Osh lies in the heart of the Ferghana Valley. This extract from Murder in Samarkand gives essential backround:
I was determined to set an early example to the staff of getting around the country and wanted to travel to the Ferghana Valley. This high valley, a fertile flood plain where tributaries from the great mountains join to form the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, nestles in the foothills of the Himalayas, beneath the High Pamirs and the Tien Shan, the Heavenly Mountains. It was considered a likely ethnic and religious flashpoint.
The Ferghana Valley is very heavily populated, home to over ten million people. The five countries of Central Asia together have a land area substantially greater than all of Western Europe. Twenty per cent of the entire population of this vast region live in the Ferghana Valley, which has a land area similar to Belgium.
It is, in a very real sense, the heart of Central Asia, It ought to be the economic powerhouse of the region. To explain why it is not, I have to explain something about the crazy geography of Central Asia.
The Ferghana Valley is split between Kirghizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The borders of these three countries, and not just in the Ferghana Valley, intertwine and convolute as though they were a jigsaw cut by a one armed alcoholic. In the Ferghana Valley, there are seven enclaves of Uzbekistan entirely cut off by surrounding countries.
This is the difficult bit to grasp: the borders are deliberately nonsensical and specifically designed not to create viable economic units, and in particular not to have any political, cultural or ethnic coherence. The names Kirghizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan might give the impression that they are the ethnic home of the Kirghiz, Tajiks and Uzbeks. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. They are quite deliberately not that. For example, the major Uzbek town of Osh, in the Ferghana Valley, is over the border in Kirghizstan. The centres of the great Tajik culture, Samarkand and Bokhara, are not in Tajikistan but in Uzbekistan, even though 90% of the population of those cities remain Tajik speaking – although they are now subject to drastic Uzbek government attempts to choke the language out.
The Soviet Union was in theory just that – a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were three of them. But whatever the theory, Stalin had no intention of allowing the republics to become viable entities or potential powerbases for rivals. So they were deliberately messed up with boundaries that cut across natural economic units like the Ferghana Valley and cut cultural and ethnic links.
Murder in Samarkand pp 70-71
Further thoghts on this tomorrow.