Land Grab: How a Prime Piece of Yerevan Real Estate was Privatized for Peanuts
During the tenure of former Yerevan Mayor Vahagn Khachaturyan (1992-1996), the city authorities wanted to have a shop selling works by Armenian artists in the heart of Yerevan. For that purpose, the building at 3 Arami Street was given to the cooperative of owned by Sil Concern founder Albert Sukiasyan.
After privatizing the real estate for only US$5,655, the store was never opened. Instead, the Sukiasyans have reconstructed the building and are using it for their own business purposes. Albert Sukiasyan's son Khachatur Sukiasyan is now a Civil Contract faction MP, and Vahagn Khachaturyan is Armenia’s Minister of High-Tech Industry.
Between 1870-1880, a one-story tuff building was built by Sofi Melik-Ohanjanyan at the current 3 Arami Street. According to information received from Yerevan’s History Museum, Sofi Melik-Ohanjanyan's house and shops were located at 3 Arami St. During the Soviet era, there was a bookstore there. Hetq could not find photos of the building built in the 19th century, except for the following one. In the center of the photo below, on the right, you can see the construction of the ‘Children's World’ department store, and on the left, Melik-Ohanjanyan's house.
In a 2020 Yerevan magazine article, architect Vahagn Asatryan wrote that bookstore located at the intersection of Arami and Abovyan Streets was a structure with a commonplace facade during the Soviet era.
"I was offered an interior decoration and renovation project. Preliminary measurements revealed that the building was made of tuff and previously had large openings typical of commercial passages. During the Soviet years, the openings were closed, and the stone walls were covered with plaster to install a wall of bookshelves inside. In addition to major repairs, I suggested removing the plaster and restoring it to its original appearance. But the state funding of the bookstore was reduced, and the project was not implemented," the architect wrote at the time.
Privatization with conditions
When the current Minister of High-Tech Industry Vahagn Khachaturyan was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Yerevan City Council (1992-1996), the process of privatization of the 3 Arami St. building and the 5 Arami land began. First, in 1993, the Executive Committee of the City Council transferred the bookstore building to the Martiros Saryan's House-Museum with the right of permanent use, so that the building could be reconstructed "to be used as a retailer of works by Armenian artists."
On May 25, 1994, Martiros Saryan's House-Museum management applied to the executive committee, asking to take back the bookstore building, as they could not rebuild it due to limited financial resources. At the same time, the Executive Committee of the Yerevan City Council received an application from the Astghik-1 Production Cooperative, saying that they wanted to reconstruct the building. The chairman of the cooperative, founded in 1994, was Khachatur Sukiasyan's father, Albert Sukiasyan. Between 1992-1994 Khachatur Sukiasyan was the head of the General Department of Economic Relations of the Armenian Ministry of Industry, and after served as the advisor to the minister.
In May 1994, the Executive Committee of the Yerevan City Council of People's Deputies revoked the previous decision and allocated the bookstore to the Astghik-1 cooperative so that it could be rebuilt and used as an auction center and office for works by contemporary artists. The same decision approved the contract for providing the property with the right of permanent use. The contract price was equivalent to US$ 5,655.
"By this agreement, the Astghik-1 cooperative is obliged to pay for the 0.0377-hectare plot allotted to it for permanent use by the above-mentioned decision of the Executive Committee of the City Council, which will be used for the construction of the “Armenian Artists' Auction Center and offices” within 10 days. ․․․․ to transfer the equivalent of US$5,655 at the exchange rate of the day of payment,” the contract states.
A year later, in 1995, Albert Sukiasyan petitioned Vahagn Khachaturyan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Yerevan City Council, to exempt the Astghik-1 cooperative from renting property (we are not talking about paying $ 5,655 for the permanent use of 0.0377 hectares of land, but rather about exempting it from paying rent on the building). "Restoration works are underway now. The building is not subject to operate until the end of construction, so we ask for your order, considering the above, to release our organization from paying rent," Albert Sukiasyan wrote in his application.
On December 15, 1995, Vahagn Khachaturyan signed another decision on the reconstruction of the property at 3 Aram Street. Reading the decision, we know that there were four families living at 3 Aram Street. To relocate them, it was necessary to purchase one 2-room and three 1-room apartments (there was also a key workshop at 5 Arami Street). The Executive Committee decided to sign a contract with "Astghik-1" cooperative to reconstruct the property at Arami 3 and 5. The final privatization of the property was already outlined in the contract.
The contract (signed in December 1995) obtained from the National Archives of Armenia states “that the first floor of the three dilapidated buildings on Arami Street, which is a monument of history and culture, together with the basement, 5 areas of Aram are allocated to "Astghik-1" cooperative for permanent use, for the right to reconstruct with its own funds, to establish offices, workshops, to sell works of art, other cultural values, to establish a club of cultural figures in the basement, and other services.” The term for completing the reconstruction was set at two years. According to the same agreement, the cooperative is exempted from rent for three years after the completion of the construction, as the buildings at 3 and 5 Arami Street, which are being reconstructed, were useless.
Point 4of the agreement also states: "From the moment of completing the reconstruction of the buildings according to the project, the Astghik-1 cooperative becomes the owner of the main working capital received as a result of its investments, in case of the possibility of physical separation of the latter, and in case of absence of that opportunity, in terms of value." Point 5" of the agreement states that the cooperative acquires the right to privatize the leased buildings and the right to privatize the land.
The Astghik-1 cooperative, according to the agreed upon design and construction permit, reconstructed Sofi Melik-Ohanjanyan's house in 1997 without preserving the former building. Արամի 3 հասցեում կառուցվել է այլ լուծումներով տուն։ ???? The chief architect of the reconstructed building was Arshak Ghazaryan.
From the Astghik-1 cooperative to Grzo Plaza LLC
Today, the building at 3 Arami Street belongs to Grzo Plaza LLC. According to data received from the Cadastre Committee, before the registration of the ownership right of Grzo Plaza, the building belonged to the Astghik-1 cooperative.
According to the Register of Legal Entities, the Astghik-1 cooperative was established in 1994. The cooperative was reorganized in 2010 into a company of the same name - Astghik-1 LLC. This company was renamed Grzo Plaza LLC in the same year. Grzo Plaza has four shareholders, two of whom are the brothers of National Assembly Deputy Khachatur Sukiasyan, namely Eduard and Robert Sukiasyan. The other owner is Khachatur Sukiasyan's wife Ruzanna Asatryan. The fourth shareholder is Aspram Tonoyan, wife of the other Sukiasyan brother Saribek. All four own a 25% share.
Fate of those relocated is unknown
The fate of the relocated families mentioned in the December 15, 1995 decision of the Executive Committee of the Yerevan City Council is unknown. The decision stated that the Executive Committee for the Development of Housing and Non-Housing Funds of the Executive Committee had to submit proposals to the Executive Committee of the City Council within a month to purchase apartments or provide vacated apartments for the resettlement of the residents of the 3 Aram St. building. In addition, the Finance Department of the Executive Committee was instructed to provide appropriate funds for the purchase of apartments for resettlement, using the amount of $5,655 transferred to the city budget by the Astghik-1 cooperative for permanent land use. An area was to be allocated to the key repair shop at 5 Arami Street.
In response to our written inquiry, the National Archives of Armenia wrote that no information on resettlement was found in the minutes of the January-February 1996sessions of the Yerevan City Council’s Executive Committee or the Spandaryan Regional Council. The minutes of the March-December 1996 sittings of the Spandaryan Regional Council were not transferred to the National Archives. Avet Poghosyan, Head of Yerevan’s Kentron Administrative District (which encompasses the former Spandaryan district), told Hetq inquiry that his office did not have information on the issues we covered here.
Sil Plaza is worth 999 million drams
Reconstruction of Sil Plaza, located at the intersection of Abovyan and Arami Streets in downtown Yerevan, was completed in 1997. According to information received from Armenia’s Cadastre Committee, the taxable value of the building at 3 Arami St. is 999.192 million AMD (US$ 2.025 million).
Armeconombank, Sil Insurance and Sport Time LLC’s Adidas store and the Inlobi company are located in the building.
Prior to reconstruction, the building at 3 Arami St. was considered a historical and cultural monument. There is a note about this in the 1995 contract. After reconstruction, for reasons unknown, the building was left out of the monuments’ list. The state list of immovable historical and cultural monuments of the city of Yerevan was approved by the decision of the government in 2004. The 3 Arami St. address is not included in that list.
Khachatur Sukiasyan has nothing to say
Hetq wanted to talk about this matter with National Assembly Deputy Khachatur Sukiasyan. He did not want to talk about the privatization process of the building. The MP only said that the building had been privatized by his father, Albert Sukiasyan, and that he did not know the details.
We tried to get a comment from Vahagn Khachaturyan, the former mayor of Yerevan and now the Minister of High-Tech Industry, since the building was privatized by his decisions to be used as a shop for works by Armenian artists.
In passing, before being appointed minister, from 2019-2021, Vahagn Khachaturyan served as a member of the board of Armeconombank that belongs to the Sukiasyans.
The ministry conveyed Vahagn Khachaturyan’s response, namely that "the decisions made by him were within the scope of his powers and he has nothing to add."
Video and Sil Plaza photo by Saro Baghdasaryan