By Hovannes Shoghikian
The Armenian opposition succeeded on Wednesday in blocking a controversial bill that would uphold the government’s power to confiscate real property and give it to private developers by citing “state needs.”
The government lacked only four votes to push the bill through parliament in the second reading. Poor attendance of the parliament session appears to have been instrumental in its rare setback in the overwhelmingly loyal National Assembly.
The draft law is supposed to regulate continuing demolitions of old parts of central Yerevan that has been the scene of a massive redevelopment in recent years. They have sparked angry protests by scores of people who have been evicted from their now demolished homes and claim to have not been properly compensated by the state.
The Armenian constitution stipulates that private property can be taken away by the state “only in exceptional cases involving overriding public interests, in a manner defined by law, and with a prior commensurate compensation.” However, the process has so far been regulated only by government directives. Armenia’s Constitutional Court effectively declared it illegal in April, but stopped short of ordering the authorities to return the increasingly expensive land to their former owners.
The government came up with the bill in response to the court ruling. The bill, if passed, will allow it to continue to tear down old houses by invoking “needs of the public and the state.” It was endorsed by the parliament factions of the governing Republican Party and Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
But the opposition minority has fiercely resisted the proposed legislation, saying that the process would remain highly discretionary and result in more arbitrary practices. Opposition lawmakers were unconvinced even by a legal provision stipulating that financial compensation paid to house owners must be at least 10 percent higher than the market value of the confiscated properties.
The property valuation is already supposed to be market-based. However, many displaced families believe that their homes were worth much more than the modest sums they have received from the state.
(Photolur photo: A new street built in downtown Yerevan in place of old houses.)