Representatives of Yerevan’s municipal administration assured the Armenian parliament on Friday that Mayor Karen Karapetian will scale back the ongoing closure of commercial kiosks across the capital that has provoked angry protests by their owners.
Karapetian’s deputy Taron Markarian and other senior municipality officials met with representatives of the parliament factions to explain Karapetian’s highly controversial efforts to regulate street trade.
Stepan Safarian, a senior deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they pledged submit documents explaining the wisdom of those efforts and specifying the criteria for the selection of small shops subject to demolition.
More importantly, Safarian said, they insisted that the process will affect only those kiosks that are located in the city center. The number of such properties will be reduced from 266 to 190, he said.
According to the mayor’s office, some 900 of over 3,000 kiosks operating in Yerevan have been shut down since the beginning of the year. Karapetian claimed last month that they either lacked valid government licenses or were located on “central streets” and “interfered with the normal work of the city.”
The state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, disputed that claim, saying that at least some of those closures were illegal. He urged kiosk owners to continue to fight for their businesses.
Safarian, whose party is strongly opposed to the mayor’s actions, suggested that the municipality seems to have softened its stance in the face of the criticism. “Given that the number of kiosks [slated for closure] has been curtailed, it can be said that there is some change,” he said.
Naira Zohrabian, a deputy from the pro-government Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), expressed hope that the municipality will come up with a mutually acceptable solution. “I think we will manage to find a solution,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“It is important to maintain the city’s external appearance, but it is even more important to protect the rights of small and medium-sized businesspeople who manage to meet their socioeconomic needs with small shops,” she said.
Several dozen kiosk owners who gathered outside the parliament building in Yerevan were unconvinced, however. “They are just taking a break so that we stop protesting and gathering,” one woman said, dismissing Karapetian’s assurances.
“They have repeatedly promised that they won’t touch this or that kiosk only to summon their owners and say that it’s now their turn,” said another owner.