By Karine Kalantarian
Representatives of over a dozen non-governmental organizations staged on Saturday a protest outside the mayor’s office in Yerevan against the intensifying commercial use of the city’s green areas.
The environmentalists said municipal parks, which are now dotted with a myriad of private cafes and other entertainment places, have been steadily shrinking in recent years. According to one of them, former Environment Minister Karine Danielian, the process amounts to the city’s “desertification” and could have grave consequences for its environment.
The protesters demanded a meeting with Mayor Robert Nazarian, but were told that he is currently absent from the country. They were instead received by one of Nazarian’s deputies, chief Yerevan architect Narek Sargsian.
“They are cutting down trees to build villas and open cafes,” the head of an Armenian animal protection group, told Sargsian. “Please do something about it.”
“Tell Mr. Nazarian to think a little about our children,” said another angry woman. “He doesn’t have to do everything his bosses tell him.”
The mushrooming street cafes are increasingly popular with many city residents and have become a lucrative business that does not require substantial requirements. What their owners need most is a municipal license to use a plot of land. Most public parks are already heavily used for that purpose. Government connections are vital for obtain a license. Not surprisingly, many lucrative cafes are owned by high-ranking government officials.
In the words of Eduard Baghdasarian, chairman of the Armenian Union of Investigative Journalists and one of the organizers of the protest, among the owners of a cafes covering the largest park in the city center are four ministers, the head of the National Security Service (former KGB) and two generals. Baghdasarian said this fact makes the Yerevan municipality largely irrelevant to the land distribution. The government-appointed mayor is simply unwilling to challenge any powerful official, he added.
Sargsian effectively admitted that the city authorities have little say in the process. He said they do not even have any clear policy on commercial use of the parks.