“These actions aimed at enforcing the law are resolute and final,” Deputy Mayor Kamo Areyan said during parliamentary hearings on the issue. “We are ready to listen to and address all social worries created as a consequence of that.”
Areyan said that the ban ordered by Mayor Karen Karapetian in January stems from an Armenian law on trade and service which bans open-air sales of all products except soft drinks, ice cream and flowers. The law was adopted in 2005.
According to the Yerevan municipality, the ban strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition affected some 3,000 people. But unofficial estimates put the number of street traders at 10,000. Hundreds of them have demonstrated outside the municipality and the Armenian prime minister’s office since January to demand a repeal of the ban.
Some traders were invited to the hearings organized by the Armenian parliament committee on local government. They protested vehemently when the committee chairman, Hovannes Markarian, said that they will not be allowed to ask questions to government officials addressing the panel.
“I get only 25,000 drams ($68) and it’s not enough to even pay for gas,” shouted one elderly man. “You are killing us.”
Markarian rebuked the protesters for “organizing a show.” He threatened to expel the vendors from the parliament building or to discontinue the hearings. The heated discussions resumed after a short break.
Areyan argued that the municipality has offered the vendors trading space at various indoor markets. He said many of them have already taken up this option.
Many traders say, however, that fewer people buy goods in Yerevan markets these days because of a rapid spread of supermarkets in recent years. One woman attending the hearings complained that she struggles to even pay a daily fee of 1,000 drams to the market administration. “We end up with very little revenue,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“Why don’t they build factories or some other place so we can work there and get pensions after getting old,” said another woman, who used to sell lemons in downtown Yerevan. “I can’t sell only lemons in the markets.”