Mansur Tuymaev, a deputy district head in southern Uzbekistan’s Qashqadaryo Province, walked into the village of Yakkabog on July 20 to oversee the demolition of buildings.
A few minutes later Tuymaev was doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Several days after that, more than 1,000 people demanding compensation for their demolished homes blocked a road in Uzbekistan’s Khorezm Province to fend off attempts by police and soldiers to disperse them.
After those displays, Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov announced on July 27 that the protesters will receive their compensation. He also ordered that in the future, all homeowners and merchants must be compensated before their homes and businesses are demolished by the state.
Urban and village renewal in Central Asia is a topic worthy of a dissertation.
The bottom line for people in Central Asia’s urban areas is that building a new state requires constructing new buildings and infrastructure so that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan can show their own people -- and the world -- that they, too, are modern states.
And in order to build something new, something old must go.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, in Central Asia’s case, the beholder is the state, quite often the president himself.
State commissions create plans for sprucing up, modernizing, and rebuilding neighborhoods, and those plans are implemented. The people living and working in such areas have no say in the matter.
Even worse, the people whose buildings have been demolished rarely receive fair compensation and, in some cases, get nothing at all.
Tuymaev, the deputy district chief, was doing what local officials throughout Central Asia have been doing for many years.
The buildings in question were slated for destruction as part of the Well-Maintained Mahalla (Обод махалла) plan for urban renewal. Tuymaev was there to stop the grumbling of villagers and keep them away from the demolition work.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, spoke with more than a dozen people who were there. They spoke under condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions if their identities were reported.
There was general agreement that Tuymaev treated Yakkabog villagers haughtily and that many people there blamed Tuymaev for building demolitions that had already been carried out.
According to witnesses, the owner of a two-story store and workshop set for demolition argued with Tuymaev.
The owner said he had just finished constructing the building and had taken out a sizeable bank loan to do so. Tuymaev was unmoved and got into a nearby bulldozer and prepared to destroy the shop owner’s building himself.
It was at that point the shop owner jumped on the bulldozer, poured gasoline on Tuymaev, and set him alight. Members of the crowd that had assembled quickly put out the flames and Tuymaev was taken to the hospital. A photo showed he had burns on his left arm.
The shop owner and his family were taken into custody. He and one of his sons were reportedly beaten.
But the head of the State Security Service, Abdusalom Azizov, later came to Yakkabog and promised that the store would not be demolished and, in fact, the state was prepared to help finish the renovations on the building.
Hundreds of kilometers to the northwest, on the evening of July 26, more than 1,000 people from Ashgabat Street in the Urganch district of Khorezm Province blocked the Urganch-Hazarasp road, once again demanding compensation for their homes that had been demolished. These people, some 400 families, were moved in early June to a tent city provided by officials and told money would come soon so the displaced families could buy or build new homes.
But some of the people who sat on the Urganch-Hazarasp road overnight told Ozodlik they had only received a portion of the promised compensation before their homes on Ashgabat Street were torn down -- and nothing after that. The tent city they inhabit is in a field along the road near the village of Chandirkiyot.
Khorezm Province is mainly desert and the tent city has no running water. Some complained local merchants had increased the prices for construction materials, such as bricks, which were selling for 30 to 50 percent higher than usual.
Some of the former residents of Ashgabat Street went to the provincial administration earlier in the day on July 26 to voice their complaints but Khorezm Governor Shukhrat Abdullaev would not see them and sent word through his assistant that he would visit the tent city in the evening.
Abdullaev did go to the tent city, but as one inhabitant told Ozodlik, “In every neighborhood there are usually some people who are always satisfied with everything.” The governor seems to have sought out such people.
The person told Ozodlik that when some others saw the governor would not meet with them, a group went and cut the ropes that secured the tent the governor was in.
“As a result, the tent collapsed on the governor and other officials,” the person said, and the governor and the other officials quickly left the area.
It was after the governor departed that many of the inhabitants of the tent city decided to sit on the road and block traffic. Police, members of the National Guard, and even the fire department arrived to try to chase the people off the road and apprehend the ringleaders, but to no avail.
Most of the crowd were old people, women, and children, and they refused to vacate the area or allow police to detain anyone. In the early afternoon of July 27, the protesters returned to the tent city, where they were encircled by police and soldiers from the National Guard.
Prime Minister Aripov arrived in the Urganch area on July 27 and reprimanded Governor Abdullaev and the provincial prosecutor. Aripov ordered that people from Ashgabat Street immediately receive all compensation due to them and that no further demolitions be carried out in the country until people had been paid for the loss of their homes and businesses.
Tuymaev was later sacked and a criminal case was opened against him.
The question is: were the actions taken against these local officials, the order to pay compensation to those whose homes were already destroyed in Khorezm, and the order for people to receive full compensation before the demolitions all part of a reform of odious government practices that Uzbekistan’s second president, Shavkat Mirziyoev, has been promising since he took office in 2016?
Or, were they simply measures to calm tensions quickly and it will be business as usual after a few months?