Hackles Raised Over Dushanbe Development

New hotels could bring jobs and tourists, but not everyone is convinced.

Hackles Raised Over Dushanbe Development

New hotels could bring jobs and tourists, but not everyone is convinced.

Saturday, 26 November, 2005
The construction of two luxury hotels in Dushanbe will bring hundreds of jobs to the Tajik capital, but residents who look likely to be displaced by the huge construction project are already crying foul.

Tajik president Imomali Rahmonov recently agreed a deal with Turkish developers to build a five-star hotel for 400 guests along with a second smaller facility for 180 people.

The government hopes the 40 million US dollar project, which will employ 1,000 people during the building process, will help encourage tourists to Tajikistan, where accommodation options for foreign visitors are quite limited.

The Dushanbe mayor has yet to formally announce the location for the hotels but IWPR sources said they are to be built on land in the city centre. The site is currently occupied by the Pakistani embassy, the Press House where journalists work, various residential buildings, cafes and retail outlets.

“According to the general plan, everything on this territory is to be demolished,” said an employee of the Dushanbe mayor’s office, who wished to remain anonymous. “And really, why do we need these shacks? Isn’t it better to build a hotel in the city centre which can become both a city landmark and a haven for tourists?”

Not surprisingly, many of the area’s residents see the situation rather differently. They worry that nothing has yet been said about payment for lost homes and businesses.

“If we are given compensation which covers all our expenses and satisfies our needs, we won’t be against it. Although the location of our shop is very conspicuous, we have our regular customers, so it’s a shame we’ll have to leave,” said business owner Bahrullo.

Saleswoman Irina is less optimistic and worries that employees will also suffer if the shops where they work are knocked down to make way for the new hotels.

“Even if compensation is given, our owners will receive it, not us. We will simply join the ranks of the unemployed,” she said.

Some in the city centre are urgently trying to sell their properties at knockdown prices. Most, however, are having little success.

“Two years ago I bought an apartment for 25,000 dollars in a building next to the Pakistani embassy, and I did modern renovations costing another 8,000 dollars,” said Dushanbe resident Gulchehra. “I would sell it now for that amount, but I can’t find any buyers - everyone already knows these buildings are to be demolished. I’m ruined. Who’s going to reimburse me for all this money?”.

At the Press House, meanwhile, they’re already preparing to go. A source there told IWPR that talks on the demolition of the building have been ongoing for several months and compensation has already been offered.

“Our superiors at the culture ministry warned us to find another place. We have chosen it,” the source said, adding he is in favour of flattening old building which “really is no good”.

That view is supported by Dushanbe’s head architect, Bahrom Izzatov, who said the buildings currently occupying the site are dilapidated and do not meet modern standards. Izzatov said they need to be pulled down, whatever replaces them.

“They really will be demolished, as they do not match the requirements of the times. But it is not yet certain what will be built in their place,” Izzatov told IWPR.

He said compensation for residents and shop owners would have to come from whichever buyer ends up building on the land.

The mayor’s press secretary, Shavkat Saidov, insisted in an interview with IWPR that no conclusion has yet been reached on where the new hotels will go. “There is no decision by the Dushanbe mayor to construct a five-star hotel in the capital in the location that you mention,” said Saidov.

Wherever they end up, many Dushanbe residents feel the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Lena, who shops regularly in the area, said she would like to see something more useful for the local population. “Schools would be better than hotels, to solve the problem of the lack of places for students,” she said. “My son studies in a class of 40.”

Economist Bonu Haidarova shares a similar opinion. “Why build so many hotels when the factories here aren’t running? That’s what they should be building - and give people jobs. All our men are in Russia, and these Turks will bring in their own builders,” she said.

Elderly Dushanbe resident Ibod Mahmadov agrees the Tajik government should pay more attention to its own citizens than trying to lure in foreign visitors.

“We need to think more about the prosperity of the people than attracting tourists to the country,” he said. “We already have a lot of hotels.”

Not all, however, oppose changes to Dushanbe’s skyline. Many approve of a recent modernisation campaign in the centre that has seen old Soviet-era buildings torn down and replaced.

The manager of one new hotel, Bahodur, says new buildings are essential if Tajikistan is to attract international travellers, “Foreign guests often ask whether there are five-star hotels in Dushanbe, and we do not have any. There should be at least one five-star hotel. Many tourists come to us now, and in the future the interest will grow even more.”

Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, supports the improvements to Tajikistan’s infrastructure but he questions the focus on Dushanbe, saying the rest of the country is being left out.

“Other regions of Tajikistan also need the development of essential infrastructure, for example in the southeast, in the north or in the south of the country. Mountainous regions are much more attractive for tourists than just the capital,” Hakimov told IWPR.

An employee of an international organisation in the business development sector agrees with Hakimov.

“We often hold seminars and training sessions in the regions of Tajikistan, but there are absolutely no living conditions there for visitors, no hotels or good apartments. Everything is concentrated in the capital alone,” he said.
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