Seeing Red about Green: Café construction stopped near NCO, but protestors remind that destruction of parks is everybody’s loss

Following protests by musicians, complaints from patrons of the arts and demands from environmental activists, construction of a café near the Komitas Chamber Music Hall has been stopped.

Late last week, the Yerevan Municipality ordered that construction of a café that would potentially infringe on the National Chamber Orchestra and other performances be halted.

The noised raised by the music hall controversy (see Culture, or “Café Culture” ) again focused attention on a debate that has concerned environmentalists in recent years as Yerevan’s “green space” shrinks, while the number of cafes grows almost weekly. (According to data of the Social-Ecological Association, between 1995-2002 the city lost more that 1,000 hectares of public green territories because of construction, including cafes. Meanwhile, the planting of greenery decreased to 3.6 percent. It was 30.6 percent in 1986.)

Last Saturday some 150 protestors went to the streets, starting at the Music Hall and marching to the Opera House to denounce the “de-greening” of the city center.

“S.O.S. Shikahogh today has turned into S.O.S. Yerevan,” said Karine Danielyan, president of For Sustainable Human Development (referring to a nature preserve in the south that was saved from development). “Thirty public environmental organizations have been struggling for the saving of green areas of Yerevan for 4 years.

“Our success is insignificant. That is why today we announced the ‘S.O.S. Yerevan’ movement that was caused by construction works beginning in the yard of the House of Chamber Music.”

Participants wore green ribbons, and were joined along the way by sympathetic onlookers.

“We called ‘S.O.S. Yerevan’ too late,” says Avetik Ishkhanyan, president of the Helsinki Association, and a proponent of environmental purity. “It should have been done when the first trees in the vicinity of the Opera House and in Victory Park and then in the Hrazdan Gorge were felled.”

Ishkhanyan said the movement isn’t as strong as it should be, because people don’t protest, until the offensive action directly impacts them. For example, why were the musicians not protesting when trees were being cut and cafes replacing them throughout all the other parks in Yerevan?

“Though late, we rose to our feet. We should not be deceived by a small success. They say that the building of the House of Chamber Music will be dismantled. I am sure that another similar ‘bunker’ will rise in some other territory tomorrow,” says Ishkhanyan.

Garabekhyan, who earlier led protests outside the music hall, did not participate in Saturday’s rally, which was planned before the mayor’s intervention in stopping that café construction.

Gharabekyan says he is also concerned with environmental issues, but adds that it would not be right on his part to participate in the march since the Municipality has met his demands.

“We had decided to organize the march in case the authorities did not undertake steps within one week,” Gharabekyan told ArmeniaNow. “But the Chief Architect of Yerevan met us even earlier than we expected, discussed the problems of the Yerevan urban plan. The roof of the billiards hall is dismantled. The reason I have not taken part was not a surrender from the SOS Yerevan movement, but . . . today we need to record success and then turn to larger issues.”

“I know only one thing, statesmen said that they would dismantle it and there is no need to continue the row for this area. But we will continue our march today even without Gharabekyan,” said Silva Adamyan, a member of the union for the Protection of Green Areas of Armenia.

President of the “Ecolour” public organization Inga Zarafyan believes that when specific problems (i.e., halting the construction near NCO) are being solved, the common problems should not be forgotten.

The day before the march a forum on the issue was held at the American University of Armenia in which public organizations, cultural and political figures, scientists, and state officials took part.

A petition circulated by the protestors says building businesses on public “green space” is illegal, because it violates ecological laws and international conventions.

“We demand that the destruction of green areas be stopped, all kinds of construction in green zones currently taking place be canceled, all illegal facilities be dismantled observing all town-planning standards. We demand that the requirements of the RA Constitution be followed and the publication of town-planning documents of the city of Yerevan be ensured,” says Adamyan.