A Year of Development and Controversy: Northern Avenue turns one year old

A Year of Development and Controversy: Northern Avenue turns one year old

Northern avenue is one year old

The city “business card” so far hosts several shops, restaurants and customer service centers of major phone operators.
About this time last year saw the inauguration of Northern Avenue, a new mostly pedestrian-only boulevard in downtown Yerevan whose construction continues more than seven years after land was first cleared.

The avenue consists mainly of residential buildings and commercial space with a total area of 320,000 square meters. Underground garages for 2,000 cars are also available. The central pedestrian avenue in which 101 billion drams (more than $330 million) had been invested is 27 meters wide.

Still during the opening ceremony November 18, Armenia’s then president Robert Kocharyan said that from the point of view of urban development Yerevan has two ‘business cards’ – Republic Square and Northern Avenue.

“When [chief architect] Narek Sargsyan for the first time presented the mini-model of Northern Avenue, I must frankly say I lost my rest and immediately made a decision for myself – the avenue must be built and built within the shortest possible time. But even at that moment, at that time I did not imagine what influence this avenue would have on Armenia’s economic growth, what influence it would have on the development of the construction sector,” said Kocharyan.

Chief Architect (of ROA) and Deputy Minister of Urban Development Sargsyan remembers how years ago he submitted the project of the avenue to the republic’s president.

“I was appointed Chief Architect 10 days after the October 27, 1999 [parliament killings] and 10 days after that I met with the president. Looking back I remember someone’s analysis that [the gunmen’s ringleader] Nairi Hunanyan and Narek Sargsyan have been the two who have been most reproached and disrespected since 1999. It seems that all this is so clear and easy, especially that it is there in the draft of Alexander Tamanyan’s master plan for Yerevan, for 70 years all wanted to realize it, but when you try do something serious and good, reactions coming from all sides seem to put powerful pressure on you,” says the architect.

Going through both criticism and appraisals, Northern Avenue was gradually becoming a reality. However, the demands of the residents whose property was alienated from for state needs and who were evicted from their homes under the onslaught of redevelopers have not been met yet. Deprived of their own home and without receiving an adequate compensation for lost property, people until today continue to stage protests near the government building every Thursday, when the cabinet is usually in session.

Still last year, during the opening ceremony, those who call themselves ‘victims of state needs’ attempted to approach the President, but the police did not allow them.

Referring to this problem, Kocharyan said: “I think people who think they have not received sufficient compensation should be forgiving. Those were the first steps and had we been afraid at that time and stopped, we wouldn’t at all have the picture in the construction sector at all. I repeat such problems happen even in the most developed countries. It is possible that several families are dissatisfied; we will try to do something. We are ready to discuss these issues in a legal plain, but tens of thousands of families benefited.”

Sedrak Baghdasaryan, who heads “Victims of State Needs”, a pressure group embracing evicted residents, and who himself was evicted from his home by city redevelopers, says: “Forgiveness, of course, is a very good thing. But it is not enough just to ask forgiveness. Damage had been done to people and then they say – come on, forgive us. I can’t accept that. It turns out the president of the republic admits there were errors, but he does not want people’s rights to be restored. If you erred, then, government, be kind and restore our rights.”

Baghdasaryan says that under the name of the unprecedented law that was adopted in 2001 and later called ‘state needs’, the state encroached upon the Armenian Constitution and the first protocols of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, making redistribution of property.

“As a result of those anti-constitutional government decisions, about 40 citizens of the Republic of Armenia, whose property had been taken away from them under the pretext of state needs, became homeless, they even lost their registrations, they could not participate in the 2008 presidential election, the court rejected their claims to be reinstated in their rights,” said Baghdasaryan.

Northern Avenue has been opened for public use more than a year now, but it will get its ultimate look only in two years. Statues are still to be placed on the pedestrian part of the avenue, the construction of buildings is to be completed, nighttime lighting of buildings will be installed, the green area will be expanded, there will be fountains.

Already, the city “business card” is home to several shops and restaurants/cafes, including posh leather shop Sacvoyage, Guess clothes, Ecco Shoes, Time Out fast-food restaurant, as well as service centers of VivaCell and Beeline telecommunications companies. It is also the address of a new “think tank” set up by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian.

And while it remains unfinished, if active, the avenue has already become full-fledged politically.

Northern Avenue became the only way of life for protesters fleeing the scene of a predawn breakup of the opposition’s post-election demonstrations in nearby Liberty Square. On that morning it was also stained with the blood of protesters. Later, after the presidential imposed 20-day state of emergency, the avenue became known for ‘political walks’ organized there by the opposition, and later, when the opposition no longer had access to Liberty Square, the opposition initiated sitting strikes on the steps of posh shops of Northern Avenue.

In this regard, in an interview with RFE/RL, Sargsyan said: “Northern Avenue was built by Robert Kocharyan and became full-fledged due to [Armenia’s first president and current opposition leader] Levon Ter-Petrosyan.”