A fancy restaurant is now being built practically on the doorstep of the Kecharis Monastery in Tzaghkadzor and it would appear that the Armenian Church is not opposed to the eatery.
It's being built by Davit Ghazinyan, son of Yerevan State University Legal Faculty Rector Gagik Ghazinyan.
Ghazinyan only needed one day to get the architectural plans officially approved. During the past two weeks the construction work has proceeded at such a fast pace that it's already half completed even though the project hasn't been approved by the Tzaghkadzor Municipality.
We were told, however, by the Ministry of Urban Development that such a permit is necessary.
Tzaghkadzor Mayor Garoun Mirzoyan confirmed as much to us during a convestaion we had with him.
In fact, Mayor Mirzoyan said that his office had fined the contractor 400,000 AMD for going ahead with the illegal construction and demanded that all work immediately stop and that the site be put back to its original profile.
Despite the protestations of the municipality, nothing has been done.
"I understand that the land has been leased but we haven't been presented with any such documents. That's why we went ahead a slapped them with a 400,000 AMD fine. Had they shown us such a document the fine would have only been 200,000 AMD," said Mayor Mirzoyan.
When we asked the mayor why construction is continuing even after the fine, Mirzoyan said that work had indeed stopped as of July 18 and that the sides were now in negotiations for the restaurant to be dismantled.
On August 6, we visited the construction site and videotaped what we saw. Indeed, work hadn't stopped but was continuing at a fast clip.
Given that Tzaghkadzor is a small town and that the mayor and other town officials must have surely noticed construction of the restaurant from day one, the question arises as to whether the 400,000 fine isn't merely for show.
It can even been argued that the municipality and the restaurant owner have entered into some prior arrangement to let the construction continue until the proper paperwork is obtained.
Even the Kotayk Regional Authority made some noise at first, issuing a directive that the construction be halted. They haven't said anything since, however.
We even got in touch with the Holy See of Etchmiadzin to see what the Armenian Church had to say on the matter.
We spoke with Father Vahram Melikyan, the Press Officer at Etchmiadzin, who promised to get back to us that same day.
It turns out that Father Melikyan was officially on vacation the following day and couldn't be reached.
It took us several days to track down Father Shahe, who was temporaily taking over his duties.
Father Shahe told us that the Tzaghkadzor Municipality was misinformed and that a lease document in fact did exist but that work had been halted until an approval permit was issued by the Monuments' Preservation Committee.
Thus, according to Etchmiadzin, the construction of the restaurant is indeed legal.
When we pointed out to Father Shahe that Hetq reporters had recently visited the site and that construction work was continuing, the clergyman responded – "I don't understand. Are you saying that a priest of the church, the press officer's stand in, is telling lies?"
We then tried to get in touch with Serzh Arakelyan, who runs the Monuments' Preservation Agency at the Ministry of Culture, to see if they had issued a go-ahead for the construction or not.
We also wanted to ask if he was aware that workers at the site had unearthed some buried artifacts.
Arakelyan's response was, "Investigations are underway. I'll have definite answers to these questions once they are completed."