Growing Dispute: Botanical Garden land at center of court debate

Another green area to be swallowed by stone monsters.
The garden suffers a lack of finances and is threatened with development.
The Armenian Botanical Society and “For Sustainable Development” NGO are sounding an alarm over the state of Yerevan’s botanical garden. Litigation over the gardens is on in court. Yerevan’s municipality invalidated the 2003 decision whereby a 25-hectare area was leased to the “Association of Armenian Agro Ecologists” NGO. The organization is planning to create an ethnographic exhibition household for the purpose of developing ecotourism on an area of five hectares.

The municipality invalidated its decision still in March 2006 at the suggestion of a number of NGOs when representatives of the organizations were alarmed by the size of the planned foundations for the buildings under construction which they feared might be suitable for yet another large restaurant rather than an ethnographic exhibition household.

“The encroachment on the botanical garden is simply a sacrilege. After oligarchs captured the whole green zone of Yerevan turning it into an area of restaurants and cafes, the turn now is for the botanical garden,” says Botanical Society President Nora Gabrielyan. “With its area of 80 hectares the botanical garden remain the only genuinely green zone where adults and children can enjoy the verdure and clear air.”

“For Sustainable Development” NGO President Karine Danielyan is convinced that private houses will be built in that 25 hectare area.

“And this is in the case when Armenia has international commitments to collect and preserve 60 percent of kinds of plants on the verge of extinction until 2010. Becoming victims to primitive market relations, we will lose all our panhuman values. The botanical garden is a bright example of this,” she says.

The president of the “Association of Armenian Agro Ecologists” NGO is the former director of the Botanical garden Avet Hayrapetyan. Currently, Hayrapetyan disputes the municipality’s decision at the economic court. He says the project envisages the construction of 18 small houses where samples of Armenian flora will be exhibited. The contract was signed in 2003, permission was received from the municipality and construction work was launched.

According to the NGO’s president, plans call for ethnographic cabins to be constructed near endemic trees and bushes. Each of the houses will reflect the architecture typical of one Armenian region or another.

Botanical Society Vice-President Gohar Oganesova says that when construction work began they understood that a totally different thing was under construction.

“They had dug such huge holes for foundations that we understood it was another misappropriation. We have had a similar experience in the past. Just near the entrance to the gardens some area was captured and Paradise Restaurant was built there,” Oganesova says. “A year ago when we sounded alarm on that account, members of parliament, the municipality helped us, prohibiting the construction work, but today the association has taken the matter to the economic court. We fear construction will resume and the botanical garden will again be turned into a construction site.”

Hayrapetyan says that he is doing “work for the nation” and large holes for foundations had been dug proceeding from the results of geological surveys.

“Soil in that area is very soft. According to a geological study, a concrete platform should be built there and only then can they construct one- or two-storied houses there. There is no oligarch behind me. I myself am a biologist by training, a candidate of biological sciences, and I want to turn this dump into a green area. I’ve removed 150 truckloads of garbage only from that area,” he says.

The organization has spent 130 million drams ($378.000) on the work done so far. According to Hayrapetyan, they are not going to waste their investment only because the staff of the botanical garden does not like it. The NGO’s president does not doubt the legality of the work he has got underway. And investors are also scientists and doctors who believe that what they are doing is good.

Meanwhile, employees of the botanical garden are convinced that their purpose should be the protection of the gardens. Oganesova says that all this would not have happened if the botanical garden had the funding it needs.

“The gardens have a number of major problems to solve. Because of low funding, there is a shortage of manpower, shortage of irrigation, no security has been put in place. It is this heavy financial situation that led the management of the gardens to look for other sources of financing,” Oganesova explains. “It was decided to lease out the territories of the gardens that are currently in a lamentable state. And these 25 hectares leased out for 25 years are part of this decision.”

Employees of the botanical garden say they have an impression from the ongoing litigation that the court is going to pass a verdict in favor of the association.

And Nora Gabrielyan says that although there are no special plants in that territory, but if the construction work resumes and that “monster” buildings are constructed, then the gardens will be trampled underfoot.