Monthly Archives: August 2011

Why Demolish Yerevan Kiosks?

Dismantling a Yerevan kiosk
Dismantling a Yerevan kiosk

About three days ago while driving down Papazian Street in the Arabkir district I noticed a lot of commotion beside the kiosks that are situated along the sidewalk near the intersection with  Komitas Street. There were several police officers while other citizens seemed to have been irate and agitated. Yesterday there were red beret policemen on the scene. The kiosks came down upon a verbal decree by the Yerevan Mayor, Karen Karapetian. He gave the business owners a three-day warning.

Karapetian, who was the the former head of ArmRosGazprom, has proven himself since his appointment late last year to be a ruthless, despised leader who doesn’t have the interests of Yerevan residents that are barely able to get by in mind. Just after the New Year he infamously declared that street trading — in other words grandmothers selling cilantro and lemons on the sidewalk — was to end, no ifs, ands or buts. Even fruit stands could not be allowed to display their produce right in front, despite ample space available for foot traffic. Now he wants to destroy the lives of small shop owners, most of whom are most certainly living day to day, an opinion based on conversations I’ve had with many of them during the last seven years of my stay. He claims that they are an eye sore and are in the way. Just over 900 have already been dismantled this year.

Papazian Street is far from the city center and is by no means a busy street frequented by tourists. The area is a center for trade of basic foodstuffs and services. One man repairs shoes while another works as a tailor out of these tiny, inconspicuous stores. Perhaps they are not as impressive as the posh boutiques on Abovyan Street, but they serve a purpose and have steady clients. Now their owners and employees are out of work. Some of them have taken out huge business loans.

But, thanks to the power of the people, the government supposedly is putting a stop to further demolition. Apparently the authorities have been dumped with letters of protest, not to mention having been embarrassingly forced to deal with sit-ins.

The only political party that was present to support the shopkeepers was Heritage, led by Raffi Hovannisian, which comes as no surprise given their track record of consistently fighting for people’s rights. The Armenian National Congress and ARF-Dashnaktsutiun seem to be dubiously silent on the issue.

Yesterday at a cabinet session Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, another controversial figure who made a fool of himself last week when he stated that continued emigration was good for the country as it filtered out the bad citizens from the good, blasted Karapetian for his decisions. But this morning I saw that the dismantling of kiosks on Papazian Street continued unabated, and there were no police officers in sight.

About the future plight of these shopkeepers, Karapetian has this to say: “I don’t think that there are poor people among the owners of kiosks on central streets, and the Mayor’s Office has no obligations to them … We are not obliged to give them an alternative [source of income] or compensation.” This statement alone demonstrates how utterly clueless and out of touch he is. He probably never walks down any city sidewalk, carted around in an outlandishly expensive European sedan or SUV, just like all the other selfish, abhorrent big shots.

Yesterday once again I was left wondering where Armenian society is headed. Emigration continues. People are thrown out of work and no new jobs are created. Governmental officials aren’t very concerned about these issues, distracted by making millions for themselves. People are too scared or apathetic to protest. How long can this indifference continue? And how am I expected to raise my infant son in this environment? How long will any new parents be able to withstand these injustices? Why doesn’t the Armenian Diaspora care? What the hell is going on?

I’d like to have some indication of when these questions will be answered positively. But it appears as though I have a very long wait.

‘Karabakh Is Ours’

we_are_our_mountainsDuring a visit last weekend to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, commonly known as Artsakh to Armenians, some thoughts came to mind about the current state of affairs, the “no war, no peace” situation as it is sometimes referred to.

Initiatives have been undertaken to bring youth from both sides together, on neutral ground like Georgia, to discuss issues related to the conflict in the hopes that some understanding of the “enemy” can be reached. These efforts should be applauded, as non-governmental representatives of the two opposing sides naturally need to talk one another to exchange ideas and try to work out differences in thought and opinion on the public level. But no matter how much discussion takes place, no matter the friendships forged in such workshops between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, both sides are always likely going to walk away saying the same thing: “Karabakh is ours.”

It’s been 18 years since the cease fire, and Azerbaijanis have still to come to grips with the reality that Nagorno-Karabakh will most certainly never be part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. That the people of Artsakh will agree to hold a referendum as part of a peace deal to decide upon their status — when they had already determined it in 1991 by declaring independence — is an absurd expectation. The bonds between Armenia and Artsakh are tightly wound together; there is no separating the two without another senseless, brutal war. And despite Baku’s biweekly threats of renewed hostilities, that’s certainly something no one wants.

In my view, it is not the OSCE’s Minsk Group that will force the two sides to sign a peace agreement. Indeed, if the three group member states really wanted to settle this matter once and for all an agreement would surely have been found in the last 15 years. These meetings being held, the discussions behind closed doors, and the subsequent statements issued are all part of an elaborate charade, a long-running theatrical production that is becoming more tiresome with every season.

Ultimately, it is Russia that is going to decide when the deal has to be made and under what conditions, something that not too many people following the issue want to believe. A recent “extremely frank” meeting held between Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev may lead the two sides closer to agreeing upon the principles of a peace deal, although given Baku’s stubborn, backtracking track record that seems unlikely. We have to keep waiting for an agreement in the meantime.

The Armenians of Artsakh, on the other hand, made their decision in 1991. For them, there’s nothing, not one inch of land, to give. And they’re not even being asked to.