By Narek Galstian
A street in downtown Yerevan looked like a battleground again this morning as a demolition squad supported by regular and special police units went on pulling down people’s homes to clear the way for a rising elite residential estate.
At least 30 ‘red berets’ and 15 police officers loudly coordinating their actions with the ‘Center’ via walky-talkies encircled the house in 15 Buzand Street where two women refusing to leave the place stood in the way of the demolishers.
RFE/RL’s reporter noticed a tough-talking lieutenant-colonel approach the women and pull one of them by the arm. Meeting their resistance, he began threatening them verbally.
“You may stand here, but we will demolish this building today anyway,” he said, ordering bulldozers to move in.
The police officer kept his promise as the house was eventually torn down.
Buzand Street and adjacent areas stand in the way of two new streets that are being built in central Yerevan by private investors. Expensive high-rise buildings are already emerging in place of the mostly old and modest houses.
Demolition works are often carried out according to a ‘domino principle.’ The demolition of the house in 15 Buzand Street means that all the houses on its way are automatically subject to demolition.
“Today, they are trying to demolish our house to clear the way towards building #15,” said one angry resident whose house stood in the way of the demolition squad.
The residents facing eviction in Buzand Street earlier tried to stop the activities by building barricades. They said the financial compensation offered to them by the government was only a fraction of the market value of their real estate.
A human rights lawyer, Vahe Grigorian, who provided legal aid to the desperate residents of the area, was arrested on fraud charges last week amid suspicions that these charges had been fabricated in response to his activities.
The Yerevan municipality insists that the Buzand Street protesters represent only a small minority of hundreds of dislocated families which it says have been properly compensated.
But the integrity of the process is seriously questioned by Armenia’s human rights activists, including the state’s ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian.