Friendship is the name of a new newspaper that strives to strengthen ties between two oblasts separated by the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
Since it first rolled off the press last December, the newspaper has circulated on both sides of the border. It is known as Dostuk in Batken Oblast, Kyrgyzstan, and as Dust in Sughd Oblast, Tajikistan.
The 16-page, full-colour paper circulates 10,000 copies and publishes in three languages: Russian, Kyrgyz and Tajik. Published in Bishkek, it appears only in print format. Friendship started out as a quarterly and switched to monthly publication in August.
The concept had been around for a long time, but problems postponed the publication's debut, Adilbek Batyrov, Friendship'seditor-in-chief, told Central Asia Online. Publication finally started after leaders from the two oblasts signed a co-operation agreement May 17, 2012, he said.
The paper is owned by the Friendship of Peoples civic group, whose goal is to strengthen peace, friendship and harmony between the Kyrgyz and Tajik peoples, Batyrov added.
The newspaper also organises events that foster cross-border activities and cultural exchanges.
"Just recently in Kara-Bak village, Batken Oblast, schoolchildren competed in a drawing contest, and the best drawings were chosen for an exhibition shown in Tajik schools," Batyrov said. "Children from Sughd Oblast can come to Kyrgyzstan and give concerts. These events unify the peoples of the two countries and give Kyrgyz-Tajik relations a shot in the arm."
International organisations, including OSCE and UNDP, help fund the newspaper.
"We supported this pilot project so that readers could have positive material to read but at the same time derive some benefit, such as learning how to correctly cross the border or where you need to graze your cattle so that you don't have problems with border guards," Martin Schuster, head of the OSCE Field Office in Osh, told Central Asia Online
Serving diverse readers
"A newspaper like this should have been founded a long time ago to cover events in the border districts, keep citizens informed on border-crossing rules and introduce them to the culture and arts of both countries," Khairullo Mirsaidov, a Fergana Valley specialist based in Khujand, told Central Asia Online.
Through the newspaper, Tajik or Kyrgyz leaders and elders can instruct their communities on how to be good neighbours, which could help reduce tensions along the frontier at a time of frequent cross-border disputes, he said.
"It has opened a new page in the history of friendship between our two neighbouring oblasts," Mamajan Berdishev, a Batken Oblast official, told Central Asia Online.
There are 433,800 people in Batken Oblast and 2,217,000 in Sughd Oblast, he said, noting diversity in their populations.
As many as 35,000 ethnic Tajiks live in two Batken Oblast districts and about 20,000 ethnic Kyrgyz live in three Sughd Oblast districts, he said.
"Batken and Sughd oblasts have Kyrgyz and Tajik schools that offer classes in tolerance, which help strengthen peace-building in the younger generation," Berdishev added. "It is critical to shore up inter-ethnic relations, which is why Friendship publishes stories about ordinary people and their problems, so that the authorities can understand and resolve them."
The newspaper is winning the support of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and other ethnic communities in the two countries, Bazarbai Maseitov, the Batken branch co-ordinator of the For International Tolerance NGO, told Central Asia Online.
"The paper ... calls on its readers to be peaceful and kind and to strengthen friendly and cultural ties between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which will help remedy disputes that arise from time to time," he said.
In addition, the newspaper conveys useful information on economics, trade, cross-border travel and issues important to the communities, Adairaly Egemberdiyev, a reader from Isfana, Batken Oblast, said.
article described how Tajik doctors saved newborn ethnic Kyrgyz twins who had almost suffocated during birth," he said. "This impressed my family and me, not to mention the articles on the everyday life and culture of ethnic Kyrgyz in northern Tajikistan and living conditions in the mountains."