Controversial regeneration projects in Uzbekistan have cost thousands their homes – but have also sparked a burst of grassroots activism
The demolition was part of a controversial urban regeneration project that has seen at least 10,000 people evicted from their homes in Tashkent. The homes of another 30,000 people are also under threat as a result of the city’s urban renovation scheme.
It has triggered an unprecedented burst of grassroots activism in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state in central Asia that was ruled by Islam Karimov, one of the world’s most notorious dictators, until his death in 2016.
In Tashkent, which has 2.4 million inhabitants, the vast majority of the demolitions take place in the centre, where property prices are highest, leading to accusations that corrupt officials are turning people out of their homes to get rich on shady property deals. Officials often justify the demolitions by saying the land is required for “government needs” – a catch-all phrase.
Other demolitions in Tashkent appear to have been motivated by political concerns. In October, on the eve of Mirziyoyev’s first state visit to India, a demolition crew arrived unexpectedly in a residential area at 9pm and ordered people to pack their bags. It was later reported that Mirziyoyev had previously promised India that he would provide it with land for a bigger embassy in Tashkent, and officials decided to make good on the pledge ahead of his trip to New Delhi. Five months on, construction has still not begun. The remains of dozens of homes – bricks, shattered glass and broken wood – lie on what is now a wasteland, while residents have been scattered across Tashkent.
Although street protests are barred in Uzbekistan, a growing opposition to the demolitions is being organised by concerned residents, cultural heritage activists and independent journalists.
“Everyone in Tashkent is worried that their homes could be next,” said Farida Charif, who runs a popular Facebook forum that coordinates legal advice for people whose homes are at risk of a visit from a demolition crew.