Turkmenistan: Thousands evicted ahead of Asian Martial Arts and Indoor Games
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 can reveal today as it publishes satellite images showing the extent of the devastation.
The images provide an insight into one of the world’s most darkly shrouded societies, and show that 5,000 houses, each home to an average of five people, were destroyed in the Choganly district near Ashgabat between March 2014 and April this year. Amnesty has since learned that the entire neighbourhood – comprising more than 10,000 houses – had been razed to the ground by September and that fresh demolitions are continuing in other areas of the capital, leaving many families homeless.
Satellite images taken before and after the demolitions:
One year later
Projects to modernise the city ahead of the Games, an event organised by the Olympic Council of Asia, have been personally overseen by President Berdymukhamedov. He heads a government - bolstered by large oil and gas reserves - that maintains a stranglehold of fear on the population. Surveillance is widespread and dissent is rare, with those who dare to speak out risking their own safety and that of their relatives. The Games are regarded by the authorities as an opportunity to bolster the country’s international standing.
Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Programme Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:
“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.
“The ruthless way in which they have been evicted is in clear violation of international human rights standards. The government of Turkmenistan 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.
“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."
Amnesty 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, explaining how some people return to grieve on bulldozed plots where their homes once stood. She said their housing permits were disregarded and described scenes of chaos when the authorities charged into her family home and forcibly evicted them, including distraught children.