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Tajikistan: 20 Arrested After Protesting Demolition Of Homes

These women were among some 20 taken away by police after protesting against the demolition of their homes (RFE/RL) Police in Tajikistan have arrested some 20 women in central Dushanbe who had gathered to protest the imminent demolition of their homes.

The demolitions are part of a plan to destroy dozens of old houses in the city to make way for modern buildings under a general plan to renovate and reconstruct the Tajik capital. The plan affects hundreds of residents, many of whom are being evicted without compensation.

The women were among some 40 demonstrators -- residents of the capital's Somoni district -- who gathered in front of President Emomali Rahmon's office on April 15. Eyewitnesses say they were struck by police and forced into a bus to be taken to jail.

The women say they were freed a few hours later after pledging to never take part in such demonstrations again. The demonstrations followed another protest by Somoni district residents who rallied on April 14 outside the local authorities' administration building.

The protesters live in about 30 houses that were built around the city's cement factory. City authorities have decided to demolish all of the houses, accusing the residents of building the houses without official permission.

Improvement Plan From 1980s

Hundreds of private houses would be affected by the Dushanbe authorities' general plan for reconstruction and renovation of the capital that was launched about three years ago.

The Dushanbe Mayoral Office says the reconstruction plan was initially designed in the 1980s but was postponed due to a lack of money. It aims to build modern buildings -- offices and residential apartments -- to replace private homes that were built in a mix of shapes and styles in many parts of the city.

The number of residents who would lose their homes under the reconstruction plan was not disclosed by the officials. The mayor's office insists the reconstruction plans only involve private homes that were built without official permission from city authorities.

One of the homes in Dushanbe slated for demolition (RFE/RL)

The residents, however, complain that they are virtually being thrown out of their homes without any financial compensation.

Jamollidin Sirojov, a Dushanbe resident, took part in the demonstration in Dushanbe's Somoni district. Sirojov said his house was bulldozed two years ago, and he and his family have rented apartments since then. Sirojov said he was not offered any compensation by the local government.

"My house was destroyed," he said. "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."

The mayor's office claims that it offers each family that loses a home 900 square meters of space in Dushanbe's eastern suburbs on which to build a new house. However, it doesn't provide the materials or the money to construct a new home.

Some families who lost their homes have reportedly been offered flats in the city's vast supply of Soviet-style apartment blocks, which are generally in poor condition.

Compensation Limited

Compensation for a lost home is available, but it is limited only to the poorest people. Only families who live below the official poverty line -- that is, those whose monthly income does not exceed the minimum salary of some $6 -- are entitled to get financial compensation for losing their homes. Under such a precondition, hardly anyone has been able to claim financial reimbursement from the government.

Guliston Temurova lives in Dushanbe's Koohdoman area, where all private houses are slated to be bulldozed. Temurova complains that water and electricity were cut off in the area two years ago. "Our authorities should be ashamed that they have left our children to live in such places with no water and electricity, and people face so much cruelty and pressure," she says.

There have been a number of protests by residents and extensive media coverage since the reconstruction project was launched in 2005. However, the authorities appear determined to go ahead with the reconstruction plan "to give the city a better look" and to offer the capital's residents "modern and affordable apartments."

Many Dushanbe residents say they hope the reconstruction plan will improve their city's image, although it is not clear how long it will take for city authorities to replace the destroyed buildings with new, attractive ones.

Unlike some Tajik cities -- such as Khojand or Kulob, which have thousands of years of history -- Dushanbe became a city in the 1920s when it was chosen as the place for the new Tajik capital to be built. Most of the buildings in the residential areas are aging, unattractive concrete apartment blocks that were built during the Soviet era. There are also many neighborhoods with privately built houses that are more original and varying in their looks and sizes.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.