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Azeri Homeowners Protest Redevelopment Plan
Protests over a housing redevelopment scheme in Baku. (Photo: Minval.az)
Residents of a neighbourhood facing redevelopment in the Azerbaijani capital Baku are protesting over the government’s offer of compensation, which they say will not be enough to rehouse them.
The single-storey houses in the Sovetskaya Street area of the capital’s Yasamal district are mostly more than 100 years old. The government wants to demolish them and replace them with roads, underground parking, and a park.
Property owners were offered 1,500 manats (1,900 US dollars) per square metre of floorspace last month by the authorities. However, the occupants said this was not enough and began to stage protests.
Namig Guliyev, who heads the residents’ organising committee, said they were demanding the right to see the official documents explaining why the houses needed to be demolished.
He said they also want compensation paid according to the actual dimensions of their houses rather than those in the title deeds –which are sometimes inaccurate – and to receive at least 3,000 manats (3,825 dollars) per square metre, the market rate.
The protests took the authorities by surprise, and won the residents a meeting with Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalibov.
The mayor promised that “the houses of those who are dissatisfied with the sum on offer will not be demolished”.
The reassurances temporarily calmed residents’ concerns, but at the end of February, the Azerbaijani finance ministry confirmed that the compensation was to remain at 1,500 manats per square metre.
“Those who agree to receive 1,500 manats per square metre can take the money and leave. That;s a final decision,” deputy prime minister Abid Sharifov told the residents’ organising committee on March 3.
The protests started up again, with dozens of residents detained and held for some hours by the police on each occasion. The organising committee said five of the protesters were jailed for between 15 and 30 days.
“We are being offered between one-third and have the real price per square metre in this area. Housing prices are now so high that we can’t buy anything for that money,” local resident Natavan Mammadova told IWPR. “We have 35 square metres, so that will get us a bit more than 50,000 manats [63,750 dollars]. You can’t buy a flat for that even in a remote part of the city, let alone in the centre.”
Mammadova said that she and her husband had looked at the prices of flats on the edge of town, but even they were too high and were still rising fast, at least partly due to the number of people the government had moved out of the centre.
Mammadova teaches Azerbaijani language and literature in a school near the Sovietskaya area, and her two children also attend a local school, meaning that she would need to commute back into the centre if the family moved away.
“If we end up on the outskirts, then both of my children as well as my husband and I will spend a lot of money and time travelling to get into town,” she said.
Nusrat Ibrahimov, general director of MBA, a consulting company, says Baku property prices have risen by more than 15 per cent in the last year. Between December 2013 and January 2104 alone, they rose by over two per cent.
Elnara Musayeva has an additional problem – her old title deeds wrongly record her house’s floor plan as just 20 square metres, when in reality it is four times that size.
“There are 11 people registered [as living] here, and we are well aware that for 30,000 manats [38,250 dollars] we can’t buy anything in Baku, or even in a village,” she told IWPR. “My children live with me, as do other relatives and my sick mother. People from the municipality said they would pay according to the area recorded on paper.”
“There are people in an even worse situation,” Musayeva continued. “Some people’s documents say they have just eight or nine square metres.”
Yalchin Imanov, a member of Azerbaijan’s College of Lawyers, said the residents of the Sovietskaya area had every right to demand decent compensation.
“Based on our laws, our constitution and international conventions and other official documents, citizens have a right not to sell houses that belong to them, and to demand any sum they want [in compensation],” he told IWPR. “You could justify this if it was a clear state necessity, but the construction of a park is not any kind of necessity at all.”
Imanov said it was common for housing floorspace to be wrongly recorded, since officials frequently did not bother to make measurements when registering a property.
“These housing cases often end up at the European Court of Human Rights,” he added.
Maharram Zeynalov is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.
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