Focusing on the responsible application of geographic technologies across a range of human rights and humanitarian issues and how these technologies can be used to improve research and documentation.
High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Demolition of Avaza and Tarta
The towns of Avaza and Tarta on the Caspian Sea have long been summer vacation destinations for citizens of Turkmenistan (Figure 1). According to the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), many residents of Turkmenbashi maintained summer homes and vacation cottages along the coast. These were often rented to visitors from other parts of Turkmenistan and served as a significant source of income. In March 2006, however, then President Niyazov announced a plan to construct a modern luxury resort in the area, with the hopes of making Avaza an international tourist destination.1
Construction of the resort began in late 2006 with the near total demolition of the existing town of Avaza. TIHR reports that residents and owners were forcibly evicted from their homes without compensation. The town of Tarta remained untouched until current President Berdymukhamedov ordered its demolition in March 2010, reportedly to improve the view of the Caspian Sea from the resort.
|Table 1: High-Resolution Image Acquisitions|
|Sensor||Date||Image ID||Area Covered|
|Quickbird-2||3 August 2002||1010010000EC1600||Whole Region|
|Quickbird-2||5 April 2007||10010010058F3A00||Avaza|
|GeoEye-1||21 August 2009||2009082107273561603031606415||Tarta|
|GeoEye-1||26 October 2010||2010102607282141603031605706||Whole Region|
The Quickbird-2 sensor captured the first image on 3 August 2002. This image includes both Avaza and Tarta and served as a reference image of the towns before demolitions or new construction began. Quickbird-2 captured the second image on 5 April 2007, after demolitions in Avaza were reported to have taken place and construction was reported to have begun. Tarta is not included in this image, as reports indicated that no construction was occurring at the time.2 The Geoeye-1 satellite captured a third image, covering Tarta and the northern half of Avaza on 21 August 2009. This image was taken just before the destruction of Tarta was reported to have begun. A final image of both Avaza and Tarta was captured on 26 October 2010.
The images were analyzed in order to verify the reports of demolitions and construction and to monitor changes over the period of 2002-2010. Beginning with the 2002 image, each unique structure in the towns of Avaza and Tarta was marked and counted. The 2007, 2009, and 2010 images were then analyzed to determine the status of each structure by year and new construction was documented. Through this process, it was possible to create a timeline of demolitions and new construction in Avaza and Tarta.
In 2002, the town of Avaza contained 1992 unique structures (Figure 3A). Most of these are small homes or cottages, though a Presidential complex and the Avaza and Serder hotels include larger structures. When the area was re-imaged in 2007, 1839 of these structures had been demolished (Figure 3B). When the area was again imaged in 2010, an additional 107 of these structures had been demolished (Figure 3C). Of the original 1,992 structures visible in 2002, only 46 remained in 2010: nineteen are part of the Presidential complex, 11 are part of the Avaza and Serdar hotels, and the remaining 16 are a cluster of small houses or bungalows in the northern part of the resort area.
The conversion of Avaza into a resort location has involved major changes to the landscape and the creation of new infrastructure. For example, highways have been built to connect the resort to Turkmenbashi. In addition, many areas show changes to the shoreline, which suggests sand has been added to build up the beaches. The largest landscape alteration is a 7 km long canal. Separated from the Caspian Sea by locks on both ends, the canal turns the resort area into an artificial island. Figures 4 and 5 show the progression of Avaza from the demolition of the original homes to the construction of nine new hotels and supporting infrastructure.
Figure 4: Conversion of Avaza into a Resort Destination
Avaza in 2002, prior to the start of demolitions. Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2007, almost all homes have been demolished and the beach had been expanded (red line shows beach extent in 2002). Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2009, all original structures have been demolished and two hotels are almost complete. A third hotel, the canal, and highways are under construction and the beach has been modified (red line shows beach extent in 2007). Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2010, the three hotels, canal, and highways are constructed and the beach has been expanded (red line shows beach extent in 2009). Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Figure 5: Demolitions and Construction at Avaza
Avaza in 2002, prior to demolition, with Avaza and Serdar hotels highlighted (red arrows), which remain through 2010. Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2007, almost all structures have been demolished and construction has begun on one hotel. Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2009, almost all structures have been demolished and construction has begun on one hotel. Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
By 2010, almost all structures have been demolished and construction has begun on one hotel. Image © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
In 2002, Tarta contained 442 unique structures. Partner sources and image analysis indicate that they were primarily small homes and vacation cottages Figure 6A). Between 2002 and 2009, 144 of these structures were demolished with no observable pattern to the demolition, but 214 new buildings were constructed (Figure 6B). Houses that were demolished were often on the same street as new construction, in contrast to the pattern of demolitions observed in Avaza during the same time period.
Of the 512 structures present in 2009, 186 remained in 2010 (Figure 6C). Of these, 142 are clustered in just two areas. Sixteen other structures are part of a large warehouse complex constructed on the northern edge of the town between 2002 and 2009. The remaining 28 structures are scattered throughout the town and are surrounded by demolished homes.
Figure 6: Demolitions in Tarta
In 2002 (Image A), 442 structures are present (red dots). By 2007 (Image B), 144 have been removed (yellow dots), 298 remain (red dots) and 214 new structures have been built (blue dots). The red arrow highlights a new warehouse complex under construction. By 2010 (Image C), only 186 remain (red dots). Sixteen are part of the completed warehouse complex (highlighted with the red arrow). Images © DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Imagery acquired and analyzed by AAAS clearly documents the demolition of Avaza and Tarta and the creation of the Avaza resort area over the time period of 2002 to 2010. Information provided by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights indicates that residents were forcibly evicted and their property destroyed without compensation. In total, 1,946 structures were demolished in Avaza and 326 in Tarta during the study period. Development of the resort included massive changes in the landscape, with the creation of a 7 km long canal, expansion of beaches, as well as the construction of highways and nine new hotels. The conversion from local vacation destination to international resort was possible due in large part to the demolition of over two thousand structures in the towns of Avaza and Tarta along the coast.
1. Peskov, Alan. Who’s idea is “Avaza”? Chronicles of Turkmenistan: 05/06/2009. http://archive.chrono-tm.org/en/?id=1043, accessed April 30, 2013
2. Tarta to be demolished, February 12, 2010, Chronicles of Turkmenistan, http://archive.chrono-tm.org/en/?id=1286, accessed April 30, 2013