Kazakstan: Anger Over Astana Compensation

Authorities deny undervaluing the property they confiscate to make way for new construction in the capital.

Kazakstan: Anger Over Astana Compensation

Authorities deny undervaluing the property they confiscate to make way for new construction in the capital.

Sunday, 20 November, 2005

The first that the Biryukov family knew about the impending demolition of their Astana house was when they were woken up in the middle of the night of April 28 and forcibly evicted. Court hearings had been held and a decision passed for their eviction – but the family claim that nobody told them.

“There were more than 20 of them, and we couldn’t do anything,” said housewife Natalya Biryukova tearfully. “They broke all the furniture, grabbed us, dragged us out and pushed grandmother around. They said they had the right to do so. We spent the night on the street, too scared to go back into the house.”

At the moment the Biryukov family are still living in their as yet undemolished home, while the compensation sum offered by the authorities is being disputed at the Supreme Court of Kazakstan.

Theirs is one of many such cases being processed by courts in Kazakstan’s capital, where people are battling to receive adequate compensation for land confiscated by the state to make way for further building work. However, observers say that such lawsuits are usually doomed to failure, as the courts traditionally back decisions made by the authorities.

Such conflicts have been ongoing since the Astana became the capital of Kazakstan in 1997, replacing the traditional centre Almaty.

Large-scale construction began in Astana at the time, with enormous elite housing complexes being built for rich businessmen and officials. But not only empty areas of land were designated for development – several districts were people had been living for generations were also earmarked.

The compulsory purchase of such areas were made possible by a May 1998 law which gave Astana’s mayor the right to confiscate land for “state needs” – which included the general development plan for the capital.

According to Kazak legislation, people whose land is confiscated and have their houses demolished should either be paid compensation equal to the market price of the housing, or given equivalent housing in exchange. Neither the compensation nor the accommodation offered should result in a fall in their living conditions.

However, few of those affected have agreed with the sums offered, as they bear little relation to the market value of their housing.

This has been a particular problem in the central Astana district of Slobodka, which mostly consists of one-storey buildings. The authorities have offered homeowners in this area between 320 and 620 US dollars per square metre in compensation for their property – but the market value is more than double that. If they accept it, families who were used to living in the city centre will only be able to afford property right on the outskirts of Astana.

The prices offered for land were even lower – as little as nine to 18 dollars per square metre. Residents were especially angered by the fact that construction companies and other investors were then playing enormous amounts – sometimes ten times the compensation price – to the state at auction.

“We have been robbed of about half a billion dollars,” said Slobodka resident Anton Fabry. “The land is our wealth, and it is valued at from 300 to 600 dollars per square metre. Why should we give it to some investor? We are getting paid pennies for it.”

Astana mayor Umirzak Shukeev categorically denies that the people of Slobodka are being ripped off by the state. During a recent visit to the district, he said that “quite decent housing” can be bought in Almaty for 40,000 dollars. And when people got angry, he even offered his own services, saying, “Let me find an apartment for you if you can’t do it yourself.”

The authorities have made some concessions to the people of Slobodka following a protest meeting in May, for example promising to raise the amount of compensation offered, but this has not yet happened.

Slobodka resident Raisa Taranenko told IWPR that she has been offered 29,000 dollars for her house, which is home to five people, all of whom have their own room. If they move to an apartment, the most they will be able to buy with the compensation is a one-room apartment in a district remote from the centre.

Those who refuse to accept the sum offered by the state are taken to court by the authorities, who seek an eviction order. Their position is complicated by the fact that many lawyers do not wish to take on cases relating to the demolition of housing.

The head of one Astana lawyers’ association, who wished to remain anonymous, told IWPR, “Almost all the cases involving housing demolition will certainly lose, even though there are clear violations of the law.

“Since the interests of the Astana mayor, rather than observance of the law, are given priority when these cases are examined in court, it is almost impossible to win them, so lawyers usually turn such cases down.”

Poor communication adds to the trauma, with final notification of an impending demolition often sent out at the same time as a court decision confirming that a property is in an area designated for redevelopment.

In mid-April, Slobodka resident Valentina Chiklimova received papers from the Sary-Arkin district court ordering her eviction and setting a price for her home. The ruling stated that the occupier, Aleksandr Chiklimov, had been “properly informed three times” but had not come to court. Chiklimov had a reasonable excuse - he died in January 2005.

His widow claims that she did not receive a single summons, and sent a copy of her husband’s death certificate to the housing department. In the meantime, she claims that the authorities have threatened to evict her by force several times.

Mayor Shukeev denied that the rights of citizens were being violated by the compulsory purchase process, claiming in turn that “third party forces” such as “private companies, lawyers and valuers” were complicating the situation by competing with each other to capture the market.

His deputy, Sabilya Mustafina, accused the people of Astana of suffering from “domestic egoism” and failing to understand the importance of the plans for the capital’s development.

Alim Bekenov is the pseudonym of an IWPR correspondent in Astana

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