Sunday, 23 September

Illegal villas in Tsaghkadzor

Members of Parliament Gagik Tsarukyan and Levon Sargisyan, Head of the State Customs Department Armen Avetisyan, and Deputy Head of the State Police Department Armen Yeritsyan have all built houses in the recreation areas and forest reserves of Tsaghkadzor, as Hetq has reported (See also: Who is destroying the forests in Tsaghkadzor?).

How did these men build their villas? Gagik Tsarukyan, one of the richest men in Armenia , began illegal construction work in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor during the 2003 parliamentary elections. Both the municipal administration and the law enforcement agencies knew about this, but neither did anything to stop it. At the same time Tsarukyan was unlawfully building his two houses, he was also campaigning for a seat in Armenia 's legislature.

But now, said the mayor of Tsaghkadzor, Garun Mirzoyan, the buildings "have been legalized in accordance with Armenia 's Law on the Legalization of Unauthorized Constructions. Some time ago an unauthorized building was constructed; we legalized the construction, transferring quite a large amount of money to the state budget. The territory amounts to 1.4 hectares. Both buildings were legalized in the name of Gagik Tsarukyan, based on his written applications."

I asked the mayor if there had been any discussions with community members, any public hearings conducted prior to the legalization. "There is no such provisions in this law. What were we supposed to discuss after the houses had been built?" he answered. "[Tsarukyan] had built the houses, and appealed to the State Cadastre to legalize the construction. Naturally, since the State Cadastre didn't have the necessary documents it applied to the Mayor's Office asking us to pass a decision on legalizing the construction. Thus there was no point in discussing the matter with the community," Mayor Mirzoyan explained.

The mayor said Tsarukyan's buildings had been legalized in mid-2003, at a price of 2,000 drams per square meter of construction, plus the cadastre value of the land. "Mr. Tsarukyan paid about 15 million drams," he added.

The truth is the Mayor's Office was in a position to turn down Tsarukyan's request, or to oblige him to pull down one or both of the illegal buildings. But instead, "We found it appropriate and legalized the construction," Mayor Mirzoyan told us. The Mayor's Office did not risk opposing Gagik Tsarukyan. They say there's only one man in Armenia who can-the president of the republic. They also say that Tsarukyan built one of the houses for a certain senior official. Just who that official is, time will tell.

"The forests of Tsaghkadzor are situated on steep slopes, 45 degrees minimum, and are of great value from the perspective of preserving the land and regulating the flow of water," Srbuhi Harutiunyan, the chairman of the Social Ecological Association, explained. "According to the forest cadastre, these forests have defensive significance. Because of the construction work in the Tsaghkadzor forests, the integrity of the forest has been violated, the specific composition has suffered, and the functions of the land have been impaired."

"According to municipal zoning, two-thirds of the land in Tsaghkadzor is for recreational use," Mirzoyan said. In reality, half of this land is already occupied by constructions. According to Article 22 of the Land Code of Armenia, any activity impeding the intended use of recreation land is forbidden. Construction work in Tsaghkadzor deprives the people of Armenia of an unspoiled vacation area and damages the forests on the steep slopes.

The mayor justifies what's going on by saying that the building is only taking place in areas that used to accommodate camps. But that's not true. Furthermore, talking with the people who live here, I found out that they had not been informed about the planned changes that would affect their lives. "In fact, the Kotayk Governor's office and Tsaghkadzor Mayor's office failed to inform the public in advance, as they are required to do by Articles 13 and 14 of the Law on Town Planning and by the October 28, 1998 Government Decision # 660," Srbuhi Harutiunyan said.

If every parliament member, government member, judges and or prosecutor decides to build a villa in the forests of Tsaghkadzor, who will stop them? Unfortunately, no one. The construction work keeps going on.

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