The national-state demarcation of 1924 and its international legal consequences

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Author: Vladislav Tolstykh

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2023-2-13-32

Keywords: international legal policy; Central Asian integration; statehood; right of nations to self-determination; borders; enclaves; status of minorities; international disputes; the principle of uti possidetis juris


In 1924, the Soviet government carried out a very important measure — national delimitation. Its essence is the determination of dominant ethnic groups, territorial delimitation between them, state building, and development of the economy and national culture. The result of this delimitation was the creation of five Soviet Republics and the Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Regardless of its overall effect, the delimitation created the prerequisites for interstate and internal conflicts related to territorial claims, the regime of enclaves, and protection of minorities’ rights. From a legal point of view, the results of national delimitation cannot be called into question later: in accordance with the principle of uti possidetis juris, the boundaries of successor states should follow the former administrative boundaries. The application of this principle, however, appears to be problematic: minorities which gravitate toward a neighboring state may challenge the results of delimitation, while the elites of new states often pursue a policy of national unification, i.e., position themselves as defenders of a national culture which is threatened by minorities. Applied to Central Asia, the principle of uti possidetis seems to be the preferred solution, generally accepted by all the states of the region. Some problems, however, do exist. The most acute of these is the problem of enclaves, which in relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has become a chronic one. This problem should be solved by means of international law. There are several options: exchange of territories, establishment of easements, creation of a special zone, and establishment of institutional mechanisms for rapid response. The author contends that a bilateral format is insufficient and, therefore, settlements should be sought through the participation of third parties, conciliation commissions, and mediator states. The use of conciliation procedures would provide a qualified and objective assessment of the situation, allow the parties to “save face”, reduce the degree of confrontation, move the conflict into a procedural phase, and facilitate a settlement based not only on legal considerations. A common solution to the problems associated with delimitation (both present and future) could be interstate integration. There are a number of serious obstacles to such integration, but they do not seem insurmountable.

About the author: Vladislav Tolstykh – Doctor of Juridical Sciences, Professor, Department of International Law, MGIMO of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Tolstykh V. (2023) Natsional’no-gosudarstvennoe razmezhevanie 1924 goda i ego mezhdunarodno-pravovye posledstviya [The national-state demarcation of 1924 and its international legal consequences]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 13–32. (In Russian).


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