Twelve families are locked in a legal battle with AgroHolding Armenia Ltd. over a piece of land in Yerevan’s Nor-Nork district.
The company claims it has ownership deeds to the land and wants to evict the families who, in turn, argue that AgroHolding obtained the rights via nefarious means. They also claim that they have been the stewards of the land dating back to 1987 and that their ownership rights supersede all others.
Some of the families began to clean up the parcel, located a bit below the Vazgen Sargsyan Military Institute, back in 1987 and turned it into a field for growing crops.
Seven of the twelve families later built homes on the land.
Karineh Mesropyan, a mother of six, took over a 2.7 hectare portion in 1988. She says that the ‘dark and cold’ days in Armenia at the time forced her to find a way to sustain her family. So she cleared her portion of rocks and planted vegetables.
“I, along with my children, am registered at that location,” says Mesropyan, who went on to erect a stone house on the land. If evicted, the family will be left on the street.
|Residents improved this road by themselves|
Samvel Chobanyan, one of the first to build a house on the site, talks about how residents had to fend for themselves in order to improve the local infrastructure.
“When they were digging under the Opera House, Narineh’s husband paid workers to collect all the soil and transfer it here. 80 dump trucks brought the dirt so that we could build this road,” Chobanyan says. (He is referring to Narineh Yesayan, whose family also built a stone house-K.A.
On numerous occasions residents have petitioned the Yerevan Municipality to allow them to privatize their parcels or at least to lease them the land.
|An old photo showing Vardges Haroutyunyan working in his garden|
77 year-old Vardges Haroutyunyan was one of the first to cultivate a garden and build a small cabin. He’s been taking care of the plot for 22 years.
He’s kept all the documents periodically issued by the Yerevan Municipality in response to resident petitions. The municipality has rejected the request for ownership rights arguing that the land is zoned as forest land. If the area is rezoned, the land will be auctioned off. Only then will the municipality review their petitions.
AgroHolding Shows Up and Tells Residents to Leave
AgroHolding Ltd. arrived on the scene in 2013, declaring that it owned the land. When Gor Khechoyan, a resident of Russia who founded the company and owns shares, visited the site and saw the gardens and homes that had been built, he told residents: “You’ve done well, but you’ve done it all for us.” The company then went to court to evict the locals.
In 2002, AgroHolding acquired the “Auto Technical Service Station” at 201 Davit Beg Street through a state property privatization agreement. The company got the unfinished service station and a 1.5 hectare parcel. The structure was a holdover from the Soviet era.
In court, it was revealed that in June 2003 the government passed a decision to change the zoning for the land and leased it to the company without conducting a tender bid. AgroHolding got a 50 year lease that included an additional 2.8 hectare parcel on which the company planned to build a stone finishing plant. The Ministry of Nature Protection, however, had opposed the project since the site was close to the residential district of Nor-Nork. To bolster the deal, AgroHolding promised to invest 2.7 million Euros and create 240 jobs
“Eleven years have passed. There hasn’t been any investment or construction at the site. And they still demand the land. The government has been deceived for eleven years but shuts its eyes,” complained Narineh Yesayan.
So, it turns out that the land, first under a lease agreement and then outright ownership, has always belonged to AgroHolding. Nevertheless, in 2009 and in 2012, the Yerevan Municipality told residents that its clarifications to their previous petitions remained in force.
Vardges Haroutyunyan received the following notice from Arsen Amyan, Real Estate Department Head at the Yerevan Municipality: “Since 2007, such changes to the law haven’t been made that would permit allocating the land to you.”
In a 2012 letter, the Nor Nork district head instructed Karineh Mesropyan to continue using the land.
Local residents believe that the imbroglio has been concocted by the Yerevan Municipality and former Yerevan mayor Yervand Zakharyan, and that large sums of money are at stake.
No One Can Touch the General
Another player has also surfaced – General Vardan Avetisyan.
Avetisyan, who heads the Information and Public Relations Department at the Ministry of Defense, had taken control of the land to the right of the unfinished service station.
Since, the municipal authorities couldn’t touch Avetisyan’s land they decided to give AgroHolding the land on the other side, occupied by the residents and their gardens.
This explains why the municipality kept telling residents that it hadn’t made a decision regarding the land and kept them hoping that a fair resolution would be reached one day.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter.
To date, AgroHolding hasn’t made payment for the land, which the law demands.
Land and Family Homes Put Up for Collateral
|The unfinished service center owned by AgroHolding and
Vardges Harutyunyan’s cabin in the foreground
This “gift” by the Yerevan Municipality has now been put up as collateral for a $440,000 loan from ArdShinInvestBank. AgroHolding Armenia put its property up for collateral against obligations to a third company, Amasia.
So, all the houses and gardens on the land have also would up as collateral as well.
Local residents are aghast as to how a bank can seize as collateral land for which no payment of State Registry property value has been made.
After getting wind that residents have decided to go to court seeking ownership of the land under the ten year usage law, AgroHolding went to court as well.
The company has demanded that the ‘squatters’ living and cultivating the land be evicted. Residents have counter sued, claiming that the land has reverted to them.
Courts Uphold Eviction Notice; Families Countersue
Nevertheless, Judge Naira Margaryan ordered an eviction notice. The Court of Appeals has let the eviction decision stand.
The twelve families have taken their case to the administrative court. They are disputing the decision of the Yerevan Municipality in favor of AgroHolding Armenia and the lease contract.
Today, Administrative Court Judge Argishti Ghazaryan demanded that the municipality present such documents clearly showing that whether, prior to the government’s decision, the municipality provided any substantiation to the government as to whether the land in question was being used or not. The plaintiffs will provide TV footage taken at the time showing that, in fact, there weren’t only gardens on the land but houses as well.
At today’s court session, the RA State Registry representative made a motion that AgroHolding founders Gor and Armen Khechoyan also been brought into the case. The court sustained the motion and recessed until April.
“They have grown so satiated that they trample on our rights. It makes no difference to them of there are people here with homes. We won’t give in. The fact remains that we are the rightful owners of this land,” said Narineh Yesayan.
Hetq wasn’t able to speak with AgroHolding Director Arshavir Martikyan. When we called the office, we were told that he was very busy and wasn’t in.
We left our phone number just in case. He still hasn’t called.