By Astghik Bedevian
Authorities in Yerevan defended their handling of the ongoing controversial redevelopment of the city center on Tuesday as police cleared street barricades set up by owners of old houses subject to demolition.
About a dozen families resisting eviction from one the capital’s oldest neighborhoods blocked on Friday the roads leading to their homes with stones and other heavy objects. They say financial compensation offered to them by the government makes up a fraction of the market value of their real estate. Residents of neighboring old quarters and representatives of non-governmental organizations and opposition parties held a sit-in there in a show of solidarity with the protesters were joined on Monday.
Regular and special police units moved into the rapidly disappearing Buzand Street on Tuesday and faced no resistance as they dismantled the barricades. Police officers could still been seen at the scene in the evening. But the protesting residents said they will not leave their homes.
This and adjacent areas stand in the way of two new streets that are being built in downtown Yerevan by private investors. Expensive high-rise buildings are already emerging in place of the mostly old and modest houses.
Karen Davtian, an official at the Yerevan municipality overseeing the massive construction, defended the integrity and fairness of the process. “People have too high expectations which we can not meet,” he told a news conference.
Davtian claimed that only 5 percent of residents affected by the redevelopment are unhappy with the amount of compensation which he put at between $800 and $1,000 per square meter.
However, Buzand Street residents insist that they have been offered less than half of that and can not buy decent apartments in other parts of the city. They also say other families have received their cash only several months after vacating their property.
“I have received no such complaints,” countered Davtian.
The official also said that the authorities will succeed in persuading the protesters to leave their houses. “We won’t throw them out,” he said. “We will negotiate and they will get out.”