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Activists Stand Up Again to Defend Yerevan From “Investor” Encroachment 

One of the only remaining old districts in Yerevan, Firdusi, is under demolition. District 33, historically called Firdusi, has a history of 150 years that was able to withstand even the Soviet urbanization of Yerevan. The demolition activities are carried out in a disguised manner. One of the 19-century houses, the “black building” was demolished at night a few days ago. The next is the “red building” of which the façade remains, but was in the process of demolishing before people gathered spontaneously on June 10th and stopped it. The public outcry is large, a civic initiative dedicated to protecting Yerevan’s historic and cultural monuments gives voice to the resistance while city authorities are reluctant to offer a remedy to the grim prospect of Yerevan’s loss of historic memory and people’s demands. The “investors” are pushing for a quick return to their construction plans.   

The Firdusi demolition and construction plan has been a matter of many years. Construction was commissioned still under Serj Sargsyan. On March 22, 2018, days before the Revolution, a final decision was taken to recognize the area as a “public eminent domain” under which the residents were expropriated of their houses and expelled, while the houses of 19th to early 20th century were commissioned to be demolished. The Government calls these “old and shabby” constructions that need to be replaced with business centers and new residential complexes. Firdusi, however, is one of the few old districts of Yerevan.

Extermination of this historical legacy was justified by two factors: 1․ the legacy is not documented in the list of “protected historical sites”,  2 the legacy is already in ruins. Why was it not listed in the protected site list and why has it been stretched to such a dismal condition (intentionally or as a result of inaction), are questions that beg answers from the official bodies. The primary assumption is – to bring to life the initial plan of demolition. 

The decision was made by the former authorities before the Revolution and confirmed by the new ones.

The construction project is entrusted (without a public tender) to Narek Sargsyan’s oversight, who is the notorious former Chief Architect of Yerevan, the mastermind of expropriation of people’s property in the Northern Avenue, clearance of forested areas in Victory park for the mansions of the rich and former officials and other problematic urban development decisions.

The construction project is not public, it is not known who the investors and construction companies are. What has been made clear in the past days is that demolition and construction are linked to the name of “Glendale Hills” construction company, the one for the sake of which people were expelled from their homes in central Yerevan. The company is notorious for disputable deals with people, allegedly artificial bankruptcy and restructuring in a new face.

Most of the local residents are expelled, the demolitionists are negotiating with the rest, however it is planned that if the negotiations are successful, the remaining residents will also leave their homes.

The current authorities are attempting to justify that prevention of demolition and destruction of the district is impossible.

Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan’s representative Varag Siseryan and Chief Architect Artur Meschyan were convincing that the investments were already made, residents were already compensated for, any retreat would mean “legal battles” which would bring about millions of dollars of compensation claims against the state. The municipality had now power to intervene either.

The situation very much reminded the Amulsar process.

At June 13th Yerevan Municipal Council’s extra meeting of standing committees on Urban Development Issues and Cultural, Educational and Social issues, officials were trying to convince other council members and civil society members and activists that nothing can be done to reverse the situation. Those present were Mayor Hayk Marutyan, Chief Architect Artur Meschyan, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Narine Khachaturyan, Tigran Avinyan’s representative Varag Siseryan, Chairman of the Urban Development State Committee Armen Ghularyan (known as the former republican Marzpet of Tavush), Yerevan Municipal Council Members, and experts, civil society members.

Civil society members, including members of the Initiative to Protect Yerevan’s Historical and Cultural Heritage, researchers, lawyers, architects, were explaining why the post revolutionary government’s actions were reminiscent of the old corrupt authorities, why such investment projects cannot be considered a “public eminent domain”, why the proposed project should not be brought to life, what are the long term political and cultural implications of such a decision, and why the justifications of the government are not adequate and satisfactory. 

Researcher, co-author of the book “Firdusi: The Memory of a Place” pointed out that the discussion was around investment plots, while Firdusi is a residential district with a historical value and an oral history that none of the construction project’s committee members is aware of.

Other civil society members also had a chance to express their opinions against destruction of Firdusi and the government’s current attitude.

Several council members pointed out to the need to stop destruction of historical sites of Yerevan.

In the meanwhile, a protest of a few citizens stood in front of the Municipality to support fellows participating in the meeting. Posters included signs: “Get Revolutionized”, “Firdusi is Above your Capitalist Interests”, “Don’t leave us Ruins”, “Dismiss Taron’s Decision, Update Protection Sites List.”

The meeting ended with no clear agreement, it is not clear whether the speeches of council members and civil society will make any impact.