Park rangers: Green campaigners in Yerevan protest construction near Mashtots Boulevard

Park rangers: Green campaigners in Yerevan protest construction near Mashtots Boulevard

Photolure

Braving frosty conditions in Yerevan a group of environmental activists has been taking shifts since last Saturday to keep a protest alive in a central Yerevan park where they say current construction projects distort the city’s looks and jeopardize its ecology.

About two dozen protesters at a time stay in the park adjacent to Yerevan’s main thoroughfare, Mashtots Boulevard, for several hours to make sure builders do not resume their work on the erection of pavilions in what environmentalists say should remain a public area.

Environmental groups demand that the pavilions that used to house expensive clothes boutiques on Abovyan Street sidewalks before being dismantled last month and moved to Mashtots Park should not stay there. They have already succeeded in stopping the construction and hope they will meet Mayor Taron Margaryan later on Tuesday to communicate their demands to him in person. Conservationists also initiated a collection of signatures against this construction. They say residents of nearby buildings as well as passers-by join in this campaign by leaving their signatures.

“Out physical presence here is very important. We’ve tried different means, have sent letters, but those were like letters sent into outer space, with no reply coming. [Heritage MP] Anahit Bashkhyan called the mayor, arranged a meeting of three of us with him. We have only one demand – that the construction be halted and the garden be returned to the public,” environmentalist Mariam Sukhudyan told ArmeniaNow on Monday. “It is so easy to give a solution to this problem. There are so many vacant spaces, unlived-in buildings, territories that can be occupied. Why come and do it all at the expense of green areas? Kids play here, people walk, this is their place.”

When last month several shops were dismantled from the Abovyan Street sidewalk many rushed to hail the mayor’s determination to get rid of the construction that makes the city look ugly. But those sentiments proved to be short-lived, as the same pavilions were moved to the area adjacent to Mashtots Boulevard, which aroused a lot of citizens’ anger. Even though the municipal authorities gave assurances that the kiosks would not be installed at the expense of green space or public areas, even today it can be seen that they have taken up a considerable part of the park.

Photographer Hayk Bianjyan joined the environmentalists on Monday with his photo exhibition “Yerevan Yesterday and Today, and [What About] Tomorrow?”. His photographs show how the old town of Yerevan has been disappearing with the onslaught of various construction projects over recent years.

“I spent my childhood in this park, I have lots of memories connected with it ... there is no erasing people’s memory like this. You cannot keep the city only with photos, you should be able to live in the city, walk around it and enjoy it,” says Bianjyan.

The environmental groups have the political support of the parliamentary opposition parties – Dashnaktsutyun and Heritage.

“We should try to make [authorities] understand that Yerevan is not a business interest of a few persons, that there is an interest in the city that is above a few people’s ambitions to get richer by having another shop or restaurant. We should try to persuade the mayor to act in accordance with the interests of Yerevan residents,” says Dashnaktsutyun’s lawmaker Lilit Galstyan.

Heritage, meanwhile, filed a legal complaint on Monday evening, insisting that the construction in the park violates the Armenian law on urban development.

“It is obvious that the construction going on in a public park next to Mashtots Boulevard changes the purpose of the parkland, which leads to a change in the status of the environment, meanwhile, the public at large was informed about such a status change only during the implementation of illegal construction work,” the party said in a statement.