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Some 2,000 Uzbeks Forcibly Relocated From Andijon's Historic Center

Altogether, 93 old houses are being pulled down in the neighborhood to make way for tower blocks of new apartments that will be sold to affluent Uzbeks.
Altogether, 93 old houses are being pulled down in the neighborhood to make way for tower blocks of new apartments that will be sold to affluent Uzbeks.

Shahzoda Yunusova and her relatives own a house on state-owned land in the historic center of the Uzbek city of Andijon, where the family has lived for decades.

In line with a centuries-old Uzbek custom, the family has added a new room to their house whenever space was short and a son was married -- giving the newlywed couple a chance to live separately, but stay close to home.

But under a 2013 government decree meant to "improve living conditions in public settlements," the house they've built up over the years in Andijon's Mustaqilik neighborhood is now being demolished.

The four families living in Yunusova's expanded house -- a total of 15 relatives -- have been told they will be relocated to a smaller parcel of land with a two-room house on the outskirts of the city.

"My oldest sister is divorced and lives with me along with her two children," Yunusova said. "My oldest brother also lives there with his family and three children. I also have a family and a child, and my unmarried younger sister is with us. How are all of us going to fit into the place they are proposing as compensation for demolishing our home?"

Residents say they are not being properly compensated, or given time to challenge the plans.
Residents say they are not being properly compensated, or given time to challenge the plans.

About 2,000 Mustaqilik residents now face the same plight as Yunusova and her relatives under a recent order by Andijon's regional governor, Shukhrat Abdurahmanov.

Altogether, 93 old houses are being pulled down in the neighborhood to make way for tower blocks of new apartments that will be sold to affluent Uzbeks.

The project is a boon for the private company that began the demolition work just 12 hours after Abdurahmanov issued the order on May 8.

Private construction firms building the new apartment blocks also stand to gain handsomely from the plan. The regional government will reap benefits by selling the apartments to new private owners who will continue to pay fees for using the state-owned land.

But Yunusova and her evicted neighbors say their forced relocation will not improve their living conditions. "Even though our house is old, it was built on 600 square meters of land and it is a large, five-room house," Yunusova told RFE/RL by telephone as bulldozers and backhoes began tearing down the neighborhood.

"We have been told that instead of our 600 square meters of land, we're going to receive 200 square meters," she said, noting there was no space to expand the two-room house they've been promised. "They say it doesn't matter if you have even four families in one household. You still get just 200 square meters."

Nowhere To Go

Making matters worse for the evicted, the new homes they've been promised have often not been built yet -- nor has the infrastructure for water and natural gas in their future neighborhood, called Bogishamol.

The authorities have told Yunusova and other evicted residents that the work will take at least five more months. In the meantime, their families will have to make do living in small college dormitory rooms meant for students.

The head of Mustaqilik's neighborhood administration, Odinahon Bakirov, confirmed to RFE/RL that families in each demolished property are meant to receive a new two-room house on 200 square meters of state-owned land -- regardless of the size of the property they were evicted from.

According to Article 27 of Uzbekistan's Housing Code, families removed from private dwellings demolished under government construction plans must be provided with new houses that are equal in value. If the demolished house was worth more, the difference must be compensated.

Yunusova's neighbor, Hotamjon Tohtaev, says that's not happening in Andijon.

In addition to the smaller properties and houses being offered, Tohtaev says the land in the undeveloped Bogishamol neighborhood is worth far less than the real estate they've been forced to leave in the city center.

"Our household is just next to the new market, Yungi Bazaar," Tohtaev said as workers began tearing down his home. "Every meter of this place is worth its weight in gold."

"If they provide us with beautiful housing in the city center, we'll be more than happy to leave our old houses," Tohtaev said. "But they are just throwing us out in the street as if we are dogs."

Other evicted residents complain they were given only 12 hours' notice to gather their belongings and leave -- and that police used force against those who tried to resist eviction.

Silenced By Fear

Governor Abdurahmonov declined to comment when asked by RFE/RL about the construction project, the evictions, and the complaints.

An Andijon municipal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that families that were "officially registered at the affected addresses" were being "temporarily placed in very good housing."

"There is no doubt that everybody is happy," the city administrator said, noting that the authorities had not received any formal complaints from evicted residents.

People carry away dead bodies after the Andijon crackdown in May 2005.
People carry away dead bodies after the Andijon crackdown in May 2005.

But human rights activists say the lack of officially registered complaints shows that Andijon residents are "silenced by fear."

Andijon was the scene of a bloody government crackdown against unrest in 2005 when Interior Ministry and National Security Service (SNB) troops opened fire on a crowd of protesters.

The government, claiming the operation focused on "terrorists," put the official death toll at 187.

Rights groups say at least 700 were killed and allege many victims were buried in mass graves in the Bogishamol neighborhood -- the same neighborhood where evicted Mustaqilik residents are being relocated.

One former SNB officer who defected to Britain told RFE/RL that more than 1,500 people were killed indiscriminately in the Andijon crackdown upon direct orders from President Islam Karimov.

Today, residents who talk about the crackdown find themselves in trouble with police and are often jailed.

Joshua Franco, a human rights researcher, says Uzbek authorities have "designed a system where surveillance and the expectation of surveillance is not the exception, but the norm."

"It's an environment of constant fear for Uzbekistani people," Franco says, noting that critics of the government have been hunted down as far away as Germany and Sweden.

All evicted Andijon residents who spoke to RFE/RL said they were angry at regional and local officials rather than Karimov's successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

"We are not against presidential decisions," Tohtaev told RFE/RL. "OK, let them demolish our houses if it is necessary. Just give us fair compensation as the law requires."

But the authority behind the regional governor's demolition order is the 2013 government decree on "improving living conditions" that was signed by then-Prime Minister Mirziyoev as part of late President Karimov's development plan for Uzbekistan.

Implementation of the plan has continued since Karimov died in 2016 and Mirziyoev replaced him as president.

Shavkat Mirziyoev was involved with the development plan from the beginning.
Shavkat Mirziyoev was involved with the development plan from the beginning.

Pattern Of Complaints

Over the years, residents and shopkeepers at prime-real-estate locations have been evicted in towns and cities across Uzbekistan to make way for government-funded construction projects.

A pattern of complaints has emerged that is echoed by the recently evicted residents of Andijon.

Eviction orders are issued by regional governors or municipal authorities who are following the directives of the central government in Tashkent.

This was the case for hundreds of residents of the UNESCO-protected city of Shahrisabz in 2014, hundreds of families in Tashkent and Jizzakh in 2016, and about 40 families in Termez in 2017.

Demolition workers arrive and homeowners are evicted before they have adequate time to pack their belongings or organize a legal challenge against the order.

And residents are often evicted before replacement housing has been constructed -- forcing them to live for months, or even years, in temporary accommodation.

When they finally arrive at their new house, the property is substantially smaller than the home they were forced to leave. The new property is also worth far less, and the water and gas infrastructure often does not exist.

Other cases illustrate the potential for corruption when demolition or construction work is carried out by the relatives or business cronies of the officials writing the eviction orders.

Shop owners in Ferghana who staged public protests over being evicted in 2014 told RFE/RL that the city's mayor threatened to shoot them in the head unless they halted their demonstrations.

However, Andijon residents managed in 2015 and 2016 to stop the planned demolition of a 700-year-old minaret -- which was to be replaced by a water fountain -- by writing appeals directly to then-Prime Minister Mirziyoev.

In February 2017, more than 500 vendor stalls at a newly built shopping complex in the city of Bukhara were torn down as part of a government project that saw a new trade center built in its place by the brother of Bukhara's mayor, Karim Kamolov.

Interviewed by RFE/RL, Kamolov refused to comment on the potential conflict of interest over his brother's role as a key construction contractor. He said the vendors would be compensated for the loss of their shops with an offer to buy new stalls at a reduced price.

But vendors say they are still waiting to be fully compensated for the loss of their market stalls.

Written by Ron Synovitz with reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov

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