The highly controversial construction of shops in a public park in central Yerevan resumed overnight and continued on Tuesday after riot police returned there to ward off more protests by environmental and civic activists.
The construction site was again cordoned off by the police late on Monday after more than 100 activists ended a protest against what they consider further damage to Yerevan’s shrinking green areas. The mostly young activists broke through the police cordon to halt the construction work earlier in the day.
Many of them again gathered in the small park on Tuesday but were kept at bay by scores of police officers guarding the site. They were furious with the authorities’ decision to capitalize on the nightfall.
“We are not going to retreat,” one young woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “This is ridiculous, these steps are the beginning of their defeat.”
“I have every right to stand here,” said another female protester. “This is my park. No police officer has the right to push me out of here.”
Armenia - Young activists demonstrate against the construction of shops in a public park in Yerevan, 21Feb2012.
Throughout the day prominent public figures and ordinary citizens visited the protesters to express sympathy for their campaign which has gained a public resonance despite receiving little coverage from government-controlled TV stations. Meruzhan Ter-Gulanian, a pro-establishment writer, was among them. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, he urged the still unknown shop owners “to abandon all this for the sake of Yerevan.” Ter-Gulanian also said the city’s under-fire Mayor Taron Markarian lacks the power to stop the construction.
Markarian defended the authorities’ refusal to bow to the pressure in a statement issued later on Tuesday. He said that the new kiosks will stand in the park “temporarily” and will cause no harm to its trees.
“Important and complex issues related to property ownership cannot be solved on the basis of certain citizens’ subjective understanding of justice,” Markarian said. “Nevertheless, despite the negative and critical evaluations, I am happy that my fellow city residents are so concerned about the problems and the future of our beloved Yerevan.”
The Armenia police defended their actions in a separate statement saying that they are obliged to enforce municipality decisions and that only courts can determine their legality challenged by the protesters. The statement warned that activists defying police orders will face “administrative punishment.”
The police also offered to hold a roundtable discussion with relevant civic groups on “the legal grounds for the police actions” in the park.