Another Week, Another Battle over Property: Amiryan residents join ranks of displaced and disgruntled

Gagik Sargsyan, 52, says he is seeking political asylum in Switzerland for the treatment he has received related to his home and central Yerevan’s spreading urban development.

It is hardly likely that Sargsyan’s claim fit the definition for political asylum but he is not alone in anger at a government that residents like him accuse of profiting at the expense of common citizens.

The State has offered Sargsyan $15,000 for his one-bedroom apartment on Amiryan street, where buildings are being torn down according to the order of “state need”, to be replaced with luxury apartments.

According to real estate agents in the area, the 60.8-square meters that make up the total territory of Sargsyan’s flat (including a cellar, a woodshed and a small balcony) could be worth from $60-90,000. The state, however, has determined that only 36.5 square meters belong to Sargsyan, and that the state owns the rest.

Sargsyan, like others who face eviction from the area, argues that $15,000 is not enough to buy a comparable apartment, unless he moves to a suburb or to a village. (Sargsyan also works in the center, where he and his son-in-law run a struggling IP-telephone business on the first floor of the same building.)

Sargsyan’s neighbors include the the Dean of the School of Sociology at Yerevan State University Lyudmila Harutyunyan. She faces eviction from her home at 4/16 Amiryan.

Several days ago Harutyunyan organized a meeting attended by Armenia’s Ombudswoman Larisa Alaverdyan, ethnographer and social activist Hranush Kharatyan and by Aram Gharabekian, Principal Conductor and Art Director of the National Chamber Orchestra, whose recent protest forced the municipality stop a café construction that threatened the orchestra’s music hall.

Karen Davtyan, Director of Yerevan Building Investment Programs Implementation Office, who speaks on behalf of the City of Yerevan in these matters, says the city stands behind the state order.

“These buildings should be destroyed. It is decided. And about the compensations, I think there should not be any objection.”

The buildings in question are not on the municipality’s list of historic places, and therefore are not eligible for special consideration. Harutyunyan argues, though, that her building is one of the oldest in the area, and that if it is demolished so is a bit of Yerevan history.

“We destroy the ties with the past ourselves. We have an old city, but if we destroy the buildings that are its evidence, we will lose our history,” ethnographer Kharatyan said.

Although officially not identified, the residents insist the purchaser of the territory is Melik Gasparyan, a former Member of Parliament. Investments are made also by MPs Khachatur “Grzo” Sukiasyan, Galust Sahakyan and other officials.

And while the intelligentsia emphasize the cultural values at risk, Sargsyan argues for what he says are his property rights.

“They take us for idiots,” Sargsyan says. “Don’t they know this house is not so cheap?”

He claims that, eight years ago, he was offered $100,000 for his house, but did not sell.

“People are tired; they do not want to struggle any more, for they know they will not get results. But I don’t want to leave my house: it’s my right.”

The Sargsyans’ have lived in the apartment for 50 years. The residence was allotted to them by the Agency of Armenian Cooperative Enterprises, as part of its Program for Improving Living Conditions of Citizens. Still at a time when citizens were rewarded for service to the State, it was given to the head of the family, Gurgen Sargsyan, who was a driver for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia.

After Gurgen’s death, his son Gagik inherited the house.

With the demand for an equal compensation Gagik Sargsyan has addressed the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Prime-Minister and the Ombudswoman’s Office. However nothing has changed.

In an attempt to protect his rights in international bodies, Gagik has appealed to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasburg.

In response to his appeal Legal Secretary of the Court Ara Shahzadeyan said from Strasburg: “The court will consider the case as soon as possible…”

Meanwhile, acting on a decision by the Cassation Court of Armenia that turned down a complaint by Sargsyan, the building is presently being.