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French President Urged Not to Participate in Ceremony Renaming Yerevan’s Mashtots Park

"We Are the Owners of This City" and "This City" civic initiatives on Monday issued an open letter to French President François Hollande and French Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia Henri Reynaud, urging Hollande not to participate in a ceremony marking a change in the name of Mashtots Park in central Yerevan.

Note, on the agenda of the French head of state's official visit to Armenia is his participation, along with that of the Armenian president, in an opening ceremony of the park to be named after French national hero, French-Armenian poet Missak Manouchian.

"While the decision [to rename the park] was made by the Yerevan City Council on April 30th, this decision was made public barely one day ago. This decision was passed without any public debate, and in the absence of journalists, who were banned from the city council session. In the past as well, many of our attempts to attend Yerevan City Council Sessions have been blocked, often by force on behalf of the police.

"Mashtots Park has a symbolic value for social movements in Armenia. It was saved from being turned into a commercial space by a decision of the Yerevan City Hall. The name 'Mashtots Park' has been used by City Hall itself, and has gained wide recognition and acceptance by the public at-large, during the campaign to save the park. Since the saving of the park, the name has also been used by other governmental agencies and in official documents.

"Yerevan municipality, other state structures of the country, Ser[zh] Sargsyan have numerously violated the Armenian Constitution and legislation with regard to Mashtots Park, and nobody has ever been charged for these violations. These state bodies and persons do not have any legitimate and constitutional right to take decisions regarding this park, therefore the decision to rename is illegal and unlawful. If any person participates in enforcing this decision, he or she becomes part of an illegality. If the president of France participates in the designed event, he will become part of a process entailing violation of Armenian constitutional order and fundamental human rights.

"We are announcing that we consider the renaming, re- appropriation and co-optation of this public space with such important significance, as well as the neglect of the plaque in the park celebrating the victory of the campaign to save the park, to be unacceptable. The regime and the authorities in City Council are doing everything in their power to dismiss and devalue the principles of freedom, the right to peaceful assembly, and solidarity, and remove them from the space that represents these values in our city. It is especially unacceptable that they are attempting to erase the name of Mashtots Park, under the guise of French President Hollande’s visit and the using name of the French Republic, to curb Armenian democracy. Mashtots park is and will always be called MASHOTS PARK, as a symbol of the Armenian citizenry’s campaign to protect its constitutional rights, and as a platform for the freedom of expression and thought in Armenia.

"While we are proud of the long and storied heritage of French-Armenian relations, and respect Misak Manushyan’s role in the resistance movement during the Second World War, we condemn the French Ambassador’s implicit consent and participation in an event that disgraces the struggle for democracy. We are certain that as representatives of a democratic country, you will refuse to participate in such an event. As an alternative, we propose that you discuss with the Armenian authorities the naming of another park after Misak Manushyan, or the creation of a new park that bears his name instead, a move that will be fully supported by us," reads the open letter.