Controversial regeneration projects in Uzbekistan have cost thousands their homes – but have also sparked an unprecedented burst of grassroots activism, The Guardian says

It was the middle of the afternoon of Tuesday when a demolition crew reportedly got to work on the three-story residential building in the center of the Uzbek capital.  Usually there would be nothing untoward about this – but eight of the flats were still occupied.

The demolition was reportedly 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, according to The Guardian.

In Tashkent, which has 2.4 million inhabitants, the vast majority of the demolitions take place in the center, 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.

The Guardian notes that the ongoing bulldozing of private properties and historical buildings is threatening President Mirziyoyev’s efforts to attract foreign investors and tourists to boost the country’s struggling economy, and to create favorable conditions for Uzbek businesses.

Authorities offer compensation or provide replacement housing for those evicted from their properties, but critics say the sums of money offered are often miserly and the new homes frequently of inferior quality, and that people are forced to stay in far-away temporary accommodation for months while their new flats are being built.  

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 reportedly 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 organized by concerned residents, cultural heritage activists and independent journalists.

Discontent has occasionally spilled out into the streets.  Scores of angry locals crowded into district administration offices in Tashkent in February over concerns that their homes were next in line for the wrecking ball as part of a property development scheme. 

The demolitions have also devastated the Uzbek capital’s historic mahallas (an urban division in Uzbek communities), where homes have been torn down to make way for a $1.3bn business center called Tashkent City.

In January, after an investigation by the independent global media platform Open Democracy, Jahongir Artiqkhojayev, the mayor of Tashkent, reportedly admitted he has business interests in one of the companies involved in the project.  Open Democracy also suggested Artiqkhojayev may also have links to other companies with construction, commercial and investment interests in the mega-development.

Businesses, including those with foreign investors from western Europe, have also suffered.  The Guardian says the owners of the Arvand Tashkent Stroy company, which owns a fashionable restaurant complex in central Tashkent, have accused city officials of seeking to seize its lucrative property, ostensibly for “government needs.” 

As the demolitions pick up pace, hundreds of low-income families living in flats built by a company belonging to Muhmmadbobur Khojayev, a Tashkent-based businessman and philanthropist, are also in danger of losing their homes after officials ruled that they violated construction norms.  Khojayev, who invested millions of dollars in the three-story homes in Tashkent, denies the allegations.