Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian reversed his controversial decision to significantly raise the prices of public transport in the Armenian capital on Thursday, bowing to pressure from scores of mostly young activists who demonstrated against it for almost a week.
In a written address to city residents, Markarian announced that he will set up an ad hoc commission that will review the unpopular measure “in the course of several months.” “In the meantime, I will suspend the entry into force of that decision,” he said.
The announcement followed Markarian’s emergency meeting with representatives of the three political parties represented in Yerevan’s municipal council that elected the mayor. One of them, Anahit Bakhshian of the opposition Zharangutyun party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards that Markarian refused to scrap the higher fares and only expressed readiness to offer price discounts to low-income residents.
The previous transport tariffs -- 100 drams (35 U.S. cents) for buses and minibuses and 50 drams for trolleybuses -- were restored just hours after Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian expressed sympathy for the campaign of protests. Hundreds of mainly young Armenians, most of them not affiliated with any groups, have protested across Yerevan on a daily basis since last Saturday, urging bus riders not to pay more for transport. Many people heeded those calls.
Dozens of Armenian artists, TV hosts and other celebrities backed the campaign earlier this week, offering ordinary people free rides in their cars. More than 200 other motorists reportedly joined the Free Car initiative promoted through Facebook.
Markarian also praised the campaign in his statement. “I am happy with the warmth that again exists now between Yerevan residents in terms of helping and being more caring towards each other,” he said. “This warmth is a value that we must be able to preserve for doing great and lasting things.”
Markarian at the same time deplored what he called “ugly treatment” bus drivers collecting higher fares from riders.
One minibus driver was reportedly stabbed and wounded in a dispute with a male commuter on Thursday. The man’s identity and motives were not immediately known, and the Armenian police made no statements on the incident. In a statement, the leaders of the campaign against the fare hikes condemned the violence and said they favor only peaceful methods of struggle.
Markarian’s announcement sparked scenes of joy among the activists. Hundreds of them marched through downtown Yerevan, chanting “Victory!” and congratulating passersby.