By Atom Markarian
The government made on Thursday concessions to protesting tenants of a big fruit grove in the middle of Yerevan, promising to partly preserve one of the Armenian capital’s few remaining green areas.
The famous Dalma Orchards, which serve as the principal source of income for some 1,800 families, have been at the center of a controversy ever since a government decision last May to sell most of its 530 hectares (1,325 acres) to private real estate developers. The rest of the land was to be handed over to the Hayantar state forestry agency.
The tenants reacted to the move angrily, branding it unfair and vowing to fight back eviction attempts. In recent months, they have regularly staged protests outside President Robert Kocharian’s residence and other government buildings in Yerevan. Local environmentalists have expressed their solidarity with the protesters, saying that the break-up of the orchards will deal a further blow to the city’s shrinking green belt.
Speaking to reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting, Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian said the government decided to preserve 256 hectares of the orchards by allowing tenants to use the land for ten more years. He indicated that the decision was initiated by Kocharian.
However, it will affect only 580 families and is therefore certain to be rejected by most of the other occupants dependent on proceeds from the sale of fruit grown on the land. They have repeatedly threatened to resist attempts to deprive them of their main source of revenue.