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“Nor Haleb” Housing Project Faces Uncertain Future: Mistrust and Lack of Money the Culprits

Seda Hergnyan

The parcel of land in the Aragatzotn town of Ashtarak, earmarked for a new residential community to house Syrian-Armenian refugees, remains barren.

The idea to construct the neighborhood, to be called “Nor Haleb” (New Aleppo), took shape in 2012.

The concept, proposed by Minister of Diaspora Affairs Hranoush Hakobyan, soon won the approval of the Armenian government and the local Ashtarak Municipal Council.

Lena Haladjian, who runs an NGO called the “Coordinating Center for Syrian-Armenian Problems” told Hetq that the plan was to build 488 apartments for those who escaped the war in Syria. The estimated cost was US$25 million and the hope was that benefactors would raise the bulk of the money and that those who signed up for apartments would provide the remainder. The larger the apartment, the more future residents would pay.

Mrs. Haladjian says that the Syrian-Armenians in Armenia welcomed the new project and that her organization was to coordinate the “Nor Haleb” project under the auspices of the Ministry of the Diaspora.

Today, all that remains of that initial enthusiasm are the applications of potential residents which are filed away with care at the Coordinating Center.

Uncertain Future: 660 Applications and $100,000

Mrs. Haladjian told Hetq that her organization has received 660 applications for housing at “Nor Haleb”.

A bank account was opened for benefactors to contribute to the construction drive. So far, 52 million AMD ($109,148) has been donated.

On behalf of the Coordinating Center Mrs. Haladjian personally sent 175 letters to Armenian communities around the world asking to support the project. Nothing came of the letter campaign.

She says that none of the apartment applicants have paid in to the project or have any signed any purchase contracts. There are two reasons for this, she argues.

Many applicants figured that they would return to Syria, sell off their homes and other assets, and use part of the revenue to pay a portion of the costs associated with the “Nor Haleb” project. It didn’t work out according to plan. Mrs. Haladjian also notes that donations didn’t meet expectations.

Despite the uncertainty, Haladjian still has hope that donations will increase and that the project will move forward.

But what about the money already collected? 42 million AMD of the original 52 million still remains in the ACBA Credit Agricole bank account. (10 million was spent on surveying and geological work at the site).

How long will it take to declare the “Nor Haleb” project dead and buried? Haladjian has no answer.

That money was donated by Hrant Vartanian, a benefactor now deceased. What happens if the project is declared a bust? Will Vartanian’s heirs allow the Coordinating Center to use the money for other projects to assist Syrian Armenians?

Minister Hranoush Hakobyan says that Vartanian donated the money not solely for the “Nor Haleb” project but in general assistance. Hakobyan has told the press that the money will not be returned to the Vartanian family if the project fails to take shape.

Apartment Applicants Have Given Up on “New Aleppo”

Hetq talked to several “Nor Haleb” applicants. Our only query was why they never signed a purchase contract after applying for an apartment.

All replied that they had given up on the project long ago and that it’s a failure as far as they are concerned.

The project’s success or failure rested on donations from benefactors; charity destined for Syrian-Armenians. Such charity, in the amount needed, never materialized and Syrian-Armenian applicants didn’t have the money to make up the difference.

Many applicants still haven’t found work in Armenia or are under-employed.

Those now working in Yerevan said they couldn’t pay for the commute every day from Ashtarak to the capital.

Others simply mistrusted the entire project from the get-go.

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