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Central Asia: Tashkent Latest Capital To Embark On Demolition Project

  • Farangis Najibullah --> Tashkent's beautification project threatens to leave many out in the cold (file photo) (AFP) Authorities in the Uzbek capital are determined to give their city a facelift as part of preparations to mark the 2,200th anniversary of Tashkent's founding later this year.

To make room, scores of private homes are being bulldozed so they can be replaced by modern office buildings or luxury residences.

Residents have frequently been given short notice to vacate their homes -- and in many cases complain of insufficient compensation that makes it hard to find new ones. A small number of people in those places have been granted replacement flats, mostly in old Soviet-era apartment blocks.

It is not an unusual undertaking in Central Asia. In fact, many major urban renewal efforts have sprung up in recent years as image-conscious governments in the region try to combat drab metropolitan legacies, attract new business, and project images of growing prosperity.

But as with similar efforts in major Turkmen, Kazakh, and Tajik cities, the social costs appear high. Tashkent thus joins a growing list of Central Asian capitals and major cities where ambitious renovation projects have essentially left thousands of local residents homeless.

One 48-year-old resident of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that her family has fallen victim to the capital's policy of urban renewal, which was launched in 1990s.

"Our house was demolished in 2005," she says. "Since then, we have been renting an apartment. We, 15 people, live in a three-room apartment. We asked [the authorities] to provide us some place to live, but they said no.”

Ashgabat's centrally planned renovation project has brought luxurious new apartment blocks, glass and marble-clad office buildings, new roads, and green parks to the city's southern areas -- all in place of demolished homes.

Likewise, in neighboring Kazakhstan, authorities have been investing profits from hydrocarbon exports into urban renovation projects, such as in the country's former capital and current financial center, Almaty.

In Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, hundreds of private homeowners are losing their houses as part of a so-called general plan for reconstruction and renovation that began more than three years ago.

Some residents of Dushanbe, Ashgabat, and Almaty complain that they were practically thrown out of their homes. Instead of offering compensation, they say authorities accused them of building homes without the proper permits.

Official Rationales

City officials in Dushanbe maintain that their renovation plan affects only homes that were built "illegally."

Dushanbe officials also say the city provides financial compensation for those who live below the official poverty line -- that is, a family whose monthly income does not exceed the official minimum salary of $6. That means virtually no one is able to claim financial reimbursement for the loss of their home.

Dushanbe authorities say each family that loses a home is entitled to get a parcel of land -- 900 square meters in the capital’s eastern suburb -- to build a new house. However, it does not provide any money or construction materials.

In Ashgabat, many of those who lost their homes to renovation plans have found themselves in an even more dire situation. They were allotted plots of land in an area called Choganly, a desert wasteland outside the capital. Authorities have offered them tents to live in "while constructing their new houses."

Without the means to build new homes, families who lost their houses have been renting flats or living with relatives.

The new, luxurious homes or "elite apartments" that have been erected in place of demolished houses are beyond the means of most residents. In Ashgabat's southern areas, newly built apartments start at $60,000. Prices for apartments and houses in Almaty are on par with those in European capitals.

'Build Or Destroy'

In Dushanbe, ordinary citizens frequently say they "simply do not dream of owning new flats." Jamollidin Sirojov, a Dushanbe resident, says his family was evicted from its home two years ago.

"My house was destroyed," Sirojov says. "I don't know where to go or what to do. I don't understand the government at all. I don't know if they want to build or to destroy."

In April, Sirojov and some 40 other residents who lost their homes staged a protest around the local authorities' administration building to demand compensation.

In a similar move on April 15, some 20 women gathered outside the Tajik Presidential Palace to protest the destruction of their homes. The demonstrators were arrested and released later that day, after pledging they would cease such protests.

Similar protests in the Shangarak village outside Almaty ended in bloodshed two years ago, when authorities sent in a special police unit to disperse a demonstration against the demolition of residents' homes. A police officer was killed in the ensuing clash with protesters.

Several Almaty residents have staged hunger strikes to draw attention to their plight. But their actions were ignored by city officials.

Despite the protests, authorities in Central Asian capitals seem determined to go ahead with their urban renewal plans, replacing old homes with fashionable buildings -- and ignoring the dilemmas of those who were forced to give up their homes to make the way for new developments.

RFE/RL's Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek services contributed to this report