Legal Land Grab: 20 Destitute Yerevan Families Face Eviction from Metal Container Homes
For a handful of families living in metal trailers in Yerevan’s Nazarbegyan neighborhood, tomorrow is a crucial day.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals will decide whether these cramped metal containers will be granted to them as private property or whether they will be evicted.
The socially destitute families, twenty residents in all, have been living in these damp containers since the 1990s. They’ve been forced to fight in the courts for the past four years to hang on to these homes once allocated them by various government agencies.
In 2002, Edward Hovhannisyan signed a purchase/sale contract with YerevanShin Ltd. He bought a 260 square meter restaurant and a 3,300 square meter piece of land in the community of Ajapnyak. The plot was seen as joint property owned by Hovhannisyan and his wife Sousanna Barseghyan.
In 2002, then Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharyan granted the restaurant the address of Nazarbegyan 44/3.
Zakharyan then went ahead and sold Hovhannisyan an additional 2,836 square meters of land, with the right to build a multi-functional structure, at Nazarbegyan 44/3, at the official cadastre value of 8.3 million drams.
For years, the residents were not informed about these transactions or the plan to build at the address. It was only in 2011 that Hovhannisyan applied for an eviction notice in the courts against the twenty residents. After four years being heard in the courts, in April of this year, the Ajapnyak and Davtashen Administrative Court finally found in favor of the residents.
Hovhannisyan then went to the Court of Appeals. Residents are fearful that the higher court judges might have been bribed since Hovhannisyan’s son told residents that his family would win this round since they have friends in the Yerevan Municipality and the prime minister’s office.
Nona Galstyan, who is representing the residents, has called for the appeals court judges to recuse themselves based on the pronouncements of Hovhannisyan’s son. The court rejected the motion, arguing that the judges were unbiased and impartial.
Galstyan has her suspicions given that the judges were quick to complete an examination of the appeal. She claims that many contradictory pieces of evidence were presented over the past four years and that the court should have taken more time to review them.
At the Ajapnyak and Davtashen court, plaintiff Hovhannisyan wasn’t able to prove the boundaries of his land and whether the metal trailers in which the residents live are actually located on it.
Attorney Galstyan then successfully motioned for the court to conduct a technical construction inspection to clear up these issues.
The job was given to Armenia’s National Bureau of Examiners. The inspectors reviewed the former blueprint of the area and concluded that the dimensions of Hovhannisyan’s land correspond to those border measurements noted in the private property document.
The inspectors, however, were not able to ascertain whether any of the containers actually were located on the plot belonging to Edward Hovhannisyan and Sousanna Barseghyan since the real estate for examination was not made available.
In other words, the examination was conducted based on documents only and without additional measurements. The Bureau claims that residents prevented them from carrying out such work.
Attorney Galstyan says it’s a lie. “Even if residents prevented such measurements being taken, the plaintiff, by law, could have gotten the court to forcibly implement such a step.”
Galstyan says that Hovhannisyan never petitioned the court for such an action and that he even doesn’t know what parcel of land he’s purchased.
“All he knows is that he’s purchased 6,136 square meters. But, he hasn’t a clue as to its location,” the attorney says.
Silva Hovhannisyan and Armen Hakobyan, both residents at Nazarbegyan, applied to the Yerevan Municipality in 2012 to have the structures they built and the land they occupy registered as private property.
The municipality responded that this was impossible since the land was located smack dab in the middle of a planned roadway.
The two residents argue that if the container homes are located in a planned roadway zone then how can they be regarded as Edward Hovhannisyan’s private property?
“I reside at number 9 container on Nazarbegyan Street. I’m registered there for voting purposes. Now, the court says no such address exists; only Nazarbegyan 44/3 that belongs to Edward Hovhannisyan. If no such address exists, how did they conscript my son into the army? To serve in Karabakh, from that address?” asks Silva Hovhannisyan.
The two sons of Anna Hovhannisyan, who lives in Number 10 container on Nazarbegyan Street, also served on the frontlines. In May 2006, President Serzh Sargsyan (then minister of defense) donated the container to the family for the sons’ outstanding military service.
“Now, my boys cannot get married because they have no place to live. They even want to snatch what we have from us. Why did they serve at the front? Only to be cast out of Armenia?” asks Anna Hovhannisyan.
Photos: Narek Aleksanyan
(The district council allocated the other families their hut/containers, either as a substitute for the structurally unsafe buildings they were living in, or else as social assistance)