A large underground pass in central Yerevan could soon become a new flashpoint in Mayor Karen Karapetian’s controversial efforts to regulate and curb street trade.
The owners of more than 40 kiosks located there demonstrated outside President Serzh Sarkisian’s office on Friday to express concern about rumors that the municipal administration plans to sell the whole area to a single investor.
They said they would be forced to close their businesses legally owned by them since the 1990s. They also claimed that as recently as last year the mayor’s office had them collect 22 million drams ($60,000) to finance capital repairs of the pass located at the intersection of two major Yerevan streets.
“Every kiosk employs five or six people,” said one woman. “Five or six families live off one kiosk. How can they be left without income?”
“If they take away our shops, we will have to leave the country,” warned another, male shopkeeper.
Two representatives of the protesters were received by Hovannes Hovsepian, head of Sarkisian’s Oversight Service. One of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards that Hovsepian effectively confirmed the planned sale of the commercial space and encouraged the kiosk owners to participate in a tender to be called by the municipality.
“Hovsepian said that negotiations will definitely be held with us and that nothing will be done without negotiations, regardless of who buys that underground pass,” he said.
The assurances failed to satisfy the small entrepreneurs who deal in goods ranging from flowers to clothing and mobile phones. “That means that the situation is uncertain and that we may lose everything in a matter of days,” one of them said grimly.
Mayor Karapetian’s press office declined to comment on the matter.
The municipality is already facing protests by the owners of a much larger number of kiosks located on street sidewalks. It began enforcing recently Karapetian’s order to dismantle them.
The mayor implicitly promised last week to scale back the demolitions after Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian added his voice to concerns expressed about the kiosk closures.
Earlier this year, Karapetian controversially closed street markets across the city. Between 3,000 and 10,000 are believed to have worked there.