By Shakeh Avoyan
Robert Nazarian, the former mayor of Yerevan, made on Tuesday a strong case for an elected municipality in the Armenian capital, saying that its presidentially appointed heads are too weak to ensure good governance.
“As long as Yerevan has no elected mayors, I’m afraid that achieving serious successes in its dynamic developments will not be possible,” he said at his first news conference since his sacking last July.
Nazarian claimed that he himself asked President Robert Kocharian to relieve him of his duties after realizing that he is unable to run the city properly. “Looking back at those two and a half years, I made a firm decision not to continue to work as mayor of Yerevan,” he said.
Nazarian’s dismissal was widely attributed to the results of the May parliamentary elections in which a pro-Kocharian bloc headed by him fared poorly, failing to win any seats in the National Assembly. Shortly afterwards he was named to head a state body regulating public utilities and other “natural monopolies” such as the ArmenTel operator.
The ex-mayor was widely criticized for a dramatic spread of street cafes that now occupy most of public parks in the city center. The process has been accompanied by a shrinkage of environmentally important green areas, with some café owners chopping down olds trees to make room for their businesses. Many of those businesses are owned by ministers and other influential government officials who are believed to have used their position to clinch lucrative land allocations from the municipality.
Nazarian implied that he was powerless to resist orders from above. He also said that almost all café owners flouted their license terms by grabbing more land that was allocated to them and constructing illegal premises on it. “I can be blamed for not fighting against those illegalities,” he said. “Yes, I failed to do that.”
Under Armenia’s constitution enacted under former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, Yerevan is the only urban community in the country that has no elected mayor. Some analysts believe that Ter-Petrosian feared that an official elected by at least one third of the country’s population could be in a strong position to challenge his rule.
There have been numerous calls for the abolition of that exception in recent years. Kocharian, however, opposes that. His package of draft amendments to the constitution put on a referendum in May did not envisage any changes in the formation of the Yerevan administration.