06/25/2008, 00.00
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Turkmen communities forcibly resettled to colonise desert areas

State media hail the work of the new pioneers ready to turn barren lands into fields of wheat and cotton. According to experts the policy is a throwback to old times when the Soviet Union sought to populate Siberia.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Turkmen authorities are forcing hundreds of families to leave their homes in the districts of Niyazov, Turkmenbashi, Koneurgench, Gubadag and Gorogly in the Dashoguz region. The plan is for them to resettle in desert areas to create new cities and farming communities.

Authorities ordered residents to move out before September; after that power and gas will be cut.

Government officials reportedly said that the forcible relocations were necessary to clear a 500-metre zone along the Uzbek border. Experts noted however that the attempt to populate new lands amounts to “forceful relocation’ and “is a violation of the law and [. . .] human rights.”

The initiative comes after Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov signed a decree in March 2007 ordering most residents in the Dashoguz region to move to Ruhubelent, in the country’s north-east. Last March the government’s official website reported that “hundreds of families move to Ruhubelent every month,” more than 2,000 families since the new district was created.

Regardless of the government rhetoric the relocation area is best characterised as desert and steppe region with harsh weather conditions.

What is more whilst the district administration buildings, the local office of the National Security Ministry, and a trade centre were built in October, school construction has not been finished, and the gas, water, and electric infrastructures have not yet been completed.

Likewise none of the resettled residents has received any financial compensation for their property loss. Local officials did offer some of them temporary shelter in an old school and a cultural centre until they build their own houses at their own expenses with only the possibility for a bank loan of some 50 million manats (US$ 3,300).

For their part state media are hailing the new region and the work of tireless farmers ready for rich grain harvests and cotton production.

For some experts this policy is a throwback to old Soviet times when thousands of Soviets were said to enthusiastically open “virgin lands”, which more often than not turned out to be inhospitable Siberian backwaters to be resettled with political dissidents.

Turkmenistan’s late President Saparmurat Niyazov engineered a similar plan in 2002 when he moved people who had "lost respect for the nation and threatened public order and peace” to desert areas like the Dashoguz, Lebap, and Akhal regions.

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