By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian police on Tuesday denied using force against residents of a village just outside Yerevan resisting government plans to redesign a local highway in a way which could hit hard their roadside businesses.
The denial sharply contrasted with television pictures that showed on Monday hundreds of police using truncheons to disperse an angry crowd that tried to disrupt the start of work on the road running through their village of Parakar and leading to the nearby Zvartnots international airport.
The Armenian government decided earlier this year to turn half of the road into a two-lane “motorway” that would be separated from dozens of furniture shops, casinos and other businesses lining it. The main purpose of the plan is to speed up traffic between the increasingly congested capital and Zvartnots. In particular, cars and other vehicles will not be allowed to stop and pull up at those businesses.
Their employees, virtually all of them Parakar residents, fear that they will lose their jobs as a result. Scores of them reportedly gathered on Monday in a desperate attempt to stop construction workers from building roadside barriers along the highway. According to Yerkir-Media television, special police units were among security forces sent from Yerevan to break up the protest.
However, Armenia’s Police Service claimed that its officers arrived at the scene only to “defuse possible tensions” between local residents and construction workers and did not resort to force. “There were no clashes between the parties,” it said in a statement. “Consequently, nobody was injured or detained.”
But locals claimed the opposite, saying that the police relentlessly hit the protesters. “We would like to continue protests but we can’t right now,” said one man. “They will again use force. But I’m sure the whole village will rise up.” As many as three thousand people risk losing their jobs, he said.
“Nobody here has achieved anything with the state’s support,” said another Parakar resident. “We ourselves earn a living, but they want to strip us even of that.”
Government officials in Yerevan dismissed the fears, saying that the businesses will be able to remain afloat.