Saturday, 22 September

Residents Sue Mayor Zakharyan and Minister Ayvazyan

Vahe Sarukhanyan
Edik Baghdasaryan

The green zone that once existed the buildings at 19 Aghayan and 56 Teryan Streets has now become a construction site.

Although the 516 square-meter territory was only fenced off in December 2006, everything actually began as long ago as the year 2000.

According to Decrees 653 and 1136 issued by then-Mayor Albert Bazeyan, the plot of land was allocated to Nushikyan Association ltd. for the construction of a four-story building with offices, hotel facilities and other services.

The company owned by the three Nushikyan brothers is well known for its business in the areas of perfume and clothing as well as designing and placing advertising billboards on the streets ofYerevan. Nushikyan Association ltd. ranked 180 th on the 2006 list of major Armenian taxpayers.

In 2002, Mayor Robert Nazaryan issued D354 allocating the 516 sq. m plot to the Nushikyan Association and the Department of Architecture and Construction at City Hall presented a construction proposal.

“The proposal said that the plot was ‘free, partly in good condition, earlier used as a café, a flat piece of land.' However, it did not mention that at that point in time the territory contained 20 thick-trunked trees. Besides that, the proposal did not mention any public hearings as outlined by the Armenian Constitution or an investigation for environmental preservation or the timeline for the proposal,” explained Ruben Torosyan, head of the committee for the protection of residents' rights.

When they found out that the trees were to be cut down to make way for a four-story structure, the residents of the neighboring buildings rose up in protest.

In 2004, they presented a letter of complaint to the Minister of Environmental Protection. A reply written by the head of the State Department for Environmental Protection R. Abrahamyan stated that the territory had been studied and “contained abundant tree cover with around 20 thick-trunked trees. The department objects to any construction work on this site.”

As a result of the efforts made by the committee for the protection of residents' rights, Yerevan Chief Architect Narek Sargsyan stopped construction work in the green zone in 2004.

But in 2006 the Nushikyan Association restarted work on the site.

According to the head of the Department of Architecture and Construction at City Hall, A. Lalayants, the builders had been instructed to inform the public about the work, “which was done through a board on the site in accordance with the procedure outlined in Mayoral Decision133-A, dated 04.02.04.”

 “That decision of the Mayor goes against Decree 660, dated 28.10.98, of the Armenian Government, according to which the Mayor was to state that the environment was being manipulated in this case. We have nothing to do with the builders. City Hall should have informed the public, but failed to do so,” said Ruben Torosyan.

However, the court has found that decision no. 133-A of the Mayor did not contradict Government Decree 660.

Torosyan noted that, according to Decree 660, information should have been released three days after the constructor's application was received, through the mass media, exhibitions of the building plans and related projects and public discussions; none of this was done and the residents' right to information was violated. According to Torosyan, the only source of information was the board put up by the Nushikyan Association on the site, which stated that a building was to be constructed and included a picture of the structure and a mobile phone number.

According to the court decision, that was sufficient to prevent violation of the residents' right to information.

After presenting the construction plan, Nushikyan Association, in accordance with the law, went to Environmental Investigation, a state non-commercial organization, in order to study the effects of the plan on the environment. The director of the organization, A. Santrosyan, said that such investigations are conducted only for plots exceeding 1000 square meters, while the territory allocated to the company covered only 516 square meters.

“But even if it is smaller than 1000 square meters according to the ‘Law on Consequences to the Environment,' they still have to inform the public of their intention to build there so that the population can declare – within a month after the public debates – whether or not they want the project to undergo an environmental investigation. If we say yes, then the authorized structure will then decide whether or not to conduct such an investigation. If they decide not to, we can go to court. So the law itself is very democratic,” Torosyan explained, noting that the main player in the violation of their rights had been A. Santrosyan.

Thus, the main requirement of the law – that the public be informed and their opinion considered – was put aside.

On November 8, 2006, Karen Davtyan, a Deputy Mayor ofYerevan, gave Nushikyan Association ltd. permission to build on the above-mentioned site. A statement by the Deputy Mayor claimed, “Before beginning work as well as during the construction process, the constructor must agree on compensation for damage done with those who will be subjected to this damage.”

One of the main complaints of the residents was that the new structure would block the light on the first four floors of their buildings.

“Calculations were conducted based on state norms which showed that levels of illumination in these apartments were 50% higher than minimal norms,” said Garegin Nushikyan, President of Nushikyan Association, “We offered to move the residents' garages to an underground car-park and renovate the area completely, but they refused.”

On December 9, 2006, Head of Yerevan's Kentron Municipality Gagik Beglaryan met with residents and told them that Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharyan had halted the process of permitting construction. On December 12, this was confirmed by Yervand Zakharyan himself, who stated that the process of permitting construction on that site much go through the proper legal procedure.


Minister of Environmental Protection Allows 20 Trees To Be Cut Down

The following day, December 13, the Nushikyan Association received a letter from Minister for Environmental Protection Vardan Ayvazyan giving the company permission to cut down trees and bushes on the 516 square meter territory. The same day, the company began fencing the area and preparing it as a construction site. The residents appealed to the Mayor, but received no reply.

After Deputy Mayor Karen Davtyan had given the Nushikyan Association permission to build on the site, the residents of 56 Teryan and 19Aghayan went to court. The first court session took place on January 19 of this year but was adjourned to a later date.

However, on January 20, residents of both buildings were woken by the sound of sawing, and looked out their windows to see workmen cutting down the trees. When queried, they showed the residents Ayvazyan's letter.

“At that point in time this was an unresolved court case, pending a verdict,” said Davit Petrosyan, a resident of 19Aghayan Street. “Nushikyan probably thought, ‘No trees, no problem,' i.e. that we would retract our demands if the trees were removed. They probably knew that they were doing something illegal, otherwise why would they have started so early in the morning? Probably so that nobody could stand in their way.”

According to Torosyan, however, the most interesting moment arrived the day after the trees were cut, when a group from the Ministry for Environmental Protection reached the site to assess the damage done to nature and later present it to the prosecution. “So they ended up assessing the damage done to nature by the letter of the Minister,” said Torosyan.

On January 29, the Court of First Instance for the Kentron and Nork Marash Districts, Judge Gor Hakobyan presiding, rejected the suit brought by Torosyan against the Mayor of Yerevan and City Hall.

The residents of 56Teryan and 19 Aghayan intend to appeal the verdict. They say that they will fight to the end. They have filed two more cases in this regard, against the Minister for Environmental Protection and the Ministry.

According to Torosyan, the water pipeline in the area was damaged by Nushikyan's construction work around noon on February 2. Workers from the water company managed to repair the damage after five hours. However, the water supplied to the buildings remained murky to this day, according to Torosyan. The residents have sought the help of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service.

However, it recently came to light that the territory had been indefinitely leased to Harutyun Avetisyan. He has been arrested under questionable charges. His mother, Knarik, is convinced that this case was brought forth by the Nushikyans, so that they could gain ownership of that land.

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