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Uzbeks Angry After Homes Demolished To Build Mirziyoev's Presidential Palace, Highway

Many houses were razed to the ground to make way for the new palatial palace in Tashkent's Qibray district.

TASHKENT -- When Tashkent's sumptuous Oqsaroy (White Palace) was converted into a museum devoted to autocratic Uzbek President Islam Karimov after his death in 2016, successor Shavkhat Mirziyoev needed a fresh new base from which to rule Central Asia's most-populous country.

A palatial mansion was quickly built on a plot of land next to the Chirchik River in the small village of Baytqorqon, outside of the Uzbek capital.

Unfortunately, the land around the new presidential palace was already dotted with dozens of houses inhabited by hundreds of people.

Now many of those unfortunate Uzbeks are angry after their homes were razed and they were displaced to make way for Mirziyoev's new residence and a "presidential highway" leading to it.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)

Many of those forced from their houses by the construction told RFE/RL that they were still waiting for the government's promise of compensation or a new home.

"My house was demolished last week, but no other housing was provided," a 56-year-old housewife, who requested anonymity, told RFE/RL. "We are already cold. Where am I going to live with all my things now?"

"We have neither money nor a new house! Help us," a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Baytqorqon, asking to remain anonymous, wrote to RFE/RL. The man said Miragzam Mirqosimov, the governor of Tashkent's Qibray district, had promised the affected families that they'd be given new homes. But he said district officials later told him, "We are unable to provide you with a new house now, stay with your relatives for the time being."

Uzbek officials have told those who have lost their homes to either shelter themselves or get rooms in a local health facility.

'Brazenly Deceived'

"Residents of demolished houses are temporarily placed in a sanatorium or the homes of their loved ones," an official in the Qibray district told RFE/RL, adding, "They will receive a new home or monetary compensation by the end of the year."

One man said he and another family displaced by Mirziyoev's project were moved to new houses near the village of Yangibozor. But they weren't exactly free.

"Two families' houses in our neighborhood were razed as they turned out to be in the way of the [new president's] residence," he told RFE/RL. A former governor of Qibray, he said, promised to provide new houses and "asked me to sign a couple of documents, which I did."

"But today we learned that those papers were mortgage agreements," the man said. "The house 'given' to us turned out to be...only a mortgage loan. The authorities have brazenly deceived us."

An official from the Qibray district denied that allegation, saying the mortgage loan covered the difference between the promised compensation and the cost of the new house, which he said was more valuable.

"The amount [of the mortgage loan] is quite small," he said.

Many of those forced from their houses by the construction say they have still not been properly compensated for the loss of their homes.
Many of those forced from their houses by the construction say they have still not been properly compensated for the loss of their homes.

To complicate matters, some of the razed homes included large extended families living together, and the state is in some cases providing three-or four-room apartments as compensation.

"Some residents of demolished homes are taking advantage of the moment and are trying to snatch more money from the state," the Qibray government official told RFE/RL, suggesting that people were lying about the number of residents who had been living in a demolished house.

"In one old house they managed to register 10 of their relatives, [and] their married daughters are also registered in their father's house," said the official. "The owners of such houses are asking us to give each of the people registered in their house an apartment."

The main part of Mirziyoev's new residence was officially opened on July 24, 2017 -- the president's birthday -- with a fireworks show and Russian entertainers.

Blue Marble, Swarovski Crystals

An engineer who worked on the residence described some of its opulence to an RFE/RL reporter.

"During the interior decoration of the residence, blue marble was brought from Argentina, one square meter of which costs $500, as well as Swarovski crystals," he said. "The building was decorated according to the latest design trends."

The presidential compound covers several hectares of land and is encircled by a four-meter-high protective wall.

A birdseye view of President Shavkat Mirziyoev's new palatial residence (marked in red).
A birdseye view of President Shavkat Mirziyoev's new palatial residence (marked in red).

But the destruction of villagers' houses is not over yet, as construction continues to widen the road between central Tashkent and the new presidential compound.

An activist in Qibray told RFE/RL that around 200 families in the villages of Argin, Qibray, and Baytqorqon have been told their homes will be razed in the next two months to clear space for the "presidential highway."

The long-serving, palace-loving Karimov also had a suburban mansion, Kuksaroy (Green Palace), and a country residence at Durmen in addition to his main Oqsaroy in central Tashkent.

Uzbek villagers are likely hoping Mirziyoev is satisfied with his new palace and doesn't try to emulate his predecessor by building other mansions.

Written by Pete Baumgartner in Prague based on reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in Tashkent.