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Narek Aleksanyan

Citizen Protest: Another Yerevan Landmark Threatened by Unregulated Construction

Landmark preservation activist were out in force today raising the alarm about another Yerevan architectural gem being threatened by shoddy construction work nearby.

Visitors to Yerevan have surely walked past the two-storey building housing the Armenian Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (ASRFC) on Abovyan Street.

This little gem, officially registered as a cultural/historical landmark is now under threat according to local preservation activists.

It is one of the few remaining traces of old Yerevan before developers were given a green light to destroy what had been preserved from the pre-Soviet era to make way for what now passes as architecture in the public interest.

Activists at today's protest say they possess documents proving that a ten story hotel now rising next to the ASRFC has violated several building codes and thus could damage the landmark structure.

Also present in the crowd was Karo Ayvazyan, who heads the Landmarks Preservation Department at the Ministry of Culture.

According to EcoLur, an environmental NGO, the developer of the hotel is Samvel Mayrapetyan and construction is being carried out by Local Developers Ltd.

Activists are concerned with the following sentence that appears in a review of the architectural blueprint for the hotel.

"The floor plan for the hotel is rectangular in shape. It is recessed 21 meters from the sidewalk of Abovyan Street, creating a green space."

That planned for green space, according to architect and activist Vardan Geravetyan, is the area now occupied by the ASRFC landmark building, who points to a photo affixed to the construction site depicting what the finished hotel will look like.

Karo Ayvazyan, from the Landmarks Preservation Department, brushes aside the activist's concern saying it's only an approximate photo of what the finished site will look like and cannot be considered a document.

Regarding the other documents in the possession of the activists, Ayvazyan said they were no basis for his agency to intervene in the hotel's construction. The official noted that it was a matter for the Ministry of Urban Construction, especially given that it was the Ministry's Construction Inspectorate that had uncovered the building violations referred to by the activists.

Regarding the violations, the Inspectorate states that its investigation revealed that the amount of space shown in the hotel's blueprint separating it from the ASRFC building violates current building codes.

Another violation was registered by an inspection team sent by the Ministry of Emergency Services. In this case, the hotel has violated a building code stating that "Depending on the fire-resistance level of a building, there must be 6 to 15 meters of fire prevention space between residential and public use buildings."

Armenia's Union of Architects has stated that the hotel's blueprints were never reviewed by the Yerevan Municipality's Urban Construction Council.

It is interesting and somewhat baffling to note that while the Yerevan Municipality issued a building permit on November 20, 2012, the permit affixed at the construction site shows a date of April 27, 2012 – the same date that construction began.

The permit shows the signature of Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture has posted an announcement in its website labelling the rumors of the dismantling of two landmark buildings as false and disinformation. Furthermore the Ministry claims that the landmark buildings at the corner of Abovyan and Pushkin Streets will retain its present appearance.

Nevertheless, in the same posting, the Ministry also disavows any jurisdiction in the matter, passing the ball to other state and local agencies.

During the protest, Vardan Geravetyan argued that if the few remaining traces of Yerevan's history are erased the claims of Azerbaijan, that Armenians are a nation of nomads, just might ring true.

"If everything old is destroyed then Yerevan indeed will have no history. And if we say that we did have a history, they will reply, yes but you destroyed it because it wasn't yours, you felt no remorse when you razed it to the ground," said Geravetyan.

He ended on a pessimistic note. "Are the people destroying our cultural values cretins or they doing it on purpose. It doesn't matter. What matters is that they are destroying it all and we, the citizens, are suffering as a result."