Controversial Construction Halted Amid Protests

Riot police scuffle with protesters demonstrating against the construction of a nearby building

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The controversial construction of an apartment building in a Yerevan neighborhood appeared to be suspended on Monday following renewed clashes between riot police and angry local residents backed by dozens of civic activists.

The police detained at least 26 mostly young activists on Saturday after they blocked an adjacent street, demanding a halt to what they say is an illegal redevelopment project. They all were released from police custody several hours later.

One of the activists, Argishti Kivirian, suffered serious injuries to his head and required hospitalization. He claimed to have been beaten up in a police car.

In a written statement, the Yerevan police accused the protesters of disrupting public order and “trampling on the rights of other citizens.” It warned that police officers will not hesitate to use force if traffic through Komitas Avenue, a major thoroughfare, is blocked again.

Karen Andreasian, the state human rights ombudsman, criticized the police actions as disproportionate. “Particularly disappointing was the unprofessional, emotional and irregular conduct of certain police officers,” Andreasian said in a statement. He said his office will demand an official police explanation for the injuries inflicted on Kivirian and other activists.

Residents of the buildings located around the construction site say that the new structure would be too close to their homes and block their sunlight. They also claim that the construction is illegal because they did not agree to it.

The Yerevan municipality denies these claims, saying that the private developer, a company called Liber, was authorized to start work on the building’s foundation and basement. The municipality also clarified last week that Liber has not yet been granted permission to build the rest of the 7-story apartment block.

The construction site was deserted on Monday. Local residents holding vigils there said construction workers unexpectedly left it early in the morning. “Neighbors yelled at them and they stopped their work in the morning. But we don’t know when they will be back,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Liber’s owner, Edward Abrahamian, claimed that his employees sprayed the site with special chemicals used for fracturing big rocks in order to avoid disturbing neighborhood residents. But he also made clear that the construction will likely resume only if his company receives the final permission from the Mayor’s Office.

Outside the Mayor’s Office at Yerevan’s municipal building, where activists have been staging a month-long sit-it, five youth activists claimed to have been beaten up by unknown men over the weekend in what their leaders called a government-backed attempt to intimidate participants of the sit-in.

Dozens of young people have been demonstrating there on a daily basis ever since Mayor Taron Markarian attempted to sharply raise the cost of public transport in the Armenian capital. Markarian suspended the price hike late last month following angry street protests staged by a much larger number of non-partisan activists.

The sit-in participants are demanding the sacking of Henrik Navasardian, head of the transport department at the Yerevan municipality, and the director of a municipal bus operator, Misak Hambardzumian. Mayor Markarian has rejected their demands.

Two of the activists, Mihran Markarian and Babken Ter-Grigorian, said they were assaulted by a dozen men elsewhere in the city center late on Saturday. In their words, the assailants kicked and punched them, citing the continuing protests against “our dads.” They said the men warned that the other activists will also be attacked if they continue the campaign.

Both activists struck a defiant note. “We are now even more motivated to fight ‘til the end and achieve our goals,” Ter-Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Mikael Tonoyan, another activist, claimed to have been assaulted on Sunday evening. He too said that the attackers did not identify themselves but that some of them referred to “our dads.” “This is called intimidation. I won’t stay silent. I will go through all state bodies,” added Tonoyan.

According to Vahagn Minasian, one of the organizers of the sit-in, two other young men were also beaten up on Sunday in similar circumstances. He said they do not want to be identified for now.

Minasian blamed the alleged attacks on “criminal complicity” between the Yerevan police and the Mayor’s Office. “I want to declare that we will not succumb to provocations and be intimidated,” he told an outdoor news conference outside the municipality building on Monday. “We are ready to be subjected to beatings. But we will definitely achieve the fulfillment of our demands.”

The police declined to comment on the assault allegations.

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