By Karine Kalantarian
The government approved on Thursday the controversial sale of Armenia’s largest concert and sports arena to an Armenian-born Russian businessman who has pledged to repair and modernize it.
Murad Muradian, the owner of the Moscow-based construction group BAMO, will pay 2.57 billion drams ($5.4 million) to become the owner of the Karen Demirchian Sport and Cultural Complex, one of Yerevan’s largest and most imposing buildings.
Muradian offered to buy the facility in a letter to President Robert Kocharian earlier this year. Kocharian’s opinion appears to have been instrumental in the Armenian cabinet’s decision to formally accept the offer without holding an international bidding for the complex. The decision was made at a weekly cabinet session chaired by the president.
As the ministers met behind the closed doors about 20 opposition supporters picketed the government building in Yerevan, condemning the anticipated deal. “The complex named after Karen Demirchian must never become anybody’s property. It’s a national value and property of the entire people,” said Stepan Minasian, the organizer of the protest.
Minasian is a senior member of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), which was founded by Karen Demirchian, the country’s longtime Soviet-era leader assassinated in the 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. The Sport and Cultural Complex, which has two large concert halls, was built at Demirchian’s initiative in 1983 and became one of the modest modern Soviet facilities of its kind. It has since mainly hosted concerts by Armenian and foreign singers.
Murad said he is bewildered by the protests against the privatization of the sprawling complex. “I wonder why they are against,” he told RFE/RL. “The complex will continue to serve as a venue for sporting, cultural and entertainment events.”
According to Muradian, the arena is in urgent need of capital repairs and his construction firm, one of the largest in Moscow, will spend about $10 million to get it into shape. “The state has no means to repair it,” he argued.
The businessman also said that he will cancel the deal if the protesters manage to collect 200,000 signatures of Armenian citizens. HZhK representatives said they are already collecting such signatures.