YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serzh Sarkisian was confronted on Monday by about a dozen angry people dispossessed by a government-backed private construction company that demolished their homes in Yerevan years ago.
The protesters are former residents of an old neighborhood in the city center that was due to be redeveloped by the now bankrupt company, Glendale Hills. The latter signed in 2007 contracts with over 100 owners of local houses who agreed to cede their land and properties in return for its formal pledge to give them new homes in apartment buildings which were due to be constructed in the area. The redeveloped project was never implemented.
Around half of those families have still not received apartments or financial compensation. Some of those people gathered outside Sarkisian’s residence early in the morning in the hope of speaking to the president and asking him to intervene. They waited for more than two hours before the presidential motorcade emerged from the secluded compound and stopped just outside it.
“Mr. President, we have been homeless for ten years,” one woman told Sarkisian after he got out of his limousine and approached the small crowd. “We have been badly mistreated, just like street dogs.”
“Mr. President, I had personally appealed to you,” complained another woman. “You said you will see to it that my problem is urgently solved. We have still not received an answer.”
“Is it you who brought the journalists here?” replied a visibly irritated Sarkisian. “Why are they hindering us?” “They are not,” retorted one of the women.
“Alright, [officials] will come and look into the matter in the next two days,” the president said before leaving the scene.
The protesters argue that the Armenian government was a party to their 2007 contracts with Glendale Hills and must therefore help make sure that they are implemented. As one of them put it: “If the company is now liquidated, it means that the state must address the issue.” Either they must pay us or give us apartments.”
Some displaced residents fear that they will only be offered rundown apartments in the city outskirts in breach of the developer’s contractual obligations.
Hundreds of Yerevan families were displaced in the 2000s during a massive redevelopment of parts of the city center. Many of them were forced out of their mostly old homes after refusing financial compensation which they believe was set well below the market value of their properties because of government corruption.
Some appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after having their lawsuits against the government rejected by Armenian courts. The Strasbourg-based court has ordered the Armenian authorities to pay additional compensations to dozens of such families.