Photograph by Timur Karpov
Requiem for
the Amir Temur square
Witness statements
Photograph by Timur Karpov
Requiem for the Amir Temur square
Witness statements
Exactly 14 years ago, tree felling began in Tashkent's Amir Temur Square. The loss of the capital's main symbol – the central square – became the most tragic event of the year. talked to eyewitnesses of the "tree genocide" about the felling and studied archival publications in the media about the stance of the authorities.
Exactly 14 years ago, tree felling began in Tashkent's Amir Temur Square. The loss of the capital's main symbol – the central square – became the most tragic event of the year. talked to eyewitnesses of the "tree genocide" about the felling and studied archival publications in the media about the stance of the authorities.
Over more than a century, what is known today as Amir Temur square has changed many monuments and names. Until 2009, only the trees remained untouched. But, it took humans less than ten days to bury them alive.

November 12-20, 2009 are inked to the history of Tashkent as days of battle over Amir Temur square, which led to the loss of the capital's main symbol. On the anniversary of the tragedy, correspondents Jakhongir Azimov and Victoria Abdurakhimova asked eyewitnesses — journalists and activists — to reconstruct the chronology of those days.
Amir Temur square in 1948
Source: National Archive of Cinema, Photo, Phono Documents of Uzbekistan
What happened
Eco-journalist Natalia Shulepina kept online records of the felling on the square that used to be referred to as the heart of the city. On November 17, she wrote that the cutting of trees started on the 12th.

According to the memories of eco-activist and founder of the project "Revival of Chimgan Forest" Pyotr Stalbovsky, that day he was accidentally walking along Sayilgoh Street. Chainsaws roared from Amir Temur square. Later, the newspaper Vechernyi Tashkent (Tashkent in the Evening) would refer to the ongoing changes as a "landscaping works."

The public was not informed in advance about the forthcoming mass cut down. Journalists Yevgeny Sklyarevsky, Nataliya Shulepina, Timur Karpov, Tamara Sanayeva, activist Pyotr Stalbovsky and other eyewitnesses interviewed by correspondents learned about the felling through acquaintances or social media subscribers. None of our respondents could assume that the entire public square would be leveled to the ground.

Azamat Atadjanov, editor-in-chief of, learned about it while passing by the public square.
"It was impossible to imagine that the entire area would be chopped down," Azamat Atadjanov recalled. "The mere thought seemed wild. The workers at the site habitually replied that they knew nothing. The trees were demolished as if the public square was being thinned out, so it was hard to realize that everything would be brought down."
"I thought one or two would be gone. But no one imagined that they would take down all of them. You could say it was a terrible massacre," said Yevgeny Sklyarevsky, author of the anthology "Pisma o Tashkente" (Letters about Tashkent).

In 2009, Timur Karpov worked as a photojournalist. He learned about the tree felling when the editors he used to work for reached out to him asking to cover the case.

"I did not believe it. Of course, I headed out to the place right away and saw all this genocide of trees," he said.
Photograph by Timur Karpov
Mr. Karpov says tree felling started from the edges of the square. Two other buildings were being demolished alongside: the 1898 building built as the St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church at the Tashkent Teachers' Seminary and Poytakht Hotel. Historian Boris Golender talked about the former in his video essay. The two objects were located on the southwest side of the square. At the same time, the roadway near the Tashkent State University of Law was being widened. At present, one lane of this road serves as a parking lot.
Natalia Shulepina wrote that the trees to be cut down were marked with yellow tape. The giant plane trees were gradually torn into pieces, loaded into tractor trailers and taken away. Timur Karpov tried to trace their final destination, but could not find the final trail. Since that day no one has ever found out where the mighty chinar trees went or what they were used for. Ms. Shulepina wrote that about 400 trees were cut down in the public square.
"Walking through the square these days is like walking through a cemetery. The bodies of trees were sawed into pieces, loaded onto transport; the roots were pulled out," wrote the eco-journalist.
Photograph by Timur Karpov
Our respondents kept coming back to references of red cut trunks of the chinaras.

"It looked absolutely grim. There were white corpses lying around with the red core of the trunks with blood literally oozing out of them. It seemed as if an animal, a whale, was being killed," Timur Karpov reflected.

"People used to say just that: 'blood oozed from the trees'," shared Yevgeny Sklyarevsky.
" website was just over a year old at the time," recalled Azamat Atadjanov. "It took us a while to realize that many events should have been covered immediately, without waiting for a response to an official request. (A similar situation occurred with the demolition of the overpass on Fergana Yuli Street. Workers on the spot claimed the overpass was being demolished, but the hokimiyat (the city governor's office) denied this and asked to send an official inquiry. While was waiting for a reply, the overpass was demolished). (As for the public square), in a telephone conversation the hokimiyat claimed that no one would dare to cut down trees, because – I remember it clearly – many trees in the public square and on Matbuotchilar Street, including those in front of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church, which was demolished at the time, had signs saying that they were protected by the state. I naively fell for it. I sent an official request to the hokimiyat and started waiting."
There were no instructions or requests not to write about the felling, evokes Azamat Atadjanov. Neither was there fear for the consequences of the felling coverage. But it was unclear how to act.
"Back then, they were chopping all over Tashkent. They cut down Pushkinskaya Street. They cut down other streets too. People were not indignant. It seemed that if they cut it down, it was necessary."
On the second day of cutting, eco-activist Pyotr Stalbovsky came to the public square in official attire. He brought a chain with him. Without making too much noise, he tied himself to one of the trees. According to Mr. Stalbovsky, he stayed there for at least two hours.

"In the first half an hour, a regular patrol of the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrived, but I did not get in contact with them," activist recalled. "They, too, realized they couldn't change or find out anything. In the next half hour or more, an officer showed up. He said that he had arrived for a reason, did not threaten me in any way, considered me adequate and only wanted to understand my goals and condition."
Throughout the entire time of cutting the trees, Mr. Stalbovsky noticed some patterns. He believes that the public square was cut down in stages with the goal of figuring out the reaction of the population.

"The cut down pieces were lying on the ground. The square garden was accessible to everyone, I think, until the very end. There was a foreign tourist. It was displayed for all the people to see public reaction," he recalled.
The activist says during the entire time he stood chained to the tree, one employee of the Improvement Department of the Tashkent City Khokimiyat approached him. Till this day, Improvement Department is overseeing reconstruction and maintenance of public places, including planting and cutting down city trees.

"He stood next to me, looked at me sympathetically, as if he wanted to say, 'I understand you, you're good,' Pyotr Stalbovsky said. "At the same time he was doing his job, and I was doing mine. The foreman didn't persecute anyone. It was a sign to leave me and the tree alone. There was a lot more to take care of."
Photograph by Timur Karpov
While Mr. Stalbovsky was peacefully protesting, Timur Karpov was taking pictures of unfolding events and talking to the workers who were digging up trees and roots:

"We should not forget that in 2009 a person with a camera was equated with a terrorist. Every employee I talked to convinced me that the public garden was unaesthetic. 'It's not pretty, everything will be beautiful,' everyone said," recalled the photographer.

Natalia Shulepina in one of her pieces wrote:

"To my question: "What will be here?" the policeman answers: "A park."

"And what was before?"


"What's the difference?"

"The park will be made of fir trees."

Forty minutes after Timur Karpov started taking photos, men in uniforms approached him and tried to take the camera away. Their interaction almost led to a fight. Eventually, he was taken to the police station, but was quickly released. From there Mr. Karpov went right back to the square.

Pyotr Stalbovsky too was taken to the police station. The activist recalls that a lieutenant colonel approached him on the square; spoke with respect.

"He was courteously inquiring, sorting things out. In fact, my action was not aimed at insulting people. I didn't mean to hide information. On the contrary, I will tell you everything: quietly, humanly. I told him: 'My wish, as a human, is that everything would stop.' I knew he would not whisper and say that I was doing everything right. But he didn't interfere either. I guess he was acting within his orders to deal with the problem carefully. They found a way to seamlessly open the circuit. But even before that, the lieutenant colonel took a long time to think and approach. He was extremely polite."

When the chain was broken, the police officers handed it to the protester and asked him to go to the station in a gentlemanly manner, said Mr. Stalbovsky.

"Nobody clasped my hands. He was very thoughtful, wanted to understand my intentions. As if I was blissful," he continued.

At the Yunusabad District Police Department, the activist was asked for a receipt of confession and submission, but he refused to sign the documents. The police officers accepted, took Pyotr's fingerprints and released him.
Felling continued until November 20, it follows from the articles by Natalia Shulepina. The journalist recalled that on November 21, a group of activists gathered for a candle-laying ceremony. The idea came from activists from the youth eco-network in response to the eight days of silent massacre.
"We also came with our colleagues. Then it turned out that we were walking in front, and people were following us. It was a flash mob. A whole column was walking. At that time there was still a sidewalk right up to the square. Cars were stopping, saying, 'What does this mean?' We said: 'A wake in the square.'

"When we lit candles, it was already dark," continued the journalist. "The majors rushed in. There was a small scandal, of course. They trampled. I did not write about the mourning march. Flash mobs were already banned. We were getting out of there. I didn't bring my camera. I was afraid they would take it away. But people were taking pictures. A major confiscated a camera from a guy from Voice of America and didn't give it back."
Government's explanation?
A few days later, the authorities realized that they had to give people some information, Azamat Atadjanov recalled. On November 16, 2009, the newspaper Vecherniy Tashkent printed its official position.

The main takeaway from this piece: the main reason for the felling was "aesthetic decoration" of the capital, "to make the city even more beautiful and landscaped." The article says that in 2009 a special commission was formed, which studied the condition of green plantings in the park and developed a "green program." It included representatives of Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection (Tashgorkompriroda), the Improvement Department of the Tashkent City Khokimiyat, representatives of health structures and other agencies.

"According to the conclusion of the commission, it is reasonable to continue renewal of green plantings, as it was done on the territories of many parks and squares, which now have turned into truly favorite leisure places of citizens and guests of the capital. Undoubtedly, before we know it, a similar green corner will be located in Amir Temur Park, where landscaping (improvement, based on the official name of the organization) works are still underway," the article reads.
The reason for the felling was cited as "crowding of plants," that "stretched out" as a result of self-seeding:

"This green zone, where various types of trees grow, occupies a small territory, and everyone who has been here more than once must have noticed the crowding of plants. As experts of the Improvement Department noted, many trees "stretched out" here as a result of self-seeding, i.e. grew from seeds, which has now created "density" between the previously ordered rows."

"Thus, the ailanthus, ash and some other plants growing in Amir Temur Square grew as a result of self-seeding and are not properly resistant to our climatic conditions."
A street near a public square (now: Amir Temur square) in Tashkent, 1932
Source: National Archive of Cinema, Photo, Phono Documents of Uzbekistan
Mutation of bark beetles
By mid-May 2010, the Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection made a statement about the reasons for cutting down the public square garden. Below, we provide its full quotation:

"We all remember well last fall, when the city was subjected to locust invasion. Employees of the Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection together with representatives of the Ministry of Health explained to the residents of the capital that locusts do not harm people's health and are not a source of various kinds of diseases.

Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection also cooperates with the khokimiyat of the capital. With its active participation, the Master Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of Tashkent had been developed and adopted, which is now being actively implemented.

'At present, on the basis of the special "Green Program" developed, the main emphasis is placed on the originality of the architecture of the city as a whole, as well as each of its streets and squares, and the traditions of the districts and their location are taken into account,' says the deputy chairman of the Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection. 'A separate program has been developed to turn the capital into a blooming city. New methods and technologies for growing and planting greenery have been used in this direction.'

It was developed taking into account the specialty of green areas, namely that they are more than 50 years old and pose a certain threat to the population and various buildings. The reason for predicting such a threat was the mutation of bark beetles, which were pests of soft tree species, but are now becoming pests of hard tree species such as chinaras.

This process was not spontaneous, but has been observed for many years. This spring confirmed the validity of this concern. Heavy rains accompanied by hurricane-force winds felled many trees near residences and only by luck were residents not injured.

'The rainy spring of 2009 and 2010 contributed to an intensive multiplication of insect pests that caused significant damage to Tashkent's greenery,' said the head of the Fauna and Flora Protection Department of the Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection. 'According to our recommendations, the relevant decisions on the reconstruction and improvement of Tashkent city emphasize the need to plant such tree species as oaks, maples and chestnuts.'

That is why the Master Plan of Reconstruction and Development of Tashkent City included a clause "on the creation of new climatic green zones." This means cutting down old and diseased trees at the place where they are found, and instead laying out park green zones where citizens could relax under the shade of trees and fountains.

In the current year, the Department of Improvement of Tashkent City khokimiyat is carrying out systematic, according to the plan of reconstruction and development of Tashkent city, cut down of old trees and lay out of new park climatic zones. At the same time, such hardwood trees and greenery are planted, which pests, in particular bark beetles, are unable to reach."
Brief story of the Amir Temur square
Many people still believe that the felled chinaras were more than a thousand years old. This version is refuted by historian Boris Golender and journalist Evgeny Sklyarevsky. In his video essay the historian said that the public garden had been being built since 1865. The second governor-general of Turkestan region Mikhail Chernyaev (appointed from 1882 to 1884), having noticed the unsettled square, commissioned the military engineer Mikhail Ulyanov to draw the outline of the public garden. The latter's vision gave birth to a grid of paths and chinar trees. Golender claimed this happened in 1882.

Referring to the archival photos, the greenery in the park appeared in stages. Evgeny Sklyarevsky believes that the felled chinar trees were 40 to 60 years old.
For decades, the trees had been saving the residents from the exhausting Tashkent heat and had been the center of attraction for the citizens. According to archival photographs, during the Soviet era, the square had restaurants and book shop. It was a favorite spot for Uzbek Soviet writers and chess players.

"At least 30 boards a day would come," said chess player uncle Husan, who has been playing in the park for more than 50 years. "When the chinar trees were cut down, the chess players left with them. Everything became a desert."

"It was a gift to people, a sycamore forest," reminisced Pyotr Stalbovsky.

Vecherniy Tashkent left the following memory of the trees of the Amir Temur square:

"They not only spoil the appearance of the city, but also do not meet sanitary and quarantine requirements. All this has a negative impact on the ecology and is harmful to people's health."
Conspiracy theories
Unrealistic explanations about the reasons for the felling have spawned many theories among the population.

"I was told that a foreman or the head of some department saw three small sick trees and ordered them to be removed. In the morning, he comes and sees that the entire public square garden has been cut down," recalled uncle Husan, a chess player. According to him, all those accountable were jailed, except for one who allegedly fled to Kazakhstan.
One of the most widespread rumors is that the park was destroyed to clear the view of the Palace of International Forums. There is also a near-scientific explanation, under the pretext of which chinaras are often cut down even today: they allegedly cause allergies in the population.

According to Timur Karpov, another near-scientific hypothesis used to be popular in those years.

"They claimed that the groundwater level in Tashkent was falling, and that the root system of chinar trees contributed to its lowering. By cutting down the public garden, they allegedly wanted to raise the water level," he continued.
Photograph by Timur Karpov
According to the official position of Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection, the trees were diseased. Vecherniy Tashkent ran four photos of rotten trunks with a caption that read: "This was the condition of many trees in Amir Temur square." It is hard to judge from the photographs whether images shown on the photographs were actually trees of the square.
Another popular theory is that the chinar trees were sent off to furniture production. The majority of respondents adhere to this version.

"Do you have an idea how much a cube of sycamore costs? 400 dollars!" assumed Mr. Karpov. "As soon as this version appeared, the authorities did everything they could to shut it down. They said, 'No, these are useless trees, they are only good for the parquet floor. But people who were into the field of furniture production, whom I talked to, said that the trees in the park were excellent. The older the tree, the more expensive it is, because it has a high density," the photojournalist continued.
Back then Tashkent City Committee For Nature Protection commented on this theory:

"All sorts of publications by the media, which are addicted to cheap sensationalism, on the illegal felling of old trees do not correspond to reality. Making furniture from chinar trees is also untrue. Drying and processing of lumber requires so much money that it is cheaper to import it from abroad. These so-called journalists should first familiarize themselves with the General Plan of Reconstruction and Development of Tashkent, the capital of sovereign Uzbekistan, and then write something.

During the years of Independence, a large number of overpasses, buildings and structures, new unloading bridges have been built in Tashkent, a number of squares have been improved, and new climatic green park zones have been created.
And so it is all over the republic. Tashkent has renewed its "green outfit" in many aspects. And this fact is recognized by many foreign media. Is it not better to rejoice that the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, is being favorably equipped, is acquiring a new appealing green look, than to search for a reason for a momentary cheap "sensation"?!"
Time for truth?
14 years after that tragic event, our respondents are unanimous in claiming the loss of their hometown.

"They ripped off a piece of heart. It was a crime against all the residents of Tashkent. It was a genocide of trees," said Timur Karpov. He has been avoiding the "public garden" since 2009.
"Why does it (the reason for the tree felling) matter? It's all over now, you can't get the garden back," uncle Husan said.

"What conclusions do you think we can draw from the story?"

"We don't know how to make conclusions. While we were catching up with America, we lagged behind Africa. Nothing gets solved here for nothing. I personally don't think anyone has drawn any conclusions. They're cutting down everywhere. Nobody knows why. So no one makes any conclusions.
Book sale in Amir Temur public square, 1955
Source: National Archive of Cinema, Photo, Phono Documents of Uzbekistan
Almost all interviewees noted that the cutting down of the public square garden became the starting point for a prolonged extermination of trees throughout the country.

"Chinars began to be cut down everywhere," said Yevgeny Sklyarevsky. "They were chopped down in yards, schools. There was nothing people could do. Theoretically, people could complain to the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Ecology and Environmental Protection, but it didn't work at all."

Yevgeny Semyonovich hopes to get a legal assessment of "all this outrage, because it was an act of environmental vandalism."

"To at least name the guilty ones, the customers, so that history knows who is behind it all," he said.
No matter how pessimistic the eyewitnesses' answers may seem, or no matter how much they may reject the lessons learned, Tashkent residents had a drastic change in their minds. They know that trees need protectors. Trees cannot fend for themselves. In 2009, when people saw the beginning of the cutting down of Amir Temur square in the heart of Tashkent, they were petrified.

"You feel absolute helplessness – it was discouraging. A lost state and despair were in the air. Besides, the memory of the Andijan events was fresh," Timur Karpov seemed to explain the reason why the public was unable to defend the public square garden.

Looking back, Pyotr Stalbovsky believes that the square could have been saved if people had come out to defend the trees.
Amir Temur public square, Tashkent, 1959
Source: National Archive of Cinema, Photo, Phono Documents of Uzbekistan
The picture has changed now. Although green spaces continue to be cut down, there are cases when the memory of a lost public garden unites people. Timur Karpov considers the battle for "Golubiye Kupola" (The Blue Domes) boulevard in Tashkent to be one such example.

"I don't get one thing: why can't the authorities just stop?" Mr. Karpov wondered. "It's already clear. Everyone is already talking. And we see the dust storms. And the president is talking, and the khokim (city mayor) is being scolded publicly. Can we just leave the trees alone? We have very few of them."
Amir Temur Square in fall of 2023. Photograph by Evgeniy Sorochin
Story by Jakhongir Azimov and Victoria Abdurakhimova.
Translation to English by Nozima Khodjimatova
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