By Hrach Melkumian
Work on the first stage of a $14 million project to refurbish major streets in central Yerevan is proceeding according to plan and will be completed by half before the end of this month, according to representatives of an Armenian-American charity that funds it.
Eduard Bezoyan, who coordinates the Lincy Foundation’s construction projects in Armenia, said on Saturday that the first stage of the effort launched last June is nearing completion, with 10 streets already paved and repaired along with their sidewalks. “According to our preliminary calculations, we will have utilized about $6.5 million by the end of this year,” Bezoyan told RFE/RL.
The Lincy Foundation, which belongs to U.S. billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, has allocated more than $150 million to repair the country’s Soviet-era transport infrastructure, houses devastated by the 1988 earthquake and cash-strapped cultural institutions. The street project, slated for completion by November 2003, is part of the large-scale program which is worth about a third of the impoverished country’s 2002 budget.
Its implementation has been criticized for poor work organization and inconvenience caused to city residents. Many sidewalks were promptly dug up in the summer and are still being covered by new basalt cobblestones. The advent of winter is complicating the construction.
But Bezoyan assured that 90 percent of the planned work will be finished before January. He said nine more streets and Yerevan’s central Republic Square will undergo similar reconstruction next year.
Lincy is also funding the repair of 420 kilometers of highways across Armenia as well as the construction of two major mountain tunnels. The project is due to be completed next year.
Another $43 million has been set aside for the building of 4,000 new apartments in the country’s northern regions still reeling from the 1988 earthquake. In addition, virtually all Armenian museums and theaters are currently repaired with $17 million provided by Kerkorian’s charity.
President Robert Kocharian regards Lincy’s growing involvement in Armenia as one of his major accomplishments. His political opponents, however, accuse him of unjustly taking credit for the Lincy projects and using them for reelection purposes.