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.