By Karine Kalantarian
More than a hundred people facing eviction from their Yerevan homes slated for demolition gathered outside President Robert Kocharian’s office on Tuesday to protest against their alleged harassment by a powerful security agency.
The protesters reside in Yerevan’s few remaining old neighborhoods that are due to be torn down as part of a massive government-approved redevelopment going on in the city center. Unlike hundreds of other families whose houses have already been demolished, many of those residents do not officially own their houses and will not necessarily be compensated for their loss.
They claim that municipal authorities demand huge fees in return for granting them title to their properties. The Yerevan municipality promised last year to do this free of charge in some of the neighborhoods concerned.
Organizers of the protest said that the National Security Service (NSS) rounded up and questioned on Monday more than two dozen eviction-threatened residents. Lena Chilingarian, a middle-aged resident of the Kozern neighborhood, claimed to be one of them. “I got really scared when people from the National Security Service came to take me away,” she said.
Chilingarian and other protesters allegedly questioned by the NSS said law-enforcement officers specifically tried to get them to give incriminating testimony against Samvel Mkrtchian, head of the non-governmental organization Community and Right championing their cause. They said they refused to testify that he is doing so for money.
The NSS already arrested on controversial fraud charges in 2005 a human rights lawyer who had helped other evicted families sue the Armenian government at the European Court of Human Rights. The lawyer, Vahe Grigorian, was released several months later.
The demonstrators feared that Mkrtchian, whose mobile phone was not reachable for two days, was also arrested by the former KGB. However, the activist denied this as he joined the protest later on.
Still, Mkrtchian claimed that municipality officials have told him that the NSS is “dealing with you.” He said he is constantly being followed by unknown individuals and fears for the safety of his wife and children. “Their goal is to sabotage activities of the non-governmental organization Community and Right,” he told RFE/RL.
The protesters, meanwhile, dispersed after receiving what organizers described assurances by officials from Kocharian’s staff that the NSS will not disturb them anymore.