Building peace with mortar and bricks

Tairbek Abdilashim uulu lives in a village in the south of Kyrgyzstan. A few hundred meters from his house is the border with Tajikistan. “It’s so close, but we didn’t interact with our neighbours,” he tells.Things have changed since then.

By Sven G. Simonsen
Группа ребят
ЮНИСЕФ Кыргызстан/2017/Свен Симонсен
01 November 2017

Tairbek Abdilashim uulu (22) lives in a village in the south of Kyrgyzstan. A few hundred meters from his house is the border with Tajikistan.

It’s so close, but until a couple of years ago, we didn’t interact with our neighbors; we didn’t even say hello,

деп эскерди 22 жаштагы Тайырбек.

Things have changed since then. Tairbek has built his own network of people across the border, whom he can call, chat with – and work with. Because Tairbek has also become a business owner. And it all started with a UNICEF youth centre.

Border tensions

Tairbek’s village is located outside the small town of Kulundu, in Batken province. Batken borders on Tajikstan to the north, west and south, and the porous border runs right through Kulundu. Large parts of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border have not been demarcated since the former Soviet republics became independent in 1991.

The province is partly located in the Fergana valley, a fertile and densely populated area stretching across Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic conflict erupted here briefly as in 1989, escalating tensions and distrust that have never completely disappeared since.

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan saw a violent conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, with several hundred people killed and over 200,000 displaced. UNICEF provided immediate response to those affected by the crisis, and initiated a number of activities to reduce prejudice and increase interaction across ethnic lines.

Youth response

One of UNICEF’s initiatives was to establish 23 youth centres in the three southern provinces, to provide youth from different ethnic communities with opportunities to interact and better their lives.

The centres offer a range of learning opportunities – English and Russian language, computer literacy, leadership, communication, career planning, entrepreneurship, and even chess and dance classes.

In Kulundu, the youth centre has also held a long series of events across ethnic and state boundaries, focusing on peacebuilding and youth empowerment.

The Kulundu centre has earned the trust of local authorities, becoming, in short, the main channel for anybody wanting to reach the local youth.

Аида Бакытбек кызы (16 лет) (слева), Гульцире Абдимиталип кызы (17 лет) и Гульджамал Нематилла кызы (16 лет) недавно присоединились в молодежный центр Кулунду и уже используют тренировки и поддержку проектов, которые центр предлагает.
©UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2017/Sven G. Simonsen
Aida Bakytbek kyzy (16) (left), Gulzire Abdymitalip kyzy (17), and Guljamal Nematilla kyzy (16) have joined the Kulundu youth centre recently, and are already taking advantage of the trainings and project support it offers.

Now everybody is working with us. The police support us at their own initiative; health workers come to talk about HIV, religious leaders come to talk about radicalization, and so on,

деп айтты лидерлердин бири Нурали Паизиев

One of the opportunities offered through the UNICEF-supported business project, is small grants for promising business ideas. That is what got Tairbek started when he got an idea: he would buy quality formworks – frames used to build house walls – to rent out.

Less than a year after he received the equipment, business is flourishing. So much, in fact, that Tairbek has his mind on setting up his own construction company two-three years from now.

Cross-border connections

With mortar and bricks, Tairbek is also building friendly connections across the border.

“We have been able to create conditions for Tajiks to come to Kyrgyzstan and work in constructions. The builders are happy to come work here with quality equipment,” Tairbek says. He also has customers on the other side of the border renting his equipment.

Together with the rest of the youth centre, Tairbek is now also among the participants in a new, extensive cross-border project, funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund and operated by UNICEF and other UN agencies in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

As we meet, the Kulundu youth centre is preparing for the Nooruz festival – the ancient celebration of the end of winter – which the centre every year marks with a big joint Kyrgyz-Tajik youth event.
The work done by the youth centre, and Tairbek himself, weighs against the impact of several cross-border incidents in recent years: both residents and border guards have skirmished over access to land and water, leaving several people injured.

In spite of tensions, Kulundu locals are generally positive to the youth centre's reach-out, says Nurali Paiziev.

We live here, and will continue to live here, and people understand that we need this peace.