By Anna Saghabalian
Several dozen people gathered outside the Armenian parliament on Monday in protest against its failure to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of their forced eviction from their demolished homes in central Yerevan.
They specifically condemned six pro-government members of the National Assembly who withdrew their crucial support for an opposition attempt to have a massive commercial redevelopment in the city center declared unconstitutional.
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance lodged the appeal on behalf of 32 parliament deputies on February 7. Under Armenia’s recently amended constitution, the Constitutional Court has to hand down a verdict on any case brought by at least 27 members of the National Assembly. The last-minute withdrawal of six supporting signatures led the court to cancel hearings on the case just hours before they were due to open on February 21. The six lawmakers reportedly caved in to strong government pressure.
The protesters were until recently residents of one of the city center’s old neighborhoods that has been torn down as part of the ongoing redevelopment. They were forced to vacate their properties after months of fruitless efforts to get the municipal authorities to raise modest compensation offered for their properties. The neighborhood’s last remaining house was bulldozed in the presence of law-enforcement officials on Thursday.
“There will be elections soon. We just want to know if there are at least 27 decent deputies in our country,” one of the protesters, Sedrak Baghdasarian, told RFE/RL.
Several of the evicted families have sued the Armenian government at the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all possibilities of legal action in Armenia. Vahe Grigorian, a human rights lawyer who helped them file lawsuits to the Strasbourg-based court, was arrested by the National Security Service (NSS) on controversial fraud charges last October. Grigorian was kept in pre-trial detention until an Armenian appeals court ordered his release on February 15.
Grigorian on Monday described the court ruling as a “small but important victory” and pledged to continue to press his clients’ case, saying that the four months spent in the basement jail of the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB have not weakened his resolve. “That detention center has retained its KGB essence,” he said.
Tigran Atanesian, one of Grigorian’s defense attorneys, was also defiant. “Individuals released from unjust detention or imprisonment in Armenia usually prefer not to seek justice in order to avoid further trouble,” he said. “Vahe Grigorian’s case will be an exception. If they think that we will keep silent after his release they are badly mistaken.”