Mayor Taron Markarian again defended at the weekend the controversial construction of kiosks in a public park in downtown Yerevan which has sparked protests by environmentalists and other civic activists.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Markarian said the nearly one dozen large kiosks will stand there for only three years and not damage any trees. He also cited the need to protect the property rights of their owners.
The shops mainly selling clothing were previously located on the sidewalk of a major street in the city center. They were dismantled along with hundreds of other kiosks across Yerevan last year.
Environment protection and other civic groups condemned the choice of a new location for those properties, saying that they would inflict further damage on Yerevan’s green areas that have shrunk significantly over the past decade. They also say that the municipal administration failed to follow all legal procedures before issuing the construction permit.
Dozens of mostly young activists have staged daily sit-ins in the park, forcing the authorities to effectively suspend the construction work late last month.
Markarian spoke of his deep respect for the protesters but indicated that the kiosk construction will resume soon. “The young people [demonstrating] there really care about green areas and ecology,” he said. “But they should not show that care in that way.”
The 33-year-old mayor claimed that the kiosk owners were offered the temporary relocation option because the municipality lacks the funds to compensate them for the loss of their businesses. He said the owners of some 700 other dismantled kiosks were not paid such compensation because they did not operate legally.
The outcry over the shop construction reflects growing anger among politically active Armenians with the shrinkage of public parks across the city. Virtually all of them are now dotted with cafes, restaurants and other commercial properties. The authorities have until now essentially ignored less vocal and radical forms of protest against Yerevan’s deforestation.
Markarian, who is a senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia, said his administration understands these concerns. He said it will triple this year spending on the maintenance and expansion of municipal parks and planting of new trees elsewhere in Yerevan.