About 30 former residents of an old Yerevan neighborhood partly demolished in a government-sanctioned redevelopment project stopped President Serzh Sarkisian’s motorcade on Wednesday to protest against municipal authorities’ failure to provide them with new housing.
Sarkisian was confronted by them as he left his official residence adjacent to the historic Kond district. Eyewitnesses said he got out of his limousine and talked to them for about 15 minutes.
The protesters claimed to represent some 200 Kond families who were promised new homes by the government in 2007 in return for agreeing to the demolition of their mostly old and derelict houses. As part of that agreement, they were due to be settled in apartment blocks which a private construction firm should have built in the same area within three years. The company called Downtown also pledged to compensate them for temporary apartments that they rented for the duration of the construction.
The Kond houses were swiftly torn down at the time. However, work on new properties that were supposed to replace them has not even started yet, reflecting a continuing crisis in the Armenian construction industry hit hard by recession in 2009. The sector expanded rapidly in the decade preceding the downturn.
“I told the president that they made the mistake right at the beginning because if you … don’t solve all issues in advance how can you displace residents?” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“He said that the process is in progress and the issue will be solved,” she said. “But I couldn’t restrain myself and said, ‘You know what, nothing is happening.’”
She also revealed that Sarkisian met with her and other displaced residents also in the run-up to the May 6 parliamentary elections.
Levon Hakobian, a senior official from the Yerevan municipality dealing with redevelopment in Kond, insisted that the authorities are working hard to remedy the situation. He said that a new private developer is taking over the project and will start building the first apartment block there “within a month.” “The people will get new apartments in two or three years,” Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.