs, and Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Afghan November 7, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Susi, thank you for your insightful information. Every Afghan needs help, and it seems the Kirghiz more so. If we support Afghanistan become prosperous, I am sure it will help all of its citizens. I wish the international community bombed us with pens, papers and schools; I wonder how much more educated, more open-minded and more progressive we would have been. Wakhan Kirghiz are Afghans and they don’t need to migrate or immigrate somewhere else. The idea of displacing them is a travesty of humanity.

Susi November 12, 2012 at 3:19 am

Afghan, Thank you for your kind reply. You and I are in complete agreement. We should fund the pen as much as we do the sword in Afghanistan but we also need to make sure that the money going to education and medical development actually gets to the right places, which, from my experience in both areas, so often does not end up in the hands of those it is intended for. This is what I will be working on when I return to AFG in a few months (I hope!).

Moose November 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm

There was a really great documentary I saw years ago about the Kyrgyz in Wakhan. One part that really stuck with me was when it showed a young Kyrgyz man who was addicted to opium and had given away most of his herd to a Tajik commander in return for drugs.

I wish Afghanistan as a nation could have done something for them, but the Pashtun leaders had no interest in building that country. Afghans like the above poster can’t admit that the Durrani experiment called Afghanistan failed b/c the people can’t admit to their shortcomings and think they’re perfect (the above poster can’t even admit that Afghanistan has a huge ‘bachabazi’ problem). As a Tajik-Afghan raised in the States, I’ve really come to admire how the West constantly improves itself. In Afghanistan, it’s much easier to play the victim and assign blame and use it as a pretense to attack the neighboring tribe. Btw, Pashtuns have historically been the bullies in the region and I can promise you they weren’t bombing their adversaries with “pens, papers, and schools.” Karma’s a bitch.

Wherever the Kyrgyz end up, I hope they’re safer and happier than they were in Afghanistan.

anan November 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Moose, there is a lot of truth and wisdom to what you say. This said, 38% of all Afghans might not be bullies. 🙂 Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai might not be a bully. 42% of the ANA are not bullies. 😉

The international community has given an immense amount of economic grants to Afghanistan including pens, papers and schools. Unfortunately President Karzai and the Afghan establishment didn’t coordinate, direct and use this aid as well as they could have. The blame for that lies mostly on Afghans.

RScott November 9, 2012 at 8:28 am

and while Karzai is a Pashtun, most of the government have been of the “minorities” from the northern alliance,since they were the last of the resistance against the Taliban at the time of 9/11, all getting rich now off a combination of foreign aid and opium. Actually the Wakan, Jurm(sp) valley, was the center of opium production in the early 70s when I visited the area for USAID. FAO was considering a development project for the area to counter narcotics, with perhaps our support, as addiction was growing fast, but the 73 coup delayed and ended that planning.

Afghan November 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

Dear Scott and Anan, Moos’s comments don’t bother me very much. As I understand that some minorities play the blame game and the victim role to ratinoalize their shortcomings. This is a natural phenomenon whereby they rationalize their shortcomings by believing that the minority is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy. As RScott, correctly pointed, even though Karzai is a Pashtun, his entire government is minority controlled, and we are seeing some of the most corrupt rule we have noticed in ages.

Afghan November 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

Dear Anan, the Pashtuns aren’t 38 percent of Afghanistan, that is absolutely incorrect. This statistics was provided by the Rabbani government and later on blindly accepted by everyone else. In my opinion the 2004 Afghan presidential elections can be used as a tool to calculate the percent of Pashtuns in Afghanistan, since everyone voted according to ethnic affiliation. At the minimum, settled Pashtuns constitute 55 % of the population (over 50 % of voters voted for Karzai–even though the turn out in the South was relatively low due to Taliban harassment, and the province to province vote followed ethnic composition). If we accept the population of Afghanistan to be 30 million and the nomads/Kuchis 3 million you would have to add another 10 % and the total Pashtun population at the minimum will rise to at least 65 %. The 2004 presidential election was less controversial and with 86 % turn out (and most of the 14 % that didn’t vote were Pashtun, which if counted would have raised the presidential vote to Karzai up to 69 % and with added 10 % Kuchis the Pashtun population would rise as high as 79 %) here are the results:

Hamid Karzai – Independent – 55.4%

– Yonous Qanooni – Hezb-e-Nuhzhat-e-Mili Afghanistan – 16.3%

– Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq – Independent – 11.7%

– Abdul Rashid Dostum – Independent – 10.0%

Please look at the votes for every province and you will see a clear pattern of who voted for how.

Afghan November 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

By the way, female turnout in the South–Pashtun region was dismal. Despite only male votes and relatively lower male turn out Karzai manage to get 54% of the vote. See details here:

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