Tajikistan: Wartime Property Dispute

Legacy of the civil war rears its head as former refugees come back and win back homes, evicting the people living there.

Tajikistan: Wartime Property Dispute

Legacy of the civil war rears its head as former refugees come back and win back homes, evicting the people living there.

Memories of Tajikistan’s bloody civil war have been revived by a series of property disputes as people who fled southern parts of the country return to reclaim their homes.

In one village, Sayed, in the Shaartuz district which lies close to the southern border with Afghanistan, 27 families have been evicted from homes they say they bought legally from householders fleeing the conflict in 1992.

The original owners reclaimed the houses in 2000-2002, under a restitution scheme designed as part of the 1997 peace deal, which ended the five-year conflict between the government and the guerrilla force.

The families forced to move out say that unlike other cases where homes were simply seized by the winning side at the height of the fighting, they signed legal contracts and paid the owners.

Yet a local court disregarded the proof of sale, and ruled that the returnees should get their houses back. To make things worse, the evicted families have received only token compensation.

Thirteen families have appealed to Tajikistan’s supreme court. But in a test case, judges this month turned down the case brought by Norgul Dustmadova, a single mother who was thrown out of her home in Sayed when the previous owner was granted possession.

Dustmadova has been living with various friends and family since her eviction, and the November 11 supreme court ruling has left her desperate.

“I have nowhere to live, I am ill and no one needs my daughter and me,” she said. “If I don’t get my house back, I will go to the presidential palace and set myself on fire.”

What makes these cases so politically charged is that the people who have won the right to reclaim their homes belonged to the losing side in the war.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled their villages across southern Tajikistan as the opposition was driven out in a few months of 1992. Homes were burned and looted and thousands of civilians killed as the Popular Front fought to install a government which selected a new president, Imomali Rahmonov, the man who is still in the job.

Opposition forces supporting the Islamic Rebirth Party and the Democratic Party were also responsible for killings and the destruction of homes.

But as the tide turned against the opposition, it was civilians associated with the losing side - even just by coming originally from the same eastern valleys where these political groups were strongest - fled in fear of their lives to Afghanistan or to other parts of the former Soviet Union. In Sayed alone, about 800 people left their homes and moved to Kyrgyzstan between October and December.

Despite the Rahmonov government’s subsequent attempts at inter-communal reconciliation, returning civilians faced many obstacles when they tried to reclaim their homes in the Nineties.

But a spate of court rulings in their favour in Shaartuz and other parts of southern Tajikistan suggests the returnees are able to wield more clout than before.

They say they have every right to come back. “We want to live on our own land, in the homes of our fathers,” said Safargul Kenjaeva, who won the order to evict Dustmadova from the home they both claim.

A senior official at the supreme court, Tahir Kadyrov, said that in deciding to reject Dustmadova’s appeal, “the court was guided not only by the legislation, but by the specific circumstances of the case, taking into account the interests of those who suffered the most during the civil war”.

Some Sayed residents have given up and accepted financial compensation, even though they have only been offered 300 or 400 US dollars – the original price with nothing added for a decade of inflation or the improvements they made to the properties.

“Even in a remote village a house now costs 10,000 to 15,000 US dollars,” complained villager Turdy Normuradov. “You can’t even buy a shack for this [400 dollars] amount.”

Rahmatillo Zoirov, head of the Tajik Legal Consortium, took up the Sayed villagers’ case after a cry for help from 23 of the 27 householders subject to eviction orders. He believes the courts failed to look closely enough at the specifics of the conflict in 1992, and that the sale contracts made at the time are still legally valid.

Zoirov thinks that imposing wrong decisions can have major ramifications for the still delicate political environment in Tajikistan.

“The problem in Shaartuz district is political rather than legal, and resolving it incorrectly could lead to social instability,” he warned. “This situation is characteristic of many parts of the country, not just Shaartuz.”

Valentina Kasymbekova is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

Support our journalists