By Ruzanna Stepanian
Yerevan’s new chief architect ruled out on Monday any reversal of decisions by his highly controversial predecessor that led to the emergence of numerous cafes in public parks and a dramatic shrinkage of the city’s green areas.
In an interview with RFE/RL, the official, Samvel Danielian, admitted that the number of such cafes has grown disproportionately high but indicated that it is too late to remove even some of them. Contradicting other government officials, he denied that their construction was accompanied by gross legal violations reported by local media and decried by environmental activists.
“The bulk of construction work was carried out according to plan [approved by the municipality], and there have only been minor deviations which I find natural,” he claimed.
Danielian, who previously worked as head of the urban development department at the Yerevan mayor’s office, also strongly defended the track record of his predecessor Narek Sargsian. The latter is widely believed to have been instrumental in the rapid proliferation of the cafes and other nightspots that have infested virtually every park in the city center, including its famous Circle Boulevard and a garden outside the Opera House.
The process has been accompanied by the destruction of many old trees. Environmentalists says it has inflicted much greater damage on Yerevan’s vital green zones than the severe energy crisis of the early 1990s when many people chopped down trees to heat their homes.
Many of the entertainment places that have mushroomed in the parks are owned by senior government, law-enforcement and military officials or their friends and relatives. Media reports have suggested widespread corruption among municipal officials that provided them with appropriate licenses. Yerevan’s previous mayor, Robert Nazarian, admitted shortly after his resignation last year that he found it hard to decline requests for land allocation made by more powerful government officials.
Some local observers believe that Sargsian has had a greater say in the commercial development than Nazarian and the current presidentially appointed mayor, Yervand Zakharian. Sargsian’s recent resignation is believed to be the result of his dubious decisions -- something which was confirmed by a senior official from the Armenian Ministry for Urban Development.
“The violations of the law under Robert Nazarian were mainly committed by the chief architect who was relieved of his duties,” the head of the ministry’s inspections department, Sevada Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL. “His dismissal didn’t come out of the blue. He carried out violations and that is why he lost his job.”
However, Danielian denied this, insisting on his view that the land allocations were legal. “I don’t think there were any big mistakes committed by the former chief architect,” he said.
Asked whether he is happy with the city’s changed appearance, Danielian replied: “Of course, it would be good not to have [the cafes] in the Opera area. But what happened has already happened.”