Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, on Thursday urged owners of kiosks in Yerevan to wage a “political struggle” against government attempts to shut them down.
“If the grounds [for the closure of kiosks] are absolutely not legal in cases involving you, I would advise you … to keep up your protests not as a legal struggle but as a political struggle,” Andreasian said.
“You should wage the legal struggle with me because I have something to do here,” he told a group of owners at a meeting held in his office.
The meeting came two days after Andreasian condemned as illegal the controversial closure of hundreds of kiosks ordered by Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian. He said in particular that the mayor’s office broke the law when it attempted to dismantle several small shops in the city’s Arabkir district last week.
A spokesman for Karapetian, Artur Gevorgian, admitted on Thursday that their owners were wrongly sent written notices informing them about the impending closure of their businesses. He blamed the “mistake” on the district administration and said those kiosks will not be dismantled.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Gevorgian also reiterated Karapetian’s statements that the controversial order will only affect those kiosks that lack official authorizations or are located on “central streets.” “Socially vulnerable” people working there will be paid “adequate compensation” or offered other jobs, he said.
The protesting traders dismiss the government pledges to scale back the demolitions, saying that hundreds of them will still be left without a source of income. Dozens of them again demonstrated outside the main government building in Yerevan earlier on Thursday.
The protesters have formed a committee that will coordinate their vocal campaign. It has already sent letters to various state bodies demanding a full scrapping of the kiosk ban imposed by Karapetian.
“This is creating a big socioeconomic problem, it’s not about our whims,” said Arevik, a female member of the committee. “The appearance of the city is secondary when at stake is the source of people’s living.”
“All we want is to continue to work and use what we have created,” she added.
Meanwhile, the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, which has also been very critical of Karapetian’s actions, demanded urgent parliament hearings on the controversy. Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun leader, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the demand is addressed to all standing committees of the National Assembly.
Hakob Hakobian, the pro-government chairman of a parliament committee on social issues, spoke out against such hearings and effectively defended the kiosk closures. But Hrayr Karapetian, chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security affiliated with the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, backed Zharangutyun’s demand.