Back in Yerevan

I finally made it back on Sunday night and spent the entire day Monday with my wife at home. It's cold here--about 32 degrees F or 0 degrees C. My apartment is colder than it has been in the past since my mother-in-law washed the windows in late fall and peeled away the strip insulation that lines the frame of each window to keep the wind out. Today I will spend trying to reinsulate the windows and then return to work as soon as the guys exhausted from the trip back from California open the office.

Just a few observances of what's going on here. People have just wrapped up the holiday season, a time which is always enjoyable as people roam from house to house to visit, drink, and eat some snacks. I missed a steady stream of festivity lasting from about December 25 through January 7 or so, especially in Republic Square where about 10 Santa Clauses pace the stretch of tiled sidewalk in front of the hibernating fountains looking for kids to tease. There’s a huge tree in the middle of the square which is now being dismantled.

Traffic in central Yerevan seems to be cut in half. This may be due to the fact that the costs of fuel have risen dramatically--propane gas which is the preferred, cheap choice of fuel for cars has doubled due to an increase in Russian fuel exports, primarily to former Soviet satellites. Gasoline also remains pricey--just before I left Armenia two months ago the cost per liter for regular gasoline fluctuated between 380-400 drams per liter, or about 80-90 cents. I imagine the costs are about the same, as I have yet to start up my car and refuel it. So there is a lot less noise downtown, and it is safer for pedestrians to cross the streets.

A heartbreaking unwelcome awaited me when I saw to my dismay Monday morning that 75 percent of the secret small neighborhood which lies just behind my apartment building has been totally destroyed. Yerevan authorities have been promising to demolish the ramshackle shacks for over three years now, and they finally got around to doing it in the middle of winter, during the holidays nonetheless. Really, this is something that was to be expected although I started to think it would not happen, since the neighborhood really poses no threat to anyone except developers snapping up every square meter available or that can be made available for construction.

Thousands of people were either displaced or relocated from the half-mile or so stretch of land from Tumanyan Street near the Opera House to the end of Abovyan Street, just right of the half-renovated business building housing popular restaurants Marco Polo and Square One to make way for the Northern Boulevard, which is still being constructed and will go on for another year at least. Thousands more were evicted from their homes on Puzant and Arami Streets that run perpendicular to Abovyan Street and stretch to as far as Mesrob Mashdots Street, or “Prospect.” Other historic buildings, some dating to the first republic, have also been totally destroyed to make room for new, unaesthetically pleasing high-rise buildings, which will contain apartments fetching over $100,000 each. This sweeping away of Yerevan’s history is extremely careless and stupid, as tourists will wonder what has happened to the historic quarters of the city, and the city’s charm will virtually disappear. The Yerevan that exists today has less than an 80-year history, and any structures that managed to last that stretch of time --structures that are for the most part extremely solid and have few if not any cracks in the stone walls, foundations, or floors--are now being taken down. It is sloppy city planning and I believe is a total rejection of the envisioned design created by famous architect and Yerevan’s father Alexander Tamanyan.

In any case, I will write more about this in the coming weeks.


Anonymous said…
The first time I saw the shacks,aka Hin Yerevan, I thought a building had collapsed. After staring at it for a period of time,I realized people were living there.
Thank God the shacks are gone. No one deserves to live in those conditions,especially the Armenians.
Get over it.
Hasmik said…
Destruction of our own historic sites perpetrated by our own government. What a shame.

Renovating historical buildings is a definite plus but not demolishing them.

Glad to see you are back in Hayastan!
Thanks anonymous for your comment. I think the problem here is not about getting over it, rather it's about where these families will wind up. I know the family who owns one of the houses that still remain was offered $5000 to clear out three years ago. I doubt that offer has increased much. That's the problem--people are being forced to uproot from their homes of 50 years and are given virtually nothing commensurate to the actual value of their property. Then there are emotional/psycological stress concerns to deal with as well. which cannot be overlooked. Some people who cannot "get over it" wind up on the street, which is why there are so many homeless wandering around. So I think it's better to be more sensitive, especially when we are talking about the fate and safety of Armenians, who as human beings do not deserve to live badly as you point out.
Anonymous said…
What a pity that well-built and interesting buildings dating back to the First Republic are being torn down without any consideration given as to what is being lost!
Besides preserving a part of our past, imagine what a captivating tourist site "Heen Yerevan" could have been for both Armenians and non-Armenians alike. I wonder, who were some of the people that lived there during the First Republic, and after? What was life like for the people that lived there then, and later - up until the destruction...? So many questions, and so many stories that could have been told... Absos, shad absos, treasures have been lost!

Knarik O. Meneshian
RK said…
Christian wrote: "It is sloppy city planning and I believe is a total rejection of the envisioned design created by famous architect and Yerevan’s father Alexander Tamanyan."

Actually, this was exactly his design, which is still on the books and being carried out... see or see the same map etched out under his statue.
Right, the Northern Boulevard was part of his plan, this we know already, but not random destruction of neighborhoods and historic buildings in order to construct ugly high-rise apartment buildings without any solid city planning or public debate. This is happening throughout Yerevan, not just along the future Northern Boulevard.
We also have to understand that people are being thrown out of their homes and given very low sums of money as compensation--if they agree to accept it--for the sake of big business. This is simply not right, I don't care how much business the clearing of neighborhoods and displacement of families will bring. People deserve to receive adequate housing in return for vacating their homes that they've had for decades. No one is complaining about economic growth--the problem is that homes and families are being torn apart.

Anonymous said…
And most of the evictions are not being undertaken in accordance with the law. Instead, they are accompanied by an obscene increase in high-level corruption and human rights abuses.

Also, the buildings themselves generally violate the law, and if the same Soviet practices are in place, I wonder how many of them will stand the test of time of tremors -- assuming that most ever get completed of course.

Still, the amount of corruption that this represents means one thing for sure. There will be no democratic election in 2007 or 2008. There is too much to lose for the officials, government-connected businessment and oligarcs that personally benefit from this "project."
RK said…
All I said was that it was Tamanyan's plan - I didn't say whether it was good or bad, and certainly didn't say it was being carried out well or fairly! It included Arami Street, Kond, etc...
Hasmik said…
From the Hetq Article:

"As for Rafik Chichakyan, he has decided to defend his rights in Strasbourg, in the European Court of Human Rights. "

I hope there will be more Rafik Chichakyans in Armenia who will not give up but standup for what is right...
Ara said…
One other thing that concerns me about the new buildings in Yerevan are the ones that have re-enforcement rod that was made accidentally from the troll car railing that was uprooted from the streets. The problem is that it is such hard steel that it does not bend, but cracks. All those “steel” re-enforced pillars holding up all those new buildings are susceptible to collapse in an earthquake. This too is another effect of corruption and could make the new buildings no more stable than the shacks that looked like they could collapse.
Hasmik said…
Wow, that is just CRIMINAL.

Look at these photos on this page..

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