“Chechnya: The Construction of Argun-City – Dozens of Families Thrown on to the Streets.” Memorial Press Conference

posted 28 Feb 2011, 13:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Feb 2011, 14:32 ]
Source: hro.org (info), 03/02/11

· Human Rights Defenders · Conflict Victims · Chechnya

On 3 February 2011, at the Independent Press Centre a press conference was held entitled “Chechnya: The Construction of Argun-City – Dozens of Families Thrown out on to the Streets”. Svetlana Gannushkina, board member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and head of the NGO Civic Assistance, and Oleg Orlov, chair of othe board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, visited the Chechen Republic recently. They visited the town of Argun, where large-scale construction works began in January 2011.

The development plan includes a new mosque, a residential estate, and community and infrastructure facilities. In order to “clear” the space for new buildings, old buildings are being demolished in accordance with instructions from authorities. Occupants of the demolished houses are relocated to neighbouring houses, people from those neighbouring houses are moved into hostels in Grozny, and hostel residents are evicted onto the streets.

According to Oleg Orlov, the Russian legislation and norms of morality are being persistently violated. House No. 61 in Shosseinaya Street has already been demolished. More houses are to be pulled down. However, people are not protesting. Oleg Orlov says: “We have spoken to these families. It has not occurred to anyone to protest. They say: “This would mean that we act against the state! We cannot do that!” Indeed, in modern day Chechnya it is impossible to protest against any decisions by officials, which are passed off as decisions made by the state”. In Oleg Orlov’s opinion, those residents who are offered acceptable alternative options (either a newly-built house or 3.5 million RUR in compensation; in the meantime staying in multi-storey houses in the neighbourhood) are being treated quite fairly. This is not the case with those residents who are relocated from houses to hostels. According to Oleg Orlov “all efforts to protest and to address the President of the Chechen Republic have failed. No one listens to these people.” Only residents of hostels who are thrown out on the street and who have nowhere to go have chosen to oppose the decision.

The authorities demand that the rural administrations should find alternative options for those hostel residents who are registered in their communities. However, the authorities have no available housing for such purposes. Families end up with no roof over their heads, except in those few cases where rural administration heads find ways of helping them.

“This is astonishing. The current scale of construction work in Chechnya is colossal. As we can see, development projects are being carried out in Argun. Extensive building works are in progress in Grozny: major commercial projects, construction of skyscrapers and huge hotels! It seems very strange that with such opportunities, the government of the Chechen Republic could not first have found the resources or finances to solve the problems of those families who have lost their accommodation… Only then should they have started this truly wonderful reconstruction of the town of Argun,” Oleg Orlov said.

Svetlana Gannushkina pointed out that complaints had been submitted to Memorial only by the residents of one hostel – the one that is located at No. 119, Mayakovsky, in Grozny. They would not have done this if human rights defenders had not taken the lead. Other residents refused to complain. In fact, Memorial learnt about the evictions virtually by chance. Human rights defender Elena Sannikova was walking past house No. 119 in Mayakovsky when she saw people moving out and got in touch with Memorial.

Svetlana Gannushkina talked about the trip to Argun and showed some photographs. “They are evicting families with children. They are evicting them in the middle of winter. This is totally unacceptable!” the human rights defender said, expressing her outrage.

Svetlana Gannushkina believes that it is not just hard but impossible for law enforcement agencies to work in Chechnya. “The person I was talking to at the Investigative Committee looked at the complaint he had received and said: ‘Do you want me to tell you what will happen next? These people will come here and withdraw their complaints’. ‘Why? I ask. And I get the answer: ‘Because they will have visitors in the middle of the night who will come to tell them to do that.’” Now Svetlana Gannushkina’s only hope is the President of Russia. She forwarded a letter to him from evicted residents on 1 February: “I hope that now that the letter and the documents have been forwarded to the President, the situation may change because the President said: ‘We will resolve this.’ But to be honest, I do not know who can possibly resolve what is happening in Chechnya.”

Since December 1999, people who have lost their houses in the Chechen Republic and those who are already homeless have been relocated over and over again without being offered any permanent accommodation. At the beginning, the majority of these people settled down in camps in Ingushetia. In 2002, relocation began from those camps to Places of Temporary Accommodation (PTA) in the Chechen Republic. The PTAs were not ready for new occupants. Later, the PTAs were transformed into hostels where residents were not registered, as opposed to other Russian regions. Their registration in their respective villages was kept. Only a small number of families that had lost their houses received flats in newly constructed apartment buildings – buildings which, strangely enough, later turned out to be commercial property. Now the Chechen officials seem to need some of the occupied flats and hostels and as a result, a chain of evictions – from flats into hostels, and from hostels into the street - started in the middle of winter

We have already reported about the eviction of residents from a hostel in Mayakovsky in Grozny which began on 14 January. The next day we were told that the eviction of residents from that hostel had been stopped. Law enforcement officers, who had arrived at the hostel in the morning to ensure that the eviction took place, left. Rumours spread among the hostel occupants that an instruction to postpone the eviction until spring had been received. Only two families were left on the street – their belongings had been taken outside already but they had nowhere to go and they spent two days outside.

However, soon it became clear that it was too early to rejoice. The hostel supervisor announced that the eviction was put on hold because of worsening weather conditions. It was snowing on the night of 18 January and the air temperature dropped below zero. According to the supervisor, the eviction was supposed to be resumed when the weather got warmer. The supervisor refused to show the list of people to be evicted explaining that that was an instruction from senior authorities. She explained that the whole situation was a result of the authorities’ decision to move those families that had rural registration out of all hostels.

The evictions from the hostels continued over the next few days. The heads of rural administrations were instructed to collect “their people” from the hostels, so they came to persuade people to leave the hostels. The municipal government and municipal officials set them the following task: “Take your people away. Where you are going to move them to, and whether you have any available accommodation at all, these are your problems”. Therefore, the fate of these people depends on the efficiency and opportunities of the heads of administration of those districts and villages that they left during the war.

In the meantime, it became known that the hostels were being vacated for internally displaced people (IDP) who had lost their housing during military operations in the Chechen Republic and who had been given apartments in two multi-storey residential buildings in the town of Argun at the following addresses: 111 Kadyrov Street and 9-A Titova Street. The keys from these flats had been handed to them at a formal ceremony in the presence of member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Adam Delimkhanov and Minister for Housing and Construction Akhmed Gekhaev (dismissed in 2009). One of the local TV stations had broadcast the ceremony. The head of the municipal administration of Argun and the new occupants had entered into an agreement standard for subsidised municipal housing. The residents had met all conditions of the agreement and there were no reasons for their eviction.

In accordance with the Housing Code of the Russian Federation, a court ruling is needed to carry out eviction. However, there seem to be some people who do not believe in the rule of law. On 14 January all occupants of the two apartment buildings, who had been allocated accommodation in such a formal way, were told to come into the courtyard where an announcement was made that they had 48 hours to pack their belongings and leave their flats. The heads of the district administrations of Grozny city and the deputy head of the municipal administration of Argun were present at that meeting. At the same time, people were told that they would be taken to hostels in Grozny.

The apartments that had been vacated in this way were given to residents of Argun who until January 2011 had lived in private houses in a central street (Shosseinaya Street). These houses had been demolished during the work of reconstruction in Argun. The occupants of these houses were offered a choice: either the Argun authorities build them 6-room houses each with two bathrooms in the so-called Moskovsky Sovkhoz (“state farm”) of Argun, or they would be given 3.5 million RUR as compensation for the lost property. The promise was implemented immediately. The money was handed out as cash in exchange for a technical certificate about the demolition of the property. The construction of houses for those who had chosen the first option has already begun. All those people (altogether 61 houses were pulled down) were provided with accommodation in apartment buildings in Titova Street and Kadyrova Street in Grozny.

However, quite a large number of empty apartments remain in the vacated buildings at 111 Kadyrova Street and 9-A Titova Street. Why did they not move the residents of the demolished houses into these apartments? Those who were told to leave their apartments doubt that they are intended exclusively for residents of the demolished houses. It is quite possible that empty and vacated apartments will be sold on the market.

On the evening of 14 January, about forty female residents who were being evicted decided to go to the village of Khosi-Yurt (Tsentoroi), the home of President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, in order to talk to him personally. They were stopped at a checkpoint near the entrance to Khosi-Yurt. They were approached by the head of security of the President of the Chechen Republic, Abuyazit Vismuradov. The conversation was short: Abuyazit Vismuradov phoned the head of the Argun administration and informed them of the women’s arrival. The women were not allowed to enter the village. According to members of the female delegation, Abuyazit Vismuradov spoke to them in a rude manner, although there were elderly women among them. Abuyazit Vismuradov forbade the women to turn up again in the ancestral village of the President of the Republic.

After that, the women set off to see the government of the Chechen Republic, where they were met by the deputy prime minister of the Government of the Chechen Republic responsible for law enforcement and security, Magomed Daudov (call sign “Lord”). His behaviour was equally humiliating. When an old woman said that she had nowhere to go and that her son was disabled (he had been blown up by a mine and had lost both legs), Magomed Daudov answered: “What do I have to do with it? I did not father him”. Having lost all hope of finding justice, the occupants of the buildings 111 in Kadyrov Street and 9-A in Titova Street gave up all thoughts of resistance. They feared that if they wrote a complaint, the situation would get worse.

Since 16 January, they have been accommodated in hostels in Grozny. The former residents of the hostels have been ordered to leave their rooms.

Most human rights violations were observed during the eviction of people from the hostels at the following addresses in Grozny: No. 119 in Mayakovsky, Staropramyslovsky district, and 4 Vyborgskaya Street. The majority of those evicted had rural residence registration.

The hostel located in Saikhanova-Tobolskaya Street in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district has accommodated 23 families. Five families have been evicted from that hostel and 9 more families are being prepared for eviction. Forty-three families from different rural districts live in this hostel. They are also in danger of eviction.

The hostel at 119, Mayakovsky accommodated people from Argun, but the supervisor refused to disclose the number of new residents. The eviction of residents continued. Most evicted families were not provided with any housing – either permanent, or temporary. People were warned that their belongings would be taken outside by force. When Toait Gelayeva refused to take her belongings outside and vacate the room, her keys were taken from her. She was left outside her room, while her things were still inside. Toait’s accommodation was destroyed and she had no other place to go to. The head of the administration was unable to provide her with alternative accommodation.

Another family, which had come from Gudermessky district, was evicted from a hostel at 17 Novatorov Street (Staropromyslovsky district, Grozny). In total there are about 100 families in that hostel. It has not been possible to establish the number of families with rural registration. Six new families were accommodated in the hostel.

In a hostel at 4 Vyborgskaya Street (the village of Chernorechye, Zavodsky district) there are 66 families with rural registration. All of them have been listed for eviction, which is already in full progress. Some of the evicted people have not left the proximity of the hostel and are staying outside the building. This hostel accommodated 23 new families.

The supervisor proudly says that the hostel residents did not pay for utility services or rent, unlike residents of other hostels. But the living conditions in this hostel are much worse than in other hostels. Many toilet facilities are not functioning, there are no shower rooms. The conditions are more than insanitary. The communal kitchen area on the third floor has no doors and only two cooking stoves (only two burners of one of these stoves are functioning).

“One should feel sorry for the new residents, not for the evicted ones,” an employee of a humanitarian organisation who visited the hostel said bitterly.

The supervisor claims that she cannot give the exact number of residents in the hostel. There are approximately 100 families. People are asked to leave their rooms without being offered anything in return. Heads of administration of their home districts are unable to help. They suggest that these people should solve their problems themselves. The Shakarovs, an elderly couple, found themselves in such situation. Three of their sons have died and the fourth son has been convicted and sent to prison. According to Vakhi Akhmetovich Shakarov, born in 1941, their house in the village of Khatuni, Vedensky district has been destroyed. He has been ordered to leave the room that he occupies but no alternative housing has been offered. The supervisor has threatened to throw his belongings into the street. The head of administration of the village of Khatuni is unable to provide any accommodation – not even temporary – to the Shakarov family. However, he still demands that the Shakarovs leave the hostel, referring to “an order from the President”.

A different approach to solving the problem of those evicted was demonstrated by the head of administration of the village of Dyshne-Vedeno. He had no available housing for two families from his village (the Gayrbekov brothers) but he decided to take them in to his own house. One of the brothers is disabled. He cannot walk as his spine was broken in a car crash.

The head of the administration of the village of Alkhan-Kala promised that former residents of his village would be able to rent accommodation for three months.

The head of the administration of the village of Starye Atagi allocated a budget for three months rent to a family that has a residence registration in the village. The family can choose a new place of residence – either in Grozny or in Starye Atagi. He is also providing them with land, but the family has no money to build a house.

The head of administration of the village of Guni, Vedensky district, has offered accommodation in an empty school building to a family with Guni residence registration.

According to the supervisors, all residents with rural registration will be evicted from the hostels. They believe that it is only a matter of time since the process has already been launched throughout the region.

As usual, the supervisors put the blame on some “fraudsters” who have moved into the hostels using dishonest methods, and not on those who have actually initiated the eviction. In the supervisors’ opinion, the evicted people are suffering because of these “fraudsters”.

When our colleague asked the supervisors how such “fraudsters” manage to move into the hostels, they failed to give an answer. They are not in charge of the issue of accommodation.

People who have been evicted from the hostels turn to the Memorial Human Rights Centre with individual and collective appeals asking for help in protecting their rights.

Yet it is difficult to influence what is happening when people are being moved around in such an indifferent and cruel manner, as if they were inanimate things, and where the law and moral principles are being disregarded.

On 27 January, staff members of the Memorial Human Rights Centre Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina visited the town of Argun.

Svetlana Alekseevna reports:

“The city entrance was closed to private cars. We managed to get in only when we showed our ID cards of members of the Expert Council of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation to police officers. Some areas of the city looked totally destroyed and deserted. Private houses have been demolished and new brick-built constructions pulled down. When we asked about the reasons for these demolition works, the only answer we got was: “This is Ramzan’s order.” The intention is to build a new road and to construct Argun-City in the area being cleared.

The owners of the demolished houses choose not to protest. They say that they do not want to act against the authorities, especially because they have been provided with temporary apartments in multi-storey buildings and because the authorities have promised to build detached cottages for them at a later stage. There is also an alternative option: they can receive 3.5 million RUR as compensation for the demolished houses.

We visited one apartment at 9-A Titova Street. A young family from a demolished building lives there. Their parents were allocated an apartment next door. The young woman is prepared to live in the flat with all facilities until a new detached house is built for them.

Those people who with considerable pomp and in the presence of TV cameras were given keys to new apartments in 2007 are in a very different mood now. However, they are obediently moving from apartments to hostels in compliance with the same order which cannot be questioned.

In order to accommodate new residents in the hostels, the previous residents are being evicted. Those who are being thrown out on the street are extremely distressed. When we arrived at hostel No. 119 in Mayakovsky we were noisily met by a group of women with their children and elderly and disabled relatives who had nothing to lose and nowhere to go. The hostel is in a state of permanent renovation. Living conditions are far from comfortable. If these people perceive eviction as a catastrophe, it means that they truly have no other alternative to this housing.

When we were about to leave the hostel, officers from the Staropromyslovsky District Department of Internal Affairs arrived. We introduced ourselves and showed our IDs. One of the officers said peacefully: “You are doing your job, we are doing ours.”

When asked under what legislation he was evicting people into the street, he gave a routine answer: ‘You know whose order we are carrying out.’ Does the officer know that eviction can only be carried out on the basis of a court ruling? Yes, he does. Does he know that he must not execute an order which contravenes the law? He knows but ‘in times like these…’

The hostel supervisor became extremely worried when she discovered the intrusion into her territory. She was trying to convince us that we had arrived at the wrong address and that the decision regarding the fate of those people was made elsewhere. We had no doubts about the last point.

Some people reported to our local colleagues that after our departure the supervisor threatened one of the hostel’s female residents with big problems. For some reason Balkan Umarova told the supervisor that it was she who had invited the human rights defenders from Moscow. Later she explained that she was really worried for us and decided to take ‘the blame.’

In the evening, about 30 armed officers of the District Department of Internal Affairs arrived at the hostel. People were subject to psychological pressure. According to the residents, they were told that no matter who they invited in to the hostel, they would still be evicted, and that these complaints made their situation even worse. The next day, the morning of 28 January, another family was thrown out. Balkan Umarova’s family was ordered to leave as a matter of urgency, although earlier she had been given one month to find new accommodation. The head of the village administration of Roshni-Chu, Balkan’s native village, requested that she leave the hostel at once, as “he would not be left in peace because of her”.

The hostel residents handed Svetlana Gannushkina a letter addressed to President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, as well as an appeal addressed to the head of the Investigative Committee of the Chechen Republic, V. A. Ledenev, and the Prosecutor of the Chechen Republic, M. M. Savchin.

On 27 January Svetlana Gannushkina met with V. A. Ledenev and personally presented the appeal from the hostel residents to him. The appeal addressed to the Prosecutor was sent by fax.

During her meeting with the President on 1 February, Svetlana Gannushkina forwarded a letter from the refugees to him.

See also Materials of the Press Conference

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
Rights in Russia,
28 Feb 2011, 14:32