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“They Fell Our Souls and Memory”: Felling of Trees Draws Anger in Tajikistan

Whenever the authorities in Dushanbe launch a new redevelopment project or simply repair a road, they start by felling trees. Over the last decade, Tajikistan's capital has lost thousands of trees, mainly decades-old sycamores. The big trees once lined Dushanbe's major walkways and roads, providing much-needed shade in the city where summer temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celsius. In an apparent attempt to give the capital a more “modern” look, municipal authorities are replacing the felled sycamores with ornamental trees and small conifers.

The felling of trees has accelerated since mid-2013 as the authorities launched a major redevelopment effort in central Dushanbe. This has angered many social media users who feel that decades-old trees are an important part of the city's outlook and its ecosystem. 

Sobir Kurbanov, one of the individuals affected by the development, wrote [ru] on the Facebook page “Ya Dushanbinec” [I am a Dushanbe Resident] on December 15:

[Не]когда тенистая и красивая, украшенная высокими чинарами улица Чехова полностью уничтожена дорожными строителями. Специальную технику даже завезли. Ни одного дерева не пожалели, все вырубили под молчаливое согласие жителей столицы. Никто даже не пытался выражать несогласие. Когда там закончат однозначно приступят к парку вокруг оперки и вырубят все деревья у прилегающих улиц вокруг оперки, и так далее. А последним аккордом станет уничтожение деревьев по проспекту и улице Рудаки. И тогда превратится наш город в пустыню с широкими новыми улицами. Не дай Аллах мэрии города решить начать ремонт улицы там где вы живете, хотя всех это коснется рано или поздно…

Road workers have fully destroyed the once shady and beautiful Chekhov Street [in central Dushanbe], which was once lined by high sycamore trees. They used the special equipment [to fell the trees]. They didn't pity a single tree; they cut each and every tree with a silent consent of people living in the capital. There was not a single attempt to resist that. When they finish their job [on the Chekhov Street], they will certainly start felling trees in the park surrounding the [Opera and Ballet Theater] and will cut all the trees along streets adjacent to the theater. Their last move will be to fell all trees along the Rudaki avenue. This will turn our city into a desert with new and broad roads. God save you from the city mayor's office deciding to repair a road on your street, although this will affect all of us sooner or later.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Artyom Geivandov commented [ru] angrily:

Вот дэбилы! Они хотят превратить Душанбе в пустыню?!

Such idiots! Do they want to turn Dushanbe into a desert?!

Chekhov Street is not the only part of central Dushanbe affected by redevelopment and deforestation. Parvina Ibodova writes [ru] about a similar situation affecting another neighborhood in the city:

…месяц назад к нам (ул.Турсунзаде, напротив роддома №1) пришли ответственные лица Хукумата и сказали, что будут обустраивать наш двор, то есть будут строить спорт и детскую площадку.радости нашей не было предела. но потом, как и водится, пришло огорчение. для того что б построить эти прелести, оказалось нужно было вырубить все наши деревья, чинары, которым по 25-35 лет. мы пытались предотвратить это, ходили и в мэрию города и к председателю нашего района. потом они приходили к нам, ругались, доказывали и т.д. но они говорят одно “Это Генплан и ничего не изменить”… 

мы даже решили отказаться от этих планов у нас до дворе, что б спасти деревья, но…дошло до того, что в минувшую субботу кроме всех чиновников и работников, переворачивающих наш двор с ног на голову, также направил наряд милиции человек 10-12) что мы не мешали рубить деревья…

…about a month ago representatives from the [Dushanbe mayor's office] came to our neighborhood (Tursunzade Street, across the First Maternity Hospital) to tell us that they were going to redevelop our yard and build a new athletic field and a playground there. we were happy. but the happiness was gone soon. it turned out that in order to build all those facilities, they had to fell all our trees, the sycamores that were between 25 and 35 years old. we tried to prevent them from doing so. we went to talk to the mayor's office [and other officials]. then, they came to talk to us, argued with us, tried to prove their point… they all said one thing, “This is part of the General City [Reconstruction] Plan. Nothing can be changed”…

we decided to protect the trees in our yard. but last Saturday, in addition to all the officials and workers rebuilding our yard, they sent a group of police officers (10 to 12 persons) to prevent us from interfering with the felling of trees… 

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Sycamores cut on Tursunzade Street in Dushanbe. Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Contributing to the discussion on Facebook, Said Negmatulloyev suggested [ru] a way to stop the felling of trees:

Если посадить один саженец, то будет больше на одно дерево. 
Если посадить одного лесоруба, рубящего незаконно, то будет больше на сотню деревьев. 
А если посадить одного чиновника, позволяющего рубить деревья незаконно — будет больше на тысячи деревьев. 
Сажайте правильно!

If you plant one sapling tree, the number of trees in the world will increase by one.
If you put in jail one lumberjack cutting trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by one hundred.
And if you put in jail one official who allows others to cut trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by thousands.
Plant [put in jail] the right way!

[Note: word play here; Russian word "sazhat'" means both "to plant" and "to put in jail"]

Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan blog suggests [ru] that the felling of trees is part of a much broader project by the authorities aimed at remodeling the country and its citizenry:

А ведь это не просто преображение одной отдельной улицы. Посмотрите на ландшафт Душанбе в общем, на то, как он изменился за последнее десятилетие. Город лишили его гордости – тысяч чинар, которые когда-то дарили душанбинцам летнюю прохладу и свежий воздух.

Что у нас остается? Остается уродливый город, ни чем не отличающийся от других городов бывшего Советского Союза. Да, есть много новых помпезных зданий, наляпанных китайцами многоэтажек – но все это не красит город. Старые здания, благодаря которым Душанбе был уютным местом, тоже под снос. В завершение ко всему переименовали все улицы…

Новые памятники, новые названия, безликая архитектура…

This is not just a transformation of a single street. Look at the landscape of Dushanbe and the way it has changed over the last decade. The city has been deprived of its pride, thousands of sycamore trees that used to provide the residents of Dushanbe with fresh air and summer shade.

What do we have left? We have an ugly city that is no different from other cities of the former Soviet Union. Yes, there are many new and pompous buildings, multi-storey houses [built] by the Chinese – but these do not adorn the city. The old buildings that made Dushanbe such a cozy place are also being demolished. On top of this, they have renamed all the streets…

New monuments, new names, faceless architecture…

The blog adds [ru]:

Они не просто вырубают чинары. Они не просто меняют ландшафт города. Они лишают Душанбе его души. Они хотят поменять нас, сделать из нас других людей, с другими идеями и ценностями. Они лепят из нас, как из глины, новых людей нового Таджикистана. А все, что осталось от того Таджикистана, который мы знали и любили, они выжигают каленым железом.

Вырубая чинары, они вырубают наши души и память. Они вырубают старый добрый Таджикистан.

They do not just fell the sycamores. They do not just alter the city's landscape. They deprive Dushanbe of its soul. They want to change us, turn us into a different kind of people, with a different set of ideas and values. They are molding us, as if we were clay, into a new people of a new Tajikistan. And they root out mercilessly all that is left from the Tajikistan we used to know and love.

By felling sycamore trees, they fell our souls and memory. They fell the good old Tajikistan.

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