By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
The administration of the northwestern Shirak province and the mayor of its capital Gyumri have reached a compromise agreement to settle their dispute over who should distribute newly built homes in Armenia’s second largest city devastated by the 1988 earthquake.
The apartments were allocated by the Gyumri municipality until a December 2002 decision by the government in Yerevan transferring that authority to the regional administration. The city’s outspoken mayor, Vartan Ghukasian, rejected the move as “unconstitutional” and refused to comply with it. The row threatened to disrupt the government’s reconstruction program which has gained momentum in recent years thanks to $45 million in financial aid donated by the Lincy Foundation of U.S.-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.
Local officials told RFE/RL on Thursday that the agreement was brokered last week by Artashes Geghamian, the chief of President Robert Kocharian who oversees the implementation of Lincy’s multimillion-dollar projects in Armenia. Under that deal, the Gyumri municipality will continue to distribute new housing, but the Shirak authorities will have final say and could intervene in the process if they find that it violates the law.
They will have the power to verify the lists of homeless Gyumri families drawn up by Ghukasian’s office. The local authorities put the number of such families at 7,200.
“If they correspondent to the order of citizens [eligible for new housing] and legal privileges, there will be no problems,” Shirak’s deputy governor, Boris Aleksanov, said. “Our commission will submit a positive conclusion on an allocation carried out by the mayor’s office and will ask the governor to approve it.”
Aleksanov said all those citizens who were given new apartments since December will have to obtain confirmation of their ownership from the provincial administration.
Ghukasian, meanwhile, sought to put a brave face on the clear restriction of his authority. “We are continuing the process in the same way,” he said. “The municipality will do all the paperwork and distribute the apartments, while the provincial administration will sign agreements with their owners,” he said.
The mayor, who until recently passionately argued against the new government rules, now plays down the disagreements, saying that they were exaggerated by the media. “I don’t see anything serious here,” he said.
The controversy pitted Ghukasian not only against Shirak governor Romik Manukian but also the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) with which the latter is affiliated. Dashnaktsutyun raised the issue with its two coalition partners, demanding that Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s government take tough action against the Gyumri mayor.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders on Thursday expressed their satisfaction with the solution to the row.