Protesters Continue in Yerevan; Sit-In at City Hall
YEREVAN—Hundreds of young activists continued to protest at City Hall Friday, staging a sit-in when police did not allow them to enter the municipality building to present their demands for the resignation of the city’s transportation department head, Henrik Navasardyan.
On Thursday, Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan suspended a decision to increase public transportation fares from 100 drams to 150 drams. The fare increase sparked demonstrations and protests across Yerevan for six days.
The demonstrators on Friday demanded the immediate resignation of Transportation Department Head Henrik Navasardyan and Misak Hambardzoumyan, Director of Yerevan Trans Ltd. Navasadyan’s family reportedly owns one of the many city transit lines, in a scheme where the municipality does not own transit routes but rather political officials and businessmen with ties to the government control the routes and any financial profit they make.
The demonstrators also demanded that the mayor make public the documents and reports, based on which the City Council voted for a 50 percent hike in fares. They also demanded that the Yerevan municipality assume 100 percent control of the public transportation system.
On Monday, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Supreme Council of Armenia issued an announcement condemning the fare hike decision and urged the city government to re-evaluate the increases that were becoming a burden on the people of Yerevan.
In its announcement, the ARF condemned the Armenian government’s shortsighted policies; demanded that the decision to increase public transportation prices be halted and any fare increases be carried out through a transparent mechanism corresponding to the increase of wages.
The party also suggested the establishment of a public-expert group, to develop and propose a legal-collective system that includes multiple rate plans, discount systems and the formation of transportation cooperatives.
More importantly, the ARF welcomed and expressed its solidarity with protester groups and youth who are expressing their anger at this disgraceful decision and through their activism are defending their and the public’s rights.
“This is a victory but we won a battle, not war, and the struggle will continue,” one of the activists, Sonia Msrian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will achieve systemic changes in the public transport sector.”
Markarian also faced more challenges from the opposition minority in the municipal council. The opposition bloc Barev Yerevan (Hello Yerevan) said it will go ahead with plans to challenge the legality of the price hikes in court. Barev Yerevan leaders say the measure was illegal because the authorities began enforcing it before the publication of a corresponding order signed by the mayor.
Anahit Bakhshian, a leader of the bloc connected to Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, said Barev Yerevan will demand Markarian’s resignation if the order is deemed illegal. “We will be fully exposing the series of incompetent decisions made by these authorities and their penchant for protecting their personal interests,” she said.