Boycott the 2017 Asian Games!

Petition of Choganly Residents to the Olympic Council of Asia and National Olympic Committees of Member States

«Dear ladies and gentlemen, 

In 2010, it was decided that Ashgabat would host the V Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017. At first, the people of Turkmenistan rejoiced at the news. An athletic event of this scale in our country means the arrival of a great many guests from around the world: famous athletes and their fans, reporters and foreign celebrities. After all, the Turkmen people always have their doors open for guests. 

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Demolished homes in Choganly village

Gradually, however, the joy of the upcoming event was replaced by anxiety, which finally transformed into the deepest despair. The truth is that in course of preparations for the games, hundreds of Turkmen families have already lost and continue to lose their rightful land plots in the village of Choganly, near the country’s capital Ashgabat — the city, which is to host the games. Local officials gave people just a few days to remove their personal belongings, after which the owners of the summer cottages were ordered to demolish their houses with their own hands, and to destroy gardens, which they had been growing in the sands for years. This is equivalent to asking parents to kill their own child! 

If the people fail to demolish their homes themselves, which is the case with most Choganly residents, special machinery arrives and destroys in the most barbaric manner all that was built through many years of labor. For many families, this is their only home. Many city-dwellers wishing to live on their own land, close to nature, had sold their city apartments and moved to Choganly. Now, they simply have nowhere to go, since the authorities are offering no reimbursement for early termination of their land use, nor do they provide an alternative housing. 

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We are well aware that preparations for a large-scale event like the Asian Games often inconvenience the local communities, and that sometimes less important buildings and even private homes have to be demolished in order to be replaced by Olympic facilities. So it was in Sochi, the venue of the last Winter Olympics. We also know, however, that in Russia’s Olympic capital, locals who lost their homes were subsequently provided with either alternative housing or a monetary compensation sufficient to buy a new apartment or build a house. 

In our case, we are not even talking of buildings, which are to be replaced by stadiums or cycle tracks, but of the demolition of a community, which will not serve as a venue for the 2017 Asian Games. According to the official government documents, Choganly is full of unauthorized housing, but this is simply not true, and each of us has documents issued in 1997 and signed by the mayor of the capital, which clearly state that garden cottages of up to 50 sq.m. can be built on the allocated land plots. 

The real reason here is not that the construction is illegitimate (officials are not denying it), but that the leaders of our country are displeased with how the village looks from an airplane: with the view the guests of the Asian Games will see, the view, which could blemish the sport festival. For the same reason numerous satellite dishes and air conditioners are being forcefully removed from the roofs and house fronts in Ashgabat. It is because of such actions of Turkmen officials that the ordinary public are growing to hate the 2017 Asian Games. 

Distinguished members of the Olympic Council of Asia, 

As you know, Turkmenistan is a repressive country, deprived of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Any dissent is punishable, which is why the majority of people are used to bearing hardships silently, and do not complain for fear of pressure from the special services. However, the demolition of houses in Choganly resulted in spontaneous protests among the locals. During one of such protests, a Turkmen woman felt unwell, but the police did not call for medical assistance. Later, the woman died in a hospital. Numerous appeals and complaints from residents addressed to the prosecutor’s office, the Cabinet and the President himself are not yielding any results. At the infrequent meetings with the people, local authorities say that the orders was handed down, and that the demolition of Choganly is part of preparations for the 2017 Asian Games, which are underway in the capital of Turkmenistan. dokument

All facts referred to in this petition are supported by the photographic evidence showing demolition of hundreds of houses in Choganly, and the video proof of the atrocious actions by the Turkmen officials is available on the website of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. 

It is reported that the country has already spent $5 billion on the Games, and we can only guess how much more will be spent. When Ashgabat was applying for 2017 Asian Games, no one asked the people whether hosting this event was something they wanted: the decision was made solely by the President and his inner circle. Nonetheless, the people of Turkmenistan have put up with this spending, despite the more urgent matters such as availability of drinking water, health care, and road infrastructure, which could use this investment. But when they are violating our homes, we can no longer be silent! No one seems to care about the fate of the people who have lost their homes and property. 

Dear ladies and gentlemen! 

In view of the above, we are asking you to put pressure on the government of Turkmenistan to make the authorities stop the unlawful demolition of the settlement, or provide the people with alternative housing. If no government response follows, we call upon you to boycott the Games in Ashgabat in solidarity with hundreds of people in Turkmenistan. We believe that in the city hosting a sporting event such as the Asian Game, the rights of local residents must not be violated, otherwise it would undermine the very principles of the Olympic games, which, according to the Charter, «…assemble athletes of all nations in fair and equal competition», and where «no discrimination is allowed against any country or person on grounds of race, religion or political affiliations…» 

Editorial note: This petition was signed by 29 families supported by a much larger number of those who share this position, but are afraid to openly oppose the actions of the official authorities. For safety reasons, we are not publishing the names of the authors. This petition was sent to the Olympic Council of Asia headquarters and 44 country Olympic committees.

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