Hundreds of traders at Yerevan’s largest clothes market scuffled with riot police on Friday as they blocked a major street to demand lower rents for their kiosks and stalls suffering from what they call falling sales.
The traders complained that they are finding it increasingly hard to pay a fixed monthly fee of 25,000 drams ($50) for every square meter of commercial space used by them. They demanded that the market administration lower it by at least 30 percent.
The once thriving market located in the city’s western Malatia-Sebastia district has been hit hard by an overall decrease in retail trade in Armenia observed since the beginning of 2015.It is also increasingly struggling to compete with modern shopping malls offering world-famous clothing brands.
“We are not slaves. Enough is enough,” said one angry man taking participating in the protest.
“We suffer from stress every time the day of payments comes,” said another, female trader. “Some people borrow money to pay the rent.”
“I’m not forcing them to stay here,” the market owner, Samvel Avetisian, said bluntly. “Many people have said they are going to close up shop. No problem, let them do that.”
“I’ve worked here for 25 years. Where should I go?” pleaded one middle-aged woman.
Avetisian said that he is ready to cut the rent to 20,000 drams per square meter but only if the traders agree to pay some of his taxes. The protesters rejected the demand before blocking traffic through a busy street adjacent to the sprawling market.
Riot police used force to unblock the street about an hour later. They detained three men in a resulting scuffle with the protesters.
The use of force was followed by more talks between several representatives of the protesting traders and Avetisian held in the latter’s office. The hour-long meeting yielded no agreement.
“We’ve done what you’ve demanded for the past five months,” Avetisian told them. “If I agree to a [rent] discount you will demand a new one three months later. I can’t work like that.”
A protest leader responded by warning that the traders will pay no rent at all in March if the owner continues to reject their demands.