Meeting with fierce resistance from their owners, municipal workers dismantled only two of 10 kiosks located on a Papazian Street section in the city’s second-largest Arabkir district and slated for demolition.
The angry protesters, most of them women, were joined by several parliament deputies from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) during brief but noisy scuffles with police officers. Some of them suffered minor injuries.
Also trying to stop the demolitions was Aleksandr Ghazarian, a senior official from Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s office. Ghazarian demanded that Hrayr Antonian, Arabkir’s deputy mayor leading the operation, show a copy of the mayor’s decision made early this year.
“Call the municipality and they will tell you,” Antonian replied, defending the local government’s actions.
Armenia - Kiosk owners in Yerevan scuffle with police, 10Aug2011.
The closure of kiosks began about three months ago and gained momentum last week, with scores of owners receiving written notices informing them that their properties will be dismantled in the next three days. Some of them vowed to resist the enforcement of the ban, while others began daily demonstrations outside the municipal administration on Friday.
According to the mayor’s office, Karapetian’s decision applies to those kiosks that operate without valid government licenses or lie on major streets in and outside the city center. Municipality officials say that owners of kiosks falling into the latter category will be offered alternative locations for selling food, tobacco, drinks and other products.
Many of the affected shopkeepers say the forced closures are illegal and unfair, especially considering a lack of employment opportunities in Armenia. They readily show copies of numerous government licenses and certificates testifying to the legality of their business. Some of them also have outstanding debts to banks.
The owner of one of the Papazian Street kiosks facing closure claimed to have borrowed $15,000 last year. “How am I going to repay it by 2015?” he complained to journalists.
“This kiosk supports two families … Look at how many signed documents I’ve got. How can they close my kiosk with a verbal order?” said the middle-aged man.
“Stop crying, darling,” he said, turning to his weeping wife. “We’ll sell everything and go … This country is not a good place to live.”
A police officer tried unsuccessfully to soothe another, female kiosk owner. “How can I calm down?” she cried. “They are stripping me of my livelihood. Do you understand? It’s a livelihood.”
Armenia -- Police help government officials dismantle kiosks in Yerevan. 10Aug., 2011
The Zharangutyun lawmakers also condemned the forcible closures. “If the municipality thinks that these structures are illegal, then everyone, including the former mayor and district chiefs, must be held accountable for allowing their construction in the first place,” said Stepan Safarian, the opposition party’s parliamentary leaders.
Karapetian remained adamant, however. “There is an order to dismantle kiosks in that street and it will be executed in full,” the mayor’s spokeswoman, Shushan Sardarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Sardarian claimed that the Arabkir district administration has offered to provide the affected small retailers with “jobs and material assistance.” She also said that four other kiosks located on Papazian Street will not be shut down because their owners privatized the land occupied by their businesses.
The official said earlier this week that some 1,200 small shops have been dismantled to date.
Earlier this year, the Yerevan municipality imposed and enforced an equally controversial ban on street trade. The ban affected between 3,000 and 10,000 mostly low-income people.
Karapetian and his aides have said that these measures are necessary to give the city of one million a more “civilized” look. Critics counter, however, the authorities have left thousands of families without a source of income.
The ongoing kiosk demolitions on Wednesday also prompted concern from Karen Andreasian, Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman. Andreasian said through a spokeswoman that his office is currently looking into the legality of the process and has demanded “explanations from relevant state bodies.”