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Kyrgyz Writer's Historical Cottage Under Threat In Russia

Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov spent 20 years at this cottage in Peredelkino.
Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov spent 20 years at this cottage in Peredelkino.
MOSCOW -- Chingiz Aitmatov's cottage in Peredelkino has changed little since the late Kyrgyz writer moved there in the late 1980s.

The pretty wooden villa, shaded by pines, maples, and silver birch trees, remains one of the gems of Peredelkino -- a cottage complex established by Josef Stalin in the 1930s as a literary retreat for the Soviet Union's top authors.

Aitmatov's relatives, however, say the historical building is under threat. The family is facing eviction and fears the cottage will be leveled to make way for one of the modern luxury villas that have mushroomed in Peredelkino since the Soviet collapse.

"I think the goal is to raze it and sell [the land]," Aitmatov's daughter-in-law, Gyuzel Aitmatova, says. "Chingiz Aitmatov was an eminent figure known worldwide; they were just waiting for memories of him to fade a little before making their move."

Aitmatov died in 2008 after having spent 20 years in Peredelkino.

The cottage and the plot on which it sits are currently owned by the International Literary Fund, a nongovernmental body that was appointed as Peredelkino's proprietor following the Soviet collapse.

The fund insists it has the legal right to reclaim the villa and claims Aitmatov agreed that his relatives would return the property after his death.

"The leadership of the International Literary Fund filed several court petitions to obtain the eviction of the relatives who, parasiting off the name of their family member, continue to live illegally in Peredelkino," fund head Ivan Pereverzin says. "One of these petitions was an eviction lawsuit concerning Chingiz Aitmatov, which we won."

But Aitmatova says the court ruling clearing the eviction was handed down without the family's knowledge. She also contests the fund's inherited ownership of the Soviet-era cottage complex.

It's All About Location

Moscow's rapid expansion has sent property prices soaring in Peredelkino, and a number of locals suspect the fund's leaders of colluding with corrupt officials to sell the cottages for personal gain.

A meadow close to the cottage once inhabited by Boris Pasternak has already been fenced up and turned into an elite villa settlement.

The fund's attempt to take possession of the Aitmatov villa is now fueling fears of an all-out property grab in Peredelkino.

The Aitmatov family, which has been renting the villa from the fund since 1991, has offered to vacate the villa on the condition that it be turned into a museum dedicated to the writer.

Although the fund has agreed to discuss the project in coming weeks, the Aitmatovs say they have already warded off several eviction attempts by fund representatives and crowbar-wielding bailiffs.

"When they came the first time, the bailiffs were quite aggressive -- they displayed bits of documents allegedly ordering the eviction," Gyuzel Aitmatova says. "We were told, 'We will now collect your belongings and take them away, and then you will run after us and implore us to give them back to you.'"

PHOTO GALLERY: A portrait of writer Chingiz Aitmatov

Heritage Site?

The Public Chamber, a consultative body of academics and public figures created under President Vladimir Putin, has since stepped into the dispute after the Aitmatovs asked for help.

The chamber supports the idea of creating an Aitmatov museum and has sought to broker an agreement with the International Literary Fund.

But Public Chamber member Konstantin Mikhailov, who witnessed the latest eviction attempt on September 17, says fund representatives have turned a deaf ear to the proposal.

"On behalf of the Public Chamber, we asked them not to rush," Mikhailov says. "They left after our conversation [and] we invited them to the commission's session, which took place the next day, to begin a civilized dialogue. But none of them deigned to come."

The Public Chamber is now seeking to classify the cottage as a historical heritage site to shield it from destruction.

Several cottages have already been turned into museums dedicated to the cultural luminaries who once lived there -- Boris Pasternak, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, singer Bulat Okudzhava, and children's poet Korney Chukovsky.
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    Natalya Dzhanpoladova

    Natalya Dzhanpoladova is a journalist for RFE/RL Russian's Service focusing on human rights themes. She has co-hosted and co-edited the podcast You Have The Right since 2020, and she has been an editor on the TV program of the same name since 2017.  Dzhanpoladova joined RFE/RL in 2011, working mainly as a court and field reporter, providing coverage both for radio and TV. 

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues.

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