By Hrach Melkumian
More than 20 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan urged on Thursday President Robert Kocharian to intervene in their ongoing court battle with the owner of a Yerevan building where they have lived for more than ten years.
The dispute stems from the owner’s attempts to force the refugees to vacate the former hotel and use it for commercial purposes. They sued him earlier this year and secured a court order blocking the eviction. However, the landlord appealed the ruling at a higher court which is currently looking into the case.
The refugees fear that the Review Court will rule in the plaintiff’s favor and gathered outside the presidential residence to solicit support from Kocharian. “They are throwing us out to the streets without offering any alternative accommodation,” said one of the protesters, Larisa Maryanian.
The protesters were joined by several other refugees who reside in another Yerevan building and are also facing the possibility of eviction. They have already lost two court actions and are now awaiting judgment from Armenia’s highest appeals court.
Under Armenian law, the owners of refugee lodgings privatized in recent years have to offer their residents adequate financial compensation before they can order the latter away from their property. The government estimates that some 3,000 families of refugees still huddle in run-down hostels, boarding houses and other temporary shelters. About 800 of them occupy state property and are gradually privatizing it free of charge.
Last week the government announced a $20 million plan to build new homes for thousands of low-income refugee families. It hopes to attract the bulk of funding from external donor sources.
As many as 350,000 ethnic residents of Azerbaijan took refuge in Armenia between 1988 and 1990, at the start of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Many of them have since moved to other parts of the former Soviet Union, unable to find jobs and decent housing.