Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Border Town Residents Evicted

Residents say they are losing their homes to a scheme to create a security zone separating Uzbek territory from Kyrgyzstan.
By IWPR staff
The Uzbek authorities are tearing a swathe through the eastern town of Qorasuv to create a security zone on the border with Kyrgyzstan, and residents say they are not being offered adequate compensation.

The border runs along the river Shahrikhansay, which cuts straight through the town. The opposite bank is Kyrgyzstan, and the town there is known as Karasuu. The house clearance programme is designed to leave an uninhabited zone where Uzbek border guards will have a clear view of anyone trying to cross illegally.

Qorasuv/Karasuu is an important crossing point because the Kyrgyz part of town is home to Central Asia’s largest wholesale market, where tens of thousands of people from the region, and many from western China, come to trade clothes and household items.

The market has provided jobs in both parts of town, but its presence has also created problems for residents over the years. In 2003, the Uzbek government – on a drive to restrict imports and stop money flowing out of the country to buy them – sealed the border and demolished part of the road bridge spanning the river.

In May 2005, following the violent quelling of a demonstration in nearby city of Andijan, Qorasuv residents took matters into their own hands and reopened the bridge. Although police crushed the revolt and imposed stringent security at the crossing.

There are two streets where homes are subject to demolition: Dustlik Street, which is being widened to 60 metres to improve access to the road bridge; and Shahrikhansay Street parallel to the river, where a 50-metre frontier strip is to be cleared.

Both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments are concerned about Islamic militancy, and observers say the measures are an attempt to monitor the flow of people more carefully.

“The Uzbek authorities are insuring themselves against any of their enemies crossing the border, from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to other religious groups,” said a human rights activist did not want to be named. “Qorasuv is the most dangerous zone, because an extremist can bribe border guards here and enter Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. The Karasuu market has always been a place of refuge not just for smugglers, but for anyone who crossing the border without the proper documents.”

Residents on the Uzbek side who depend on cross-border trade for their living fear that the measures could be a first step to sealing the frontier again.

Nor are they happy with the replacement homes they have been offered as compensation. Each household will get a two-room house on a small plot of land in. The authorities promised that the all-new housing development in Qorasuv will have every amenity, but the problem is that evictions have begun before all 175 homes have been built.

“A lot of people are unhappy about this, mainly because they started demolishing the old houses before construction of the new ones was completed.” said Qorasuv resident Rahim Ahmedov. “Why do they need to do it in such a hurry?”

Many say the housing the town authorities are offering is nothing like the value of the homes they have lost. One man complained that he was having to swap a 14-room home on Shahrikhansay Street for a miserly two rooms.

Another man complained about the compensation being offered. “They’re saying here’s 3.5 million sums [about 3,250 US dollars], take this 0.6 hectare plot of land and build a house yourself,” he said. “A few women got angry about this - and ended up in jail for 15 days, with 50,000 som fines.”

“If the state gave us housing worth the same as our homes, or fully covered the amount we spent on construction, there wouldn’t be so much anger,” said a woman who works in a local shop. “We saved up for so many years and built such beautiful houses. And now we have to start from scratch again. Isn’t that a shame?”

(The names of interviewees have been changed or omitted out of concern for their security.)

More IWPR's Global Voices