August 28, 2017

 

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah

President Olympic Council of Asia and,

Association of National Olympic Committees 

P.O. Box 6706, 32042, Hawalli, Kuwait

 

Via fax: +965 25734973 

Via email: info@ocasia.org; vinod@ocasia.org

Via email: info@ocasia.org

 

Subject: 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games

Dear OCA and ANOC President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah,

We are writing to urge the Olympic Council of Asia immediately to raise with the government of Turkmenistan the issue of fair compensation to Ashgabat residents whose homes were expropriated and demolished in the recent years leading up to the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

In the coming days, we will publish a report on government violations of housing rights in the years leading up to the AIMAG. The report documents the government’s failure to provide adequate compensation to homeowners who were expropriated and whose homes were demolished as part of the government’s vast urban renewal and beautification projects for the city of Ashgabat.

Expropriation, evictions, and house demolitions carried out in preparation for wide-scale urban renewal and beautification have been taking place throughout Ashgabat over the course of almost two decades, in a way that grossly violates the right to private property and adequate housing. We fully recognize that the majority of these projects were conceptualized and begun well before December 2010, when Ashgabat was chosen as the venue for the 5th AIMAG.  But in the years since that time, there has been a clear acceleration in the demolitions and rebuilding, as the authorities have made no secret of their determination and priority to remake the capital’s appearance in time for the games.

As you know, we wrote to the Turkmen government summarizing our concerns and requesting further information. We did not receive a response. We have shared this letter with you but are resending it for your convenience.

Our report will call on the Turkmen government to ensure that Ashgabat homeowners and residents who have been forcibly evicted get fair and adequate compensation for the loss of their property and costs incurred due to the forced evictions.  We also all on the government immediately to take steps to provide Ashgabat residents who were denied adequate or any compensation or who were left homeless because of the city’s infrastructure and beautification projects access to an effective judicial mechanism capable of promptly and fairly awarding them their compensation and any other appropriate remedy.

We ask that the OCA make clear to the Turkmen government that you expect the authorities to ensure homeowners will receive adequate compensation for their homes, even if this is done retroactively. We ask that you clearly state that you will not abide by the Turkmen authorities’ tarnishing the AIMAG brand and the integrity of the Olympic movement, of which the OCA is a member,  through the violation of rights in the name of presenting a certain image of the capital city for the AIMAG.

We also wish to bring to your attention four cases of inadequate compensation that will be described in the report. These cases are summarized in an annex to this letter. Our report references dozens of cases, most of which are anonymous.

We draw your attention to these four because in each one, the families had written to President Berdymukhamedov or other authorities to seek redress for violations they had endured.  We are concerned about them for two reasons. First, because their housing conditions following the demolition of their homes and their relocation to compensation apartments are, by their telling, intolerable. Second, the very fact that they wrote to the president stating their dissatisfaction is grounds for concern that authorities will retaliate against them. As we have conveyed to you in our previous letters of December 2016, February 2017, and August 2017, Turkmen authorities tolerate no criticism, even mild, of government policies and actions. We therefore urge you to flag with the Turkmen authorities that the individuals noted below are of particular concern to the OCA, that you are personally and institutionally concerned about their welfare, and that you will be following closely to ensure that no harm comes to them.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions or comments. We would very much welcome a response from the OCA to the concerns in this letter and our previous letters.

Sincerely,

 

Hugh Williamson

Director

Europe and Central Asia

Human Rights Watch

 

Farid Tukhbatullin

Director

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights

CC:         Thomas Bach, President

               International Olympic Committee

 

Annex:

Cases of families who wrote to President Berdymukhamedov or other authorities regarding inadequate compensation for their demolished homes

 

  1. In a January 2017 letter, the Galkovski family detailed how earlier that month local municipal authorities provided their family of 10, evicted from a four-room apartment, just a two-room apartment in compensation. The family refused to sign an agreement to move. In response, the local authorities filed suit against them. The court ruled in favor of the authorities.

 

  1. In an undated letter to Berdymukhamdov, Amangozel’ Amandurdyeva described how she and her family were evicted without notice in 2013 from their family home in Ashgabat. Her letter said that throughout the years that she, her sisters, brothers, and parents lived in the house, they had invested in renovation projects and their garden. The home consisted of four large rooms for living space, two enclosed verandas, a dining room, two bathrooms, a shower room, a kitchen, dressing room, pantry, a garage in the courtyard, and a garden with flowerbeds, trees, and grapevines.

Several months passed after Amandurdyeva’s eviction before she was given a new apartment as authorities had not informed her that she needed to make a written request. When she did, although city authorities told Amandurdyeva she would get a new apartment in an “elite” apartment block, she and her family, including her brother and his family, who were registered at the old home, were forced to move to a 3-room apartment in a building in poor repair.

In her letter, Amandurdyeva wrote: “the apartments are damp… there are constant leaks. The electricity cuts …Only one of the three air conditioners installed in the apartment works. …There is a stench from the basement, there is constant flooding of sewage, which also flows outside on the street next to the house.” Amandurdyeva wrote that she has repeatedly appealed to the prosecutor’s office, and she and her neighbors have submitted joint complaints to various government bodies, yet no officials have taken meaningful action to address her concerns.

  1. In her June 28, 2016, letter to Berdymukhamedov, Viktoriya Melikhova said that instead of providing her and her sister adequate accommodation for their two families, a total of seven people who had lived in a home on Archmanskaya Street in Ashgabat, city authorities at first offered them a three-room apartment, which was not enough space for their families. Then they offered a four-room apartment, demanding additional payment. Melikhova wrote: “We requested two separate two-room apartments but we were informed that we can have a 4-room apartment for an extra payment of $14,000, which needed to be paid within six months.”

Melikhova and her family did not have the money to make that extra payment. They had no choice but to take the smaller apartment, eventually forcing Melikhova, her husband, and son, to live with relatives. City officials also registered the property in the name of the husbands, even though the expropriated property belonged to the sisters.

  1. In December 2016, Elena Belousova sent a telegram to Turkmen officials asking for a decent apartment, since the compensation apartment provided to her and her husband was nearly uninhabitable. Elena Belousova lived in a one-room apartment with her husband in Ashgabat until December 2016, when the couple was evicted and their apartment expropriated for demolition. City authorities granted Belousova an apartment in a building that had not yet been completed. They refused to let her see it before making her sign an agreement to move, threatening that if she refused to sign, she would be left homeless.

The compensation apartment was 13 square meters smaller than Belousova’s expropriated apartment. In calculating compensation based on the number of people in the household, the City Housing Fund officials did not count Belousova’s husband of 17 years because he was not formally registered at that address. Compounding the failure to account for her husband as a member of the family, the elevator in the building did not work for five months after they moved in, meaning that her husband, who has a leg ailment, had no alternative but to walk the eight flights of stairs. The apartment also had serious leaks, and when it rained, water seeped through the walls, leading to a buildup of mold

The day after Belousova sent the telegram, two men in dark suits, allegedly from local housing board, came to her flat and questioned her. Belousova and her husband fear further repercussions from the authorities.