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Activists Occupy Mashtots Park – Yerevan: “Don’t despoil our parks”!!

One of Yerevan's beautiful parks; no place for Kiosks! Credit: C Shameek http://www.flickr.com/photos/cshameek/2240122894/

Henry S. Cole, The author, is President of Henry S. Cole & Associates and a member of the Armenian Environmental Network Advisory Board.

Occupy” comes to Armenia.  In our previous post, we touted Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, as  a great and beautiful place to visit. I love the city’s numerous parks and squares, replete with gardens, fountains, wonderful statues and monuments, and lots of people enjoying themselves on the many sunny days during spring, summer and fall.  The streets are lined with trees, thanks to the Armenia Tree Project and other advocates of green. The sidewalks are broad with many plantings.

But now the beautiful parks of Yerevan face the threat of development. The threat — commercial kiosks, you know the little boxes that sell film, phone cards, candy, T-shirts, and assorted chotchkies. You can clearly see from the following photo why kiosks will despoil an urban park. However, residents, visitors and environmentalists happen to love their parks and want to keep them green. So to the rescue comes the occupiers!

Kiosks in Mashtots

First set of kiosks under construction in Mashtots Park, Yerevan. Trend or the end?

A great day for Armenia — Citizens demand that government follow the rule of law:  There is wide agreement among Armenian environmentalists and other activists that governments at all levels tend to support business interests regardless of the ecological and social costs. This has been true for mining, logging, energy and commercial projects. To add insult to injury government agencies often ignore or violate the laws. Two cases are currently prominent in Armenia, the building of kiosks in Yerevan’s parks and the Teghut mining development (copper and molybdenum) that government has approved despite its location in a critical forest ecosystem located in the north of the country. We will cover the Teghut issue in a forthcoming post.

Mashtots Park:  Last year Yerevan began to enforce a ban on the presence of street vendors and kiosks on Yerevan’s thoroughfares. Hopefully this will lead to even greener streets in the central city. However, some believe that the city’s real motive is to eliminate the competition to city’s many large retail businesses such as food chains and clothing shops. The City’s enforcement of the ban — often by police force and demolition crews — has created a furor among vendors, especially small business owners, who depended on their livelihoods.

As a solution, the City is now allowing a number of kiosks to locate in the Yerevan’s parks. However, the start up of construction in Mashtots Park has created a groundswell of opposition. The parks are incredibly beautiful and much beloved by residents of Yerevan, but among Armenians across the country and the world over.

Environmentalists insist that the construction permits issued by the city authorities violate some provisions of the Land Code, a number of laws relating to urban development, environmental impact assessment, etc..

Since February 11, dozens of activists held daily protests in the park, obstructing the construction with their mere physical presence. But police put up cordons last weekend to block their entry to the construction site.

This caused some 80 protesters to stage a march to the Mayor’s Office on Monday demanding that the mayor cancel what they deem as illegal construction permits. On February 20, scores of protesters broke through the police blockade entered the kiosks; police, reportedly restrained and professional, took no action to stop the occupation and the protesters at least temporarily stopped the building.

For the latest update go to Armenia Now (AN, March 8, 2012). The AN post, written by Nazik Armenakyan,   contains a inspiring video. Clearly young Armenians are intent on replacing oligarchy with true democracy and a civil society. According to Armenia Now the city still intends to let businesses build some trading pavilions in the park. However, the protests appear to have had a positive effect on the Mayor who has stated that the location of the kiosks will be temporary. Armenakyan goes on to say, “Mashtots Park campaign has already been dubbed as one of the most successful civil movements in independent Armenia not least due to its ability to spark activism among broader sections of the public.”

Protesters break through police cordon and occupy the half built kiosks. Armenia Now, Photo: Photlure

One of Yerevan’s beautiful parks; no place for Kiosks! Credit: C Shameek http://www.flickr.com/photos/cshameek/2240122894/

For a great video interview with Kirk Wallace of the Armenian Environmental Network go to: AEN Video

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