An indoor market situated in a central Yerevan boulevard reopened on Monday after undergoing reconstruction described by many local architects and urban conservation activists as illegal.
Built in downtown Yerevan in the 1950s, the agricultural market known locally as Pak Shuka has for decades been one of the city’s major landmarks. It is included on the Armenian Culture Ministry’s list of historical buildings that cannot be redesigned without government permission.
Samvel Aleksanian, a government-linked tycoon who controls lucrative imports of basic foodstuffs to Armenia, secured no such authorization when he began demolishing the building’s arched roof in May last year shortly after privatizing the property. He claimed that it is in urgent need of renovation.
Now while preserving its frontal design the reconstructed building, besides the traditional agricultural market, also hosts a large food store associated with the Yerevan City supermarket chain owned by Aleksanian.
Civil activists have for months protested against Aleksanian’s plans for redesigning the indoor market which they insisted should be preserved in its original architectural form. But last month their attempts to stage protests on the spot failed as hundreds of people claiming to be beneficiaries of the project as future market employees and praising Aleksanian as their benefactor staged counterdemonstrations in support of the affluent businessman.
No protesters were seen near the market as it reopened its doors to visitors on Monday.
Those opposed to the project instead organized a discussion, inviting a number of officials to participate in the event. Only representatives of the Ministry of Urban Development and the Armenian Police responded to the invitations. During the discussion they sought to prove in every way that their agencies were not to blame in connection with the project.
Garegin Chugaszian, a member of the pressure group calling itself “Let’s Free the Monument From the Oligarch”, gave assurances that activists would continue their campaign against what he again described as illegal redevelopment of an outstanding piece of Yerevan architecture, including with street actions.
“We are talking about whether there are [functioning] state bodies left in this country or not. We deal with a registered crime. That is what we’re discussing now,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Meanwhile, traders who mostly had no opportunity to sell their produce while the indoor market was under reconstruction, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they were happy to be under the Pak Shuka roof again. They admitted, however, that no one had signed contracts with them for the vending stalls.