Uzbekistan: Anger at Border Homes Demolition

Relocated residents complain of inferior homes and loss of income.

Uzbekistan: Anger at Border Homes Demolition

Relocated residents complain of inferior homes and loss of income.

Friday, 15 June, 2007
Uzbeks who live along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border area are angry at a scheme by the local authorities to demolish their homes and relocate them to a new site some distance away.

Over 150 homes around the Dustlik, or Friendship, checkpoint in the Andijan region of Uzbekistan, which borders Kyrgyzstan, are to be destroyed on the orders of the hokimiyat, or mayor’s office.

The planned demolition is part of a wider anti-terrorism scheme to create a security zone along the border, and similar relocations are planned in other regions, including Marhamat and Madaniyat.

The Uzbek authorities are concerned about Islamic militancy, particularly in the eastern Fergana Valley next to Kyrgyzstan, and want to monitor closely the flow of traffic between the countries.

The site of the demolished homes will become part of the border zone with monitoring devices to detect people trying to cross into Kyrgyzstan and a barbed-wire fence will be erected to secure the frontier.

But residents are up in arms, saying the new accommodation they are being provided lacks space and basic services and that resettlement will affect their livelihoods.

Until now, border control has been lax and traders have routinely ferried goods through houses straddling the frontier into Kyrgyzstan, where they can command a higher price for them.

Protests have now erupted at the enforced resettlement of the Dustlik residents, which began in April and will end on September 1 – Independence Day in Uzbekistan.

Those Dustlik residents not yet forced to leave are calling for the plan to be scrapped, or at least to be relocated to a house of equal size.

Some protesters have been invited to talks with the local authorities, and threatened that if they don’t comply with the resettlement, they will be accused of Islamic extremism.

Those involved in cross-border trade argue that moving is affecting their livelihoods, while others claim the replacement homes are inadequate.

An employee of the Andijan regional planning department said that every resident whose home is demolished will receive a new house with the same number of rooms.

“Each square metre of the buildings to be demolished was studied, so that identical buildings could be built in the new location,” said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous.

He added that residents also had the option of modifying their new homes if they wished to add new features, such as an open veranda, a bathroom with a steam room, or a larger cellar.

“In other words, all the wishes of the residents are taken into account in building the new houses,” he said.

A representative of the hokimiyat told IWPR that approximately 900,000,000 soms (714,535 US dollars) had been allocated for the building project, and added that if people are concerned about the lack of room in their new home, they are free to build additional rooms in the plot of land allocated to each home-owner.

But many of the residents who have already moved to their new homes say the provisions are inadequate.

A man who wished to remain anonymous told IWPR that his new house was much smaller than the old one.

“My house had five to six rooms, and a plot of land of 800 square metres, but the new house has only three rooms and 400 square metres of land. Where are the other members of my family going to live? I have grown-up sons and daughters,” he said.

Another resident says her new home is inadequate and that the planners have failed to consider centuries-old Uzbek traditions.

In Uzbekistan, the parents of the groom build a separate room in another part of the yard, in order to give the newlyweds the chance to live separately but near to the parents. When the couple become financially independent, they leave the parental home, vacating the room for the younger brother.

“In my old house, we did some additional building, because we had to put on weddings for our sons, but in the new house these needs are not taken into account at all,” she said.

The resident said that the yard is so small, that it’s not even possible for the family to extend the house themselves.

“We’ve just been put into a cage,” she complained.

According to the residents, when the new houses were planned they didn’t take into account the size of the families nor the age of the children.

According to eastern tradition, teenage boys and girls cannot live in the same room, or even in rooms which are close to each other.

“Imagine what it’s like for parents to be in a room which is right next to their children’s rooms, it’s just outrageous!” said an elderly man.

But while builders understand people’s anger, they are powerless to do anything.

“There is a severe lack of building materials, because the state [hokimiyat] allotted a sum for each house which is just enough to build a one-room house without a roof,” said the head engineer of a construction company contracted to build some of the new homes.

He said that the local authorities worked out the budget based on prices for residential property established by the state, which are lower than real prices, and so the construction companies make a loss from the building work.

“To help the people, we use the materials we get from the demolished houses, but not all of them are suitable for repeated use, and so we have to build homes with a minimum amount of rooms,” he said.

One builder, who gave his name as Ahmadjon, agrees that the recycled materials are inadequate.

“The problem is that several of the houses which are to be demolished are quite old and dilapidated. When these houses are demolished, they will not be able to provide building materials which are suitable for use, and buying new materials is very expensive,” he said.

The material is often not suitable as many of the houses were built according to outdated local customs, when dried clay was used instead of bricks, he said.

While it’s possible to reuse the clay bricks, he went on, each one has to be dried out in the sun, and won’t give stability and durability to the new house.

Residents are also worried about a lack of facilities at the new site, including water and gas supplies, and also complain that moving away from the border will affect their income.

“My house was in such a location that half of it was in Uzbekistan and the other half in Kyrgyzstan, which helped me earn money by letting shuttle-traders through my house. Now I won’t be able to do this, and I don’t know how my family will get by,” said one local resident.

“There are a lot of people who are unhappy about being moved to a new area, because some residents who are being resettled lived well, but now they won’t be able to do this, and they are very worried,” said another builder who gave his name as Makhmujon.

The hokimiyat representative pointed out that while those who have been relocated are complaining of loss of income from the move, some were engaged in work that they shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.

“It should be noted that not all the work which they did in their old houses was quite legal - they helped people to smuggle goods through their houses, and earned good money from doing so, ” he said, adding that the authorities were under no obligation to find them work.
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