By Shakeh Avoyan
Security forces used force to evict on Thursday yet another family in downtown Yerevan whose old house has been confiscated by the state to be torn down by private real estate developers.
The family of nine persons were forced out of their eight-room property after refusing to accept a $23,000 compensation offered by municipal authorities. Citing “public needs,” the authorities have decided to give it to the owner of an adjacent building housing a night club and a department store.
The evicted residents say the proposed compensation is worth a fraction of the market value of their home and insufficient even for buying a tiny apartment on the city outskirts. The authorities counter that the sum is modest partly because some parts of the house were constructed illegally.
The main house owner, Samvel Gharibian, has unsuccessfully challenged his family’s displacement in two courts. He filed an appeal to Armenia’s Court of Cassation and is currently awaiting a judgment.
Justice Ministry bailiffs, backed up by special police, cited the lower court rulings as they broke into Gharibian’s house. His wife and one of the daughters put up fierce resistance to the law-enforcement officers, screaming and condemning them as “fascists.” The pregnant young woman was injured in the scuffle and required medical assistance.
In the meantime, dozens of other people, who have already been evicted from other old neighborhoods of Yerevan, gathered outside in a show of solidarity with the Gharibian family. “You don’t defend the interests of the people,” one man shouted at the bailiffs.
“I’m not the one who is forcing them out,” countered one of the officials.
Hundreds of families have been affected by the ongoing controversial redevelopment which is rapidly changing the city center. Many of them have been similarly unhappy with the modest amount of compensations, alleging high-level government corruption. Some have resisted eviction by filing lawsuits and even building barricades.
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.” The process has until now been regulated only by government directives, however. 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. It only ordered the government to pass a bill regulating all aspects of urban development.
The government-controlled parliament approved such a bill last November amid strong protests from the opposition minority which considers it too discretionary. It essentially allows the authorities to continue to demolish old houses in the capital and other parts of the country by simply invoking “needs of the public and the state.”
The government again used that prerogative at a weekly meeting on Thursday, approving redevelopment projects in some parts of the Armenian capital. A government press release did not specify those areas.