The Armenian government will pay an elderly resident of Yerevan 1.6 million euros ($1.8 million) worth of compensation ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a senior official said on Friday.
Yeghishe Kirakosian, Armenia’s representative to the ECHR, said the government at the same time hopes that the massive payment resulting from a property dispute can be made in several installments.
The ECHR set the amount of “just satisfaction” for the 83-year-old Yuri Vartanian last month nearly three years after ruling that Armenian authorities violated his rights to property ownership and a fair hearing in court.
Vartanian and his family used to own a house and a plot of land in an old district in the center of Yerevan which was slated for demolition in the early 2000s as part of redevelopment projects initiated by then President Robert Kocharian. A real estate agency authorized by the state estimated the market value of the 1,400 square-meter property at more than $700,000 in May 2005.
A few months later, Yerevan’s municipal administration and, Vizkon, a private developer cooperating with it, challenged Vartanian’s land ownership rights in court. The claim was accepted by a district court but rejected by Armenia’s Court of Appeals.
According to ECHR documents, the municipality and Vizkon expressed readiness to settle the case when it reached the higher Court of Cassation in 2006. They offered to give Vartanian $390,000 in cash as well as a 160-square-meter apartment and 40-square-meter office premises in the city center.
Vartanian rejected the offer before a panel of three Court of Cassation judges ruled against him. He appealed to the ECHR in 2007.
The resulting compensation ordered by the Strasbourg-based court exceeds the total amount of damages awarded by the ECHR to all other Armenian plaintiffs combined.
Kirakosian confirmed that the current government will pay Vartanian the large sum when the ECHR verdict comes into force in October. “This is the kind of obligation which the Republic of Armenia must fulfill immediately,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It’s an unconditional obligation.”
“As it stands, various variants of easing that heavy [financial] burden on the state budget are being discussed in the government. Maybe it could be paid in parts over a certain period of time,” he said, adding that government officials intend to negotiate with Vartanian for that purpose.
Kirakosian admitted that the government will have no choice but to pay the sum at once if Vartanian refuses a phased payment.
The ECHR has previously also ruled in favor of nine other Yerevan residents who had lost their properties in similar circumstances. The former Armenian government had to pay them a total of 324,581 euros in damages.
The hefty fines have for years triggered calls in Armenia for administrative or financial penalties against those government officials and judges whose decisions fall foul of the ECHR. In Kirakosian’s words, the authorities in Yerevan are now “thinking” about the possibility of putting in place legal mechanisms for such sanctions.
“This is a complex and multi-layered issue because I don’t think that only one, two or three individuals are to blame [for ECHR verdicts against Armenia,]” said the official. “It’s a systemic problem that requires a comprehensive examination.”