Sarkisian looked grim after inspecting the first two apartment blocks built in the country’s second city of Gyumri as part of a $70 million government program to finally rehabilitate the vast earthquake zone. He declined to make any public statements before and after holding an unplanned meeting with senior government officials and top executives of the Glendale Hills construction firm involved in the effort.
“Serzh Sarkisian expressed his discontent with the quality of the interior construction work,” the presidential press service said in a statement. It said he specifically deplored a lack of basic amenities inside the new apartments built for Gyumri residents still lacking decent housing more than two decades after the catastrophic quake that killed some 25,000 people and made hundreds of others homeless.
“The president of the republic instructed us to make sure that all apartments have access to gas, are equipped with heating systems, and have adequate bathrooms,” Urban Development Minister Vartan Vartanian told journalists afterwards. “There was also an instruction to put gas stove in all kitchens.”
“We promised to eliminate all shortcomings before the end of the project,” he said. “At the builder’s expense.” According to other officials present at the meeting, this will have to be done by May 15.
According to Armenian government data, more than 7,000 families, who lost their homes on December 7, 1998, still live in shacks and other temporary shelters. The government has pledged to provide some 5,300 of them with new and adequate housing by 2013.
In Gyumri alone, the government is to finance the construction of over 3,000 apartments by Glendale Hills. More than a thousand of them were supposed to be officially inaugurated last month. The ceremony was postponed until the end of December.
The substandard interior design and the May deadline set by Sarkisian suggest that even the first 96 families that were selected on Saturday to inhabit the first buildings will have to wait for several more months. They only received apartment ownership certificates on Wednesday during a ceremony timed to coincide with Sarkisian’s arrival.
“We went to see our new apartment the other day and are very unhappy,” one woman told RFE/RL. “There is no heating, no ceramic tiles, no taps, nothing.”
“None of the apartments meets European standards,” said an elderly man.
Lori officials said 220 local families will get new houses by April and another 72 later in the year. They said the construction of about 150 houses in eight villages across the region is also nearing completion.