YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Yerevan’s new municipal administration faced angry streets protests on Wednesday against its decision to ban all forms of street trade in the Armenian capital.
Mayor Karen Karapetian ordered the ban shortly after taking office a month ago. Police began enforcing it this week, clearing sidewalks of people selling a wide range of goods, from agricultural produce to construction materials.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of them now risk losing their sole source of income as a result. About a hundred vendors gathered outside the Yerevan Mayor’s Office to express anger at the measure and demand a meeting with Karapetian.
The small crowd chanted “Karen, come down!” and “Work!” Some protesters tried to enter the municipality building but were held back by police officers guarding it.
“He gives us no jobs, no pensions but tells us to stop working. Why?” said one angry man. “How many families will now be left hungry?”
“We don’t steal, loot or kill. We are fighting for survival,” argued another, female trader.
Virtually all of Karapetian’s predecessors already attempted such bans but eventually had to back away in the face of a similar backlash. Street trading was only mostly driven out of downtown Yerevan.
“All previous mayors realized that you can’t deprive people of means of survival. But this one doesn’t offer us any alternatives,” said Aram Arakelian, another protester.
Arakelian, 36, is one of about 200 traders selling household goods and construction materials on a busy street section in the city’s central Kentron district. He said all of them have installed cash registers and hired accountants in recent years to pay all taxes required by law.
“After all, nowadays no factory, no enterprises provides as many jobs as street trade does,” Arakelian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “People have borrowed loans with their apartments used as collaterals and found ways of supporting their families. But the mayor made at least 12,000 Yerevan residents jobless in one fell swoop.”
Neither the mayor, nor his aides agreed to meet the protesting traders. Hovannes Ghalechian, an official from a municipality department on trade and services, was authorized to talk to only journalists covering the protest.
“No action not allowed by law can be justified on social grounds,” said Ghalechian. He said the municipal authorities are ready to open new retail markets for the traders.
“Street trade is not only illegal by law but also dangerous for health,” added Ghalechian. “They are not interested in moving out probably because it’s more beneficial to do business on sidewalks … They may be paying taxes, but that doesn’t mean they can sell things anywhere.”
The explanation will hardly be accepted by the traders. “My apartment is used as collateral, I sell eggs to support my family,” said one middle-aged man. “Why is [the mayor] banning that. Will he support my six kids?”