By Karine Kalantarian
Bailiffs on Friday temporary postponed the eviction of an embattled former TV station from its current location in a state-owned building after the government offered new premises to the media’s founder company.
The Government-affiliated State Property Management Department suggested that A1 Plus, an independent TV channel forced off the air four years ago and now a popular website resource, move to premises more than twice as small as the media’s current editorial rooms in Yerevan’s Grigor Lusavorich Street.
The suggested premises are on the fifth floor of a seven-storied building that used to house the Planning Institute. Remarkably, it is in notorious Buzand Street, blocks away from the place where demolition squads have been clearing space for a rising elite residential estate forcing dozens of families to vacate their homes with small compensation.
Mesrop Movsisian, Head of the Meltex Company that founded A1 Plus, says the company will make the final decision after it inspects the new place. “It is only 100 square meters, instead of 240 square meters we currently occupy,” he told RFE/RL.
To the question whether he found it symbolic that A1 Plus was offered premises in Buzand Street, Movsisian said: “I think that everything connected with A1 Plus in this country is symbolic.”
Movsisian did not exclude that Meltex will demand compensation from the National Academy of Sciences for investments made in the building and if necessary will take the matter to court.
“It is a serious matter as we have made a considerable investment,” he told RFE/RL. “Besides, it is a matter of principle, especially now, as I understand that the only hindering element here is A1 Plus, because the premises we vacated in the upper floors are also leased to other companies, which shows that it is a case specifically concerning A1 Plus.”
A1+, the only national channel that was not controlled by the Armenian authorities, was taken off the air in April 2002 after losing its broadcasting frequency in a tender that was administered by a president-appointed regulatory body. The National Commission on Television and Radio blocked all of its subsequent attempts to win another frequency despite international pressure exerted on Yerevan. The Council of Europe and other international organizations say the A1 Plus closure dealt a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia.
Armenia Helsinki Committee Avetik Ishkhanian and National Revival party leader Albert Bazeyan came to A1 Plus’ editorial office on Friday morning to show their support.
In Bazeyan’s opinion, the policy on A1 Plus is immediately linked with all facts of human rights violations in Armenia and Ishkhanian described A1 Plus as a symbol of freedom of speech in Armenia.
“A1 Plus’ return to the air would mean the restoration of freedom of speech at least on television,” Ishkhanian concluded.