By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s top official in charge of human rights protection on Thursday strongly criticized the government’s controversial handling of a large-scale redevelopment in central Yerevan that has sparked angry protests from residents forced to leave their homes.
Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian said the demolition of old houses standing in the way of two new avenues currently under construction has violated constitutional provisions guaranteeing Armenian citizens’ right to property. She said she will detail them in a special report that will be released on Friday.
“The method and the attitude with which the evictions of those people are carried out will receive a negative assessment,” Alaverdian told journalists. She said the report will conclude that the process should have been regulated by a special law approved by parliament, rather than government directives.
The report will be the latest in a series of criticisms of the Armenian authorities’ human rights record that has been voiced by Alaverdian and her office this year. It will come amid continuing protests staged by the last remaining residents of one of Yerevan’s oldest neighborhoods. In a bid to thwart their impending eviction, they blocked on Friday the roads leading to their mostly rundown houses. They say that the financial compensation offered by the Yerevan municipality is too low given the city’s rising real estate prices.
Alaverdian agreed, saying that government officials lie when they say that the compensations reflect the market value of the houses subject to demolition. Their owners should be paid more “adequate sums,” she said.
However, a senior government official overseeing the implementation of the massive construction projects claimed the opposite on Tuesday. Karen Davtian said only 5 percent of residents affected by the redevelopment are unhappy with the amount of cash offered by the state. He also said the authorities still hope to reach mutually acceptable agreements with the protesters.
According to Alaverdian, the authorities should have negotiated with them “one by one” before allowing the construction to go ahead. “This problem can not be solved by unilaterally exerting pressure on the people,” she said.
The ombudsman acknowledged that her intervention is unlikely to affect the process. “With this report the human rights defender will exhaust her possibilities [of action],” she said. She was also skeptical about filing lawsuits suing the city authorities, saying that Yerevan courts have already thrown out virtually all lawsuits filed by dislocated families.