An estimated 50,000 or more people have been forcibly evicted from their homes as part of a push to “beautify” the capital of Turkmenistan ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, Amnesty International revealed today as it published satellite images showing the extent of the devastation.
Amnesty International’s analysis of satellite images shows that 5,000 houses, each home to an average of five people, were destroyed in the Choganly neighbourhood near Ashgabat between March 2014 and April 2015. The organization has since learned that the entire neighbourhood – comprising more than 10,000 houses – was entirely razed to the ground by September and that fresh demolitions are continuing in other areas of the capital rendering many families homeless.
“Instead of using the Games as an opportunity to clean up Turkmenistan’s human rights record, local authorities there have only succeeded in worsening living conditions for residents, many of whom had moved to Ashgabat from the countryside in search of work or had already been evicted elsewhere,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Programme Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“The ruthless way in which they have been evicted is in clear violation of international human rights standards. Turkmenistan’s government must immediately put an end to forced evictions and illegal demolitions, compensate the victims and give them access to adequate alternative housing urgently. They are especially vulnerable as winter approaches.”
Amnesty International analyzed satellite images that provide a rare glimpse into one of the world’s most darkly shrouded societies. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, like his autocratic predecessor, is at the helm of a government that maintains a stranglehold of fear on the population. Surveillance is rife and dissent is rare in Turkmenistan, where the few voices that do dare to speak up risk their own safety and that of their relatives.
Amnesty International and other human rights monitors are barred from the country. However, researchers corroborated details of the evictions depicted in the satellite imagery with testimony from phone interviews and other confidential sources. Former Choganly residents described how authorities, including the police, “burst in like tanks” and forcibly evicted dwellers.
“Now people go there to cry,” said one former Choganly resident, who described how their housing permits were brutally disregarded and some return to grieve on bulldozed plots where their homes once stood. She described to Amnesty International the scene of chaos her family faced when authorities charged into their house forcibly evicting the family, including distraught children.
President Berdymukhamedov has personally overseen the development projects in a bid to modernize Ashgabat ahead of the Games, organized by the Olympic Council of Asia. Following the demolitions in Choganly and the district of Shor, the forced evictions have continued unabated, with the authorities moving on in September to destroy homes in other areas of Ashgabat.
President Berdymukhamedov’s regime is bolstered by the country’s large oil and gas reserves, and the Games are regarded as an opportunity to improve its international standing. Amnesty International is calling on foreign governments and businesses to ensure that neither political nor economic cooperation with Turkmenistan contribute to human rights violations in general.
“Sadly, intimidation and repression is a daily fact of life in Turkmenistan. The international community and businesses must do everything within their power to press President Berdymukhamedov to put an end to the human rights violations perpetrated in the country,” said Denis Krivosheev.
“Forced evictions can never be justified. Any eviction must always be a last resort and in compliance with international human rights standards. This includes protecting the right to housing, ensuring compliance with appropriate legal and procedural safeguards and guaranteeing the right to oppose such evictions without fear and harassment.”