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Protest over Cemetery Destruction.

Protest over Cemetery Destruction.

Residents of Karadamak on the southern outskirts of Ashgabat have been protesting, albeit with little public furore, against the construction of a high-rise apartment block on top of a cemetery where their relatives are buried.

According to one resident, the situation has been developing over the last month. In a bid to stop the construction work going ahead, representatives of Karadamak’s council of elders went to see the mayor of Ashgabat, but were told that the authorities were acting legally and would press ahead with the project.

The problem has arisen because a change to administrative boundaries which means that Karadamak, which in the Soviet period was part of a collective farm called Leningrad, now falls within Ashgabat’s city limits.

Another issue is that the statutory prohibition on using a cemetery for other purposes now stands at 15 years after its closure, ten years less than it was in Soviet times. This leads the city authorities to argue that they are acting lawfully. As one staff member at the mayor’s office explained, the cemetery has long been closed to new burials, and there is documentation to show the time limit has expired, so the land can be excavated.

But Karadamak’s residents, especially the elderly, say that the decision is immoral and that they cannot reconcile themselves to a situation where buildings are to be put up on top of dead people whose relatives still mourn their passing.

Some people realise there is no point in hoping the authorities will change their minds, and have taken matters into their own hands. One participant of the protest, whose parents and brothers are buried at the cemetery, said his family has been coming to dig up the graves and rebury their loved ones’ remains at another graveyard in Choganly, on the northern outskirts of Ashgabat.

While the official media has kept silent on the dispute, the issue is widely known and discussed on the streets of Ashgabat, and most people are sympathetic to the Karadamak residents.

Urban residents are often drafted in as free labour for clearing up municipal sites, but they have been refusing to take part in preparing the ground so that construction can begin on the apartment block. The city authorities have been forces to bringing in army conscripts to clear the cemetery site.

Soldiers at a nearby military base are unhappy about being drafted in to do this work, but they say they have no choice and must follow their orders.

IWPR

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