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Turkmen Residents Evicted, Homes Flattened

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's campaign to beautify his country's capital is proceeding at a frantic pace.

This week, demolition work started on some 3,000 homes in a suburban village of Ashgabat called Shor, the latest dwellings to fall victim to Berdymukhammedov's efforts to create his white marble city.

Officials have provided no reason for the demolitions, or even admitted they are in progress. State television hasn't said a word, but residents say they were told the destruction is a result of the illegal status of their properties.

"We are told by local authorities that our houses are built illegally, on a plot of land that authorities say is designated for growing a garden, not to build houses. But an entire generation has grown up on this land [and] legality hasn't been an issue so far," one resident told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk.

Those losing their homes will not receive any form of compensation.

The process has been under way for months, but this most recent instance is one of the largest single destructions of homes to date.

Residents were given advance warning to evacuate the village by May 25. To ensure they are prepared to evacuate their homes, utilities have been shut off days ahead of the scheduled demolitions, leaving the ousted occupants without electricity or water.

The campaign has been causing misery in and around Ashgabat for months and shows no sign of abating. Homes are currently being razed in Chogany, another suburb of Ashgabat.

Ahead of the pending deadline, some residents have moved to destroy their own homes, to be able to save accessories, doors, windows, because when authorities come in with their bulldozers everything will be destroyed.

The demolitions have also created a new industry: Companies send empty trucks to residents whose dwellings are scheduled for destruction. For those not interested in carting away the disassembled pieces of their home, the truck drivers offer to remove building materials, sometimes even offering to help dismantle the structures.

The doors, windows, beams, pipes, and other pieces of the homes -- generally of better quality since they were available in the capital -- are being taken to bazaars in Mary Province to the east, where they are being sold off.

One of the strangest aspects to this beautification project is that Turkmenistan is such an isolated country that few people will ever see all these architectural "improvements."

Berdymukhammedov's main interest in this urban renewal campaign seems to be connected to Turkmenistan hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017.

The Turkmen government is spending a reported $5 billion on the "Olympic Village" for the games.

Maybe that's why the government can't afford compensation for those losing their homes.

-- Bruce Pannier with contributions by Azatlyk director Muhammad Tahir

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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