State Needs: More Yerevan residents facing evictions protest application of controversial law

Another “redevelopment” scandal is emerging in Yerevan as residents of a city center area protest plans for new controversial construction that will result in their being evicted from their current homes.

People who live in 25 Tumanyan Street, which is a two-storied residential building, say they will struggle for their rights till the end and will not give the redeveloper an inch of their space despite receiving notifications from the municipal authorities that the building will be demolished and a hotel complex will be built in the area.

“Residents woke up one day to learn that the basement of their building where their childhood passed and where their parents lived will become a hotel, because some organization wanted it to become a hotel,” says Sedrak Baghdasaryan, head of the Victims of State Needs NGO, who himself was evicted from his city center home along with his family in the 2000s under a controversial law dealing with “prevailing state interests”.

The government has authorized the Mayor’s Office to sign a public contract with Renshin Ltd. for the alienation of some of the real estate in the mentioned area. The company carrying out the project has offered residents monetary compensations or apartments in a newly constructed building. But resident Vardan Geravetyan, who is a member of a public initiative called “Out City”, says they are not satisfied with the size of the compensation or the offer of a new place.

“First, we are being evicted from our ancestral homes, in the center of Yerevan, and they offer a compensation of about $800 per square meter, which can in no way be considered adequate. As for apartments in a newly constructed building, then this offered space cannot even be compared to what we have now,” says Geravetyan. For example, he says, the apartment ceilings in the newly constructed building are 2.70 meters tall, while the height of the ceilings in their current homes is 3.30 meters.

Baghdasaryan says that the basement of the building was sold to the organization by the government’s decision in 2012, but citizens do not want to sell their apartments in the first floor. So, he claims, the organization tried to get them in a cunning way, by presenting the redevelopment project as being an “exclusive interest”, which, under Armenian law, does not leave the residents with an alternative.

According to Vardan Gabrielyan, another 25 Tumanyan Street resident, during negotiations 30 families in the building agreed to the offered compensation. However, he says, 22 families still continue to struggle and are going to send a letter to the National Assembly, voicing their concerns about the “endangered city center”.

The “Our City” public-civil initiative issued a statement, urging citizens not to sign any documents with the organization carrying out the program, the municipality or any other structure. Activists say this is not the first case when an attempt is made to use this scenario for people to vacate their homes in Yerevan. Other places included 23 and 25 Teryan Street, 37 Lalayants Street, etc.

The law on “exclusive public interest” was passed in Armenia in 2006. Under the law an area can be designated for redevelopment under the terms of the law for a period of up to seven years. According to Baghdasaryan, the mentioned areas were recognized as “exclusive public interest” in 2007.

“The developer did not carry out its obligations during the past eight years. Despite this the government already three times has granted it the right to carry out activities in this territory,” says Baghdasaryan, claiming that it constitutes a violation. “Areas recognized as prevailing public interest should indeed serve the public and it should not be done for gain.”

Chairman of the Union of Architects Mkrtich Minasyan, meanwhile, hopes that the matter will be settled through public discussions and it will be possible to avoid the destruction of the building, also considering the interests of its residents.

“Investors should cease their work till a law on the center of Yerevan is passed,” he says.

Meanwhile, residents in 25 Tumanyan Street say they will resort to more active means of defending their rights in the coming days.

Hundreds of families in downtown Yerevan were evicted from their homes in the 2000s under the application of the controversial law. Many of them claimed they did not receive proper compensations. Since then, the European Court of Human Rights has issued several rulings on “wrongful evictions” based on the applications of Armenian citizens affected by the law.