Eleven youth activists were detained by police on the night from Monday to Tuesday as they tried to thwart the demolition of yet another old building in Yerevan together with dozens of other protesters.
The crowd rallied in the city center in a last-ditch attempt to save the historic building commonly known as the Afrikians’ House from destruction sanctioned by municipal authorities.
The two-story structure was built in the late 19th century by one of the wealthiest and most influential families in what was then a provincial town in the Russian Empire. It served as a private club for the local elite and was turned into an apartment block after Armenia’s incorporation into the Soviet Union.
The building was controversially included in 2006 on a government list of properties subject to demolition as part of a massive redevelopment of central Yerevan. Its residents have gradually moved out since then, buying or renting other apartments with financial compensation paid by the property’s new owner: a private firm that reportedly plans to build a hotel in its place.
The redevelopment project has sparked an uproar from civil society members concerned about what they see as a methodical destruction of Yerevan’s cultural and historical heritage. The Mayor’s Office has assured them that the building’s intricate façade and exterior walls will be reassembled in another part of the city center. The municipal and central governments have pledged to build recreate an “old quarter” consisting of 19th centuries structures torn down over the past decade.
Work on that district has yet to start, however. Government critics say this fact only proves that the Afrikians’ House will be lost irreversibly if the authorities are allowed to demolish it.
The several dozen activists who rallied on Monday night dismantled a protective tin fence that was placed around the house earlier this year in preparation for its demolition. One of them was arrested by riot police on the spot, while ten others were taken into custody after they gathered outside a nearby police station to demand his release.
All young men were set free without charge several hours later. One of them, Babken Der-Grigorian, claimed to have been verbally abused and threatened by police officers.
A police spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the protesters were held on suspicion of damaging private property. He said the police are conducting a preliminary inquiry to decide whether to launch criminal or administrative proceedings against them.