If a tree is cut down in Tashkent, does it bother any officials?
The answer, to the dismay of many residents of Uzbekistan's capital, has traditionally been in the negative. But events over the weekend signal a change on this front.
On February 20, a developer chopped down more than 80 tall trees, including and oak and ash, in a now not-so-leafy part of the city, immediately igniting howls of indignant protest. The trees were cleared to make way for construction of an elite residential complex.
Environmental activists say this destruction was in direct violation of a presidential decree adopted last year to put a temporary halt on the chopping down of certain types of trees. That moratorium is due to expire at the end of 2020.
"In violation of all ethical, moral and legislative standards, there was today a massive and barbaric act of deforestation of an entire grove in Tashkent city center," Abu Ali Niyazmatov, a member of the city hall public council and a member of the Ecological Party, said on February 20.
"For many years, this has been a resting place for adults and children. The trees were cut down, despite the moratorium signed by the president - that is a sign of disrespect to him as the head of state and to the citizens of this country," Niyazmatov said.
In a rare development, however, prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation against officials in Tashkent's Yakkasaray district, who appear to have illegally granted permission for the logging, and the construction company.
RFE/RL's Uzbek, Radio Ozodlik, reported that the company responsible was on February 23 fined $200,000.
In recognition of the intense emotions provoked by the episode, city hall has committed to planting more than 150 chestnuts, plane and acacia saplings in the place of the ones that were felled.
Tashkent nature-lovers have been waging a decades-long and usually losing battle against the destruction of the city's green spaces.
When the idea of the moratorium was still being discussed last summer, the head of the Tashkent city hall ecological department, Nodirjon Yunusov, said that city authorities had received more than 1,600 requests to chop down a total of 25,000 trees in 2019 alone.
Permission to cut down 9,600, including 4,000 of which were diseased, was granted, Yunusov said. Another 5,400 or so were removed to make way for construction, the official said.
Yunusov said at the same August briefing that there are an estimated 1.9 million trees in Tashkent, although experts question the methodology by which such calculations are performed.