The Armenian government appears to have frozen indefinitely the protracted reconstruction of Gyumri amid growing anger and frustration among hundreds of families in the country’s second largest lacking adequate housing more than 25 years after a catastrophic earthquake.
The government launched in 2008 a $250 million program to build more than 4,600 apartments and houses in Gyumri and other parts of northern Armenia devastated by the calamity. Officials said at the time that virtually all people living in makeshift homes in the earthquake-hit areas will be provided with new housing by 2013.
Over 2,800 apartments have since been constructed in Gyumri. A private construction firm contracted by the government was due to start building another 420 apartments there in 2012. However, the construction has still not begun apparently because of a lack of government funding.
Citing information from the Armenian Ministry of Urban Development, a Gyumri-based non-governmental organization, Shirak Center, said on Tuesday that no new apartment blocks will be built in the city this year. The group said the ministry has stopped short of promising that the construction will resume next year.
“There are probably financial issues. But they gave us no concrete reason,” Vahan Tumasian, the Shirak Center chairman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Contacted by this correspondent, the ministry promised to comment later this week.
The reconstruction delay is causing mounting anger among as many as 1,500 families remaining on the local waiting list for free housing. Ever since December 1988 quake , which killed 25,000 people, they have huddled in metal shacks called “domiks” by locals.
Some of those people interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) threatened to stage street protests unless the government makes good on its repeated pledges to provide them with new and decent homes. “I just can’t wait any longer,” said one angry middle-aged woman. “I would love to see our leaders or their relatives come to our places and just spend an hour here,” she added, pointing to her ramshackle “domik.”
“Let them come here with their families and live here for one day,” agreed one of her neighbors. “They’ll feel on their skin how we live. They won’t stay here even for two hours.”
There is a growing belief among “domik” dwellers that the government put housing construction on hold in retaliation for President Serzh Sarkisian’s extremely poor showing in Gyumri during Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2013.
“They are taking revenge on us,” claimed one local resident. “I personally voted for Serzh Sarkisian, hoping that there will be more construction and we’ll get new homes. I couldn’t imagine then that I will become a victim.”