By Anna Saghabalian
Residents of a disappearing old neighborhood in Yerevan set up barricades Friday in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the demolition of their homes as part of an ongoing massive redevelopment which critics say is riddled with injustice and government corruption.
About a dozen families heaped stones, beams and even pieces of furniture to block all approaches to the last remaining houses on Buzand Street in downtown Yerevan. They pledged to maintain a round-the-clock vigil outside their homes.
The desperate action is the latest in a year-long series of protests by owners of old houses in central Yerevan that have been or will be demolished to give way to two expensive housing and office buildings. Local residents, who have regularly demonstrated outside Armenia’s main government buildings, say financial compensation offered to them by the government is well below the soaring prices of decent apartments in other parts of the city. They also say it is not uncommon for families to be cheated or receive compensations several months after vacating their properties.
“I have 90 square meters [of living space] but they are giving me only 18,000 [dollars],” said one angry woman. “Where should I live? In the street?” She claimed that she will throw herself out of her third-floor balcony if law-enforcement officials try to force her out.
“Whatever they do, I won’t get out of her,” said one of her male neighbors.
The defiant mood was passed on to children playing near the barricades. “If I have enough strength I won’t let them evict us,” said an 8-year-old girl.
The protest was prompted by the demolition of yet another Buzand Street house late on Thursday. One of the members of a family that inhabited it, 65-year-old Anzhela Muradian, climbed on the rooftop, threatening to throw herself to the ground. Court bailiffs tried in vain to persuade her to leave the property before calling a special police unit that forced the elderly woman out.
Muradian felt unwell and had to be hospitalized as she watched bulldozers raze the house in which she has resided for the last 40 years to the ground. She left the hospital the next day to join neighbors sitting on the barricades. “I will not leave this place,” she told RFE/RL, breathing with difficulty.
The Muradians have been offered $17,000 for their 40 square-meter house, just enough to buy a modest apartment on the outskirts of Yerevan. Luxury apartments constructed in the increasingly expensive area are already being sold for as much as $1,500 per square meter.
The family claims that bailiffs also took away its television set and other electronic equipment without any explanation. “When we asked where our property is now they said it’s not our business,” said one of Anzhela Muradian’s grandsons.
“They were thrown out in a barbaric fashion,” said Sedrak Baghdasarian, one of the Muradians’ neighbors. “They have nowhere to sleep. I took in one of their kids and so did other neighbors.”
The authorities in Yerevan defend the integrity of the process, denying that any high-level government official could have cashed in on the construction boom that has also affected other parts of the city center. “Naturally, there may be disaffected people and there are problems which we have to resolve through negotiations,” the city’s chief architect, Samvel Danielian, assured journalists last month.
Virtually all of the lawsuits filed by dislocated residents against the municipal authorities have been rejected by courts. Several plaintiffs have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.