Orange” Protest in Tashkent

Against all odds, a group of people who lost their homes to border changes have won compensation from the Uzbek government.

Orange” Protest in Tashkent

Against all odds, a group of people who lost their homes to border changes have won compensation from the Uzbek government.

Protesters outside Tashkent regional administration offices.
Deputy governor of Taskent region, Abduhamid Yuldashev, talks to demonstrators.
Photos by Kudrat Babajanov.

Uzbek citizens whose homes were bulldozed to make way for changes to the border with neighbouring Kazakstan have scored an unlikely victory over Tashkent, forcing the government to pay compensation.

Holding bright orange posters and flags, the group of 50 people from the Kibrai district on the Uzbek-Kazak border demanded payment for their demolished properties at a February 1 protest in the centre of Tashkent.

The appearance of demonstrators on the streets of the capital, a scene reminiscent of the recent popular protests in Ukraine where protestors chose orange as their theme colour, appears to have shocked the government into action. Sixteen were promised compensation by February 11.

The trouble started late last year when the Uzbek government decided to knock down villages near the Kazak border to widen the no-man’s-land between the two countries. The move was part of an ongoing process of demarcating and formalising the border which has displaced people on both sides.

More than 1,000 houses in villages including Mineralnye Vody, Maisky, Kushkundy, Zvezdochka and Nadezhda were affected by the latest demolitions, but residents were told at a meeting December 22 they would receive no compensation.

In early January, the bulldozers moved in. Owners of the houses watched with tears in their eyes as their gardens were cleared and their properties knocked down.

Many did not even know the demolition was coming, and returned home to heaps of rubble and tree stumps. All their furniture and the left-over building materials were removed by the local authorities.

Too make matters worse, shortly afterwards looting began as residents of neighbouring villages came at night to steal what had not been taken away.

In one village consisting of “dachas” – summer houses that in Soviet times belonged to workers at the Tashkent tractor factory – only four out of 42 houses are left standing.

One of them belongs to 72-year-old pensioner Piotr Saikov, who said the dacha he lives in is his only home. He cannot move into his son’s apartment in Tashkent, where five people are already crowded into two rooms.

“I said that I would not allow my house to be knocked down. I said that I would attack anyone who approached the house with an axe, and would blow myself up with that gas cylinder there,” said Saikov.

Like Saikov, some who lived in the demolished villages count the dachas as their only residence.

Many are families of ethnic Kazaks, who recently began buying property in the area so as to be closer to Kazakstan.

Sapar Bisebaev, 45, his wife and children moved into their brick house two years ago. Three weeks ago a bulldozer arrived at the property and began knocking down the buildings and destroying the roof.

“This is barbaric. When we protested we were simply told to shut up and not to do anything if we didn’t want any problems,” said Bisebaev, who along with his family has been forced to move in with his brother.

Human rights activist Rahmatullo Alibaev said the demolitions violated both the law and Uzbekistan’s constitution, which states “everyone has the right to inviolability of their home”.

Eight articles of the housing code have also been broken since forced confiscation of housing and eviction is allowed only by a court decision. “The administrations of the Kibrai district and Tashkent region have no such decision,” said Alibaev.

The country’s housing code does allow for demolition of houses where the state requires it, but new accommodation must be provided or compensation paid.

Atanazar Arifov of the opposition party Erk said the Kibrai residents had little choice but to take to the streets in protest.

The leader of the opposition group Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Farmers), Nigora Khidoyatova, agreed the only way that people in Uzbekistan can ensure their rights are protected is by pressuring the authorities through demonstrations.

In the case of Kibrai, the arrival of orange-clad demonstrators spurred the government into action. After meeting residents, it dispatched a team to the region to determine the value of the demolished homes.

When asked how houses that have already been knocked down would be valued, the deputy head of Tashkent region Abduhamid Yuldashev said they would take people at their word.

As for home-owners who did not come to the protest, Yuldashev said their problems had not yet been discussed.

The victory won by the dispossessed home-owners is a rare example of citizen power in Uzbekistan, but it is not the first. Mass demonstrations by market traders in the Fergana valley last autumn forced the government to shelve plans to impose new import regulations.

The authorities claimed the law was needed to counter smuggling, but the thousands of people who took to the streets at the beginning of November said it would put them out of business. In the city of Kokand, an angry crowd beat up tax inspectors and set fire to police cars.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR country director in Uzbekistan.

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