Monday, 24 September

Land Grabbed from Villagers



A considerable portion of the land in the provincial region of Armavir has been bought by officials and oligarchs.

The Millennium Challenges program implementation in this region is set to become a means for the fulfillment of their needs.

Smbat Abgaryan, a resident of the village of Noravan in Armavir, has been cultivating the land belonging to the Armavir Forest Service since 1993. He had been regularly paying the required rent up to 2005. He had a contract with the Armavir Forest Service because the land was considered a forest zone and belonged to them. According to that contract, Abgaryan had rented 5.5 hectares of land. Later, based an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences, Smbat planted American and Canadian fast-growing poplars on four hectares of that land.

That forest is already seven years old. According to the contract, the trees should have been cut and replanted. This program was started taking the energy crisis into account, to prevent deforestation.

Government Decree No. 1848, issued on December 9, 2004 , regarding the change in status of utilization for the land in Armavir and the allocation of land plots, became the basis for the rented land to be grabbed from residents of Noravan. After the government decision, the provincial administration of Armavir declared an auction.

 “The provincial administration did not inform us and set up a fake auction, selling off the land we rent. The purchasers are various officials. We know their kind, as far of some of them are concerned. There used to be a forest here, but it was cut down during the cold years – only the stumps remained. Then we found out that the land was being rented out. We signed a contract with the Forest Service and started cultivating the land. We turned it into farmland - do you know how difficult it is to remove stumps? We have spent a lot of money to make it arable land,” said Smbat Abgaryan, who visited the Hetq office with a group of Noravan residents. The table below shows the names of people who had bought, during the auction, the land rented by the villagers. None of these names are on the list by chance. These officials have bought the plots of land for a low price, paying around 200 dollars per hectare.

Name of Purchaser in Auction

Real owner or sponsoring official

Land area

Roza Mkrtchyan

She is the mother-in-law of Finance Minister Vardan Khachatryan

39 ha

Mekhak Mkhitaryan

Member of Parliament

5.8 ha

Avetik Darbinyan

Land surveyor for the Marz Administration, he is the brother-in-law of MP Mekhak Mkhitaryan

5.85 ha

Gurgen Hakobyan

He is the son of Parandzem Karapetyan, Deputy Provincial Head of Armavir

5 ha

Artur Mikayelyan

He is the cousin of Deputy Provincial Head Parandzem Karapetyan

5 ha

Tigran Heroyan

He is the nephew of Armavir Provincial Head Albert Heroyan

2.7 ha

Hovhannes Lazaryan

This land actually belongs to Armavir Mayor Ruben Khlghatyan

5 ha

Gevorg Poghosyan

Former Armavir Chief of Police

8 ha

Misak Ter-Poghosyan

Owner of Armavir Furniture Factory

10.33 ha

Hrant Mkrtchyan

Head of Provincial Healthcare Department Larisa Muradyan

2.25 ha

Volodya Shahverdyan

Former Director ofArmavirForestService

3 ha

Babken Arshakyan

Husband of Larisa Muradyan, Head of Provincial Healthcare Department

3 ha

Manvel Ghazaryan

 

24 ha

Razmik Avetisyan

 

3 ha

Araksi Yengibaryan

 

5 ha

Gnuni Yepremyan

 

2.25 ha

Seryoja Safaryan

 

7 ha


“In 1992, I was wounded during the Karabakh war and suffered a first-degree disability. I got back on my feet a year later. In 1993, the director of the Forest Service gave me two hectares of land to cultivate. It required a lot of investment – my friends and relatives helped me. We got together and cleared that land of stumps. I wasn't well, but we worked, removed it all and then planted wheat. I have regularly made the payments every year, both for the soil and the water. Then I found out that Misak had taken my land. I haven't given up my land or left it, though. I still plant every year – if anyone wants to come on my land, let them try. People want to occupy land without a fight – they tried that with Karabakh and other places… And today, one of those people purchased that land, the rich Misak, who bought his son's freedom from the army – will his son some day tell my son to cultivate and farm his land? Why should such a thing be allowed? Neither Misak nor anyone else will take that land – whoever he may be. I wrote to Robert Kocharyan and was told to come and sign that my complaint had been resolved. I asked them what they had done to resolve the situation. Now I'm not paying the taxes, because I don't know who to pay. How can they forcibly remove me? I have sweated for that land. Let them try to forcibly remove me! Thanks be to God – we may not have money, but we have grace, respect and honor. I have two children. I want to sweat in order to support my children and not to beg here and there,” said Avetik Hovhannisyan.

The people of Noravan are convinced that Marzpet (Governor) Albert Heroyan has had a major role to play in this story. “Yes, these are all part of the marzpet's games. Member of Parliament Mekhak Gabrielyan has been an MP for so long and has worked hard. He said that he hadn't asked for anything, but the marzpet had called him and said that he was giving him 5.8 hectares as a gift,” added Avetik.

Smbat Abgaryan tried to “reestablish justice” through the judicial system. “They don't even want to hear us out in court. Everything has already been decided; it's just a show trial. Nobody wanted to listen to us in court – we had uncovered their false documents and shown that the auction was fake with forged signatures, but all in vain,” said Smbat.

The residents of Noravan wrote letters to the President, Prosecutor General, and Ombudsman. But all the letters were forwarded to Marzpet Heroyan, who then replied to them. The marzpet said in his reply that everything had been done within the law. Naturally, the “King” of the province would have replied in this way. Evidence of the abuse of power by this official has been continuously publicized over the past few years. Investigative Journalists produced a television program aired three years ago which presented some incidents of abuse, but law enforcement organs did nothing. Albert Heroyan has held a number of posts since Soviet times and was only relieved of his position two months ago; he know owns 400 hectares of land in the provincial region of Armavir. This land should, in reality, belong to the villagers.

It is obvious from the documents for the auction that it was conducted with disregard for the law – deadlines were not been observed and the farmers cultivating the land were not notified, even though they should have been given priority for ownership of the land. This was enough for the court to declare the auction void, but the verdict could not have been against the Finance Minister or a member of parliament.

The worst part is that the provinceof Armaviris expected to see the construction of irrigation pipelines and roads as part of the Millennium Challenges program, but the region is one of those where officials and oligarchs have taken over the villagers' land. In coming articles, Hetq will focus more on these regions.

The villagers of Noravan continue to cultivate the land they have rented.

“Today at the Marz Administration they smiled sardonically and said, ‘Do whatever you want.' They say, ‘Do you know what you're doing? You've taken on the whole government, you think you can win?' All the same, they'll walk onto that land over my dead body. The whole village knows that I would make the payments regularly even during those dark years. We would sleep near the artesian well so that we could water the trees. Now they've come and privatized it all. I have two boys – one will go to the army this spring, the other is mentally ill and has been relieved of military duty. What do they want? They have jobs, high-ranking positions – do they want everything for themselves? We cultivate land to support our families. If they're farmers let them give up their positions and work on farms. When I read this verdict it is more like a death sentence for me, not just a verdict in their favor. I will keep this land if it costs me my life. I won't leave my children hungry,” said Smbat.


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