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Mariam Stepanyan

Kond Is All That's Left of Old Yerevan

When the Armenian Government passed its August 1, 2002 Decision 1151-N, on "Construction programs within the borders of Yerevan's Kentron District", people in the center of the city started to worry. The decision listed "land and property assets to be appropriated in the interests of the state totaling 345,000 square meters." These included an area of 71,700 square meters between Mashtots, Amiryan, and Saryan Streets; 33rd Street, the southern end of Grigor Lusavorich Street; an area adjacent to the Yerevan Winery; and Kond.

The people who were displaced by the Northern Avenue project were never offered apartments in the newly constructed "elite" buildings there; rather they were given money and expected to pick up and move to cheaper parts of town. Their sense of injury is like a dying fire that flares up from time to time. They organize regular protests in front of the Mayor's Office. They are angry about the amount of compensation they have received, and demand additional sums, as well as a return of the 10 percent that was taken out of the compensation in taxes, an amount that totals 1.7 million US dollars. It is hard to say what solution, if any, will be found to the problem.

The troubled situation regarding Northern Avenue alerted dozens of Kond residence and brought them to the Mayor's Office in the fall of 2004. The mayor listened to the delegation and promised, "The appropriation of the area will not begin until the questions of every last person who lives in Kond have been looked into."

Kond, a cultural monument

In the 1860s a visitor described Yerevan as "a typical small Asian town, with narrow, winding streets, and huts built from clay and small stones." At the time, Yerevan had seven districts: the old district, or Shar, in the center of the city, Shen, Dzoragyugh, Kond or Tapabash, part of which was called the apricot center, and the New District, where immigrants from Atrpatakan lived. The streets in Yerevan's old neighborhoods were three or four feet wide, with irrigation ditches on either side.

Today, Kond is all that's left of these old neighborhoods.

Some argue that government appropriation of the district will give it a much-needed facelift, even if that facelift means the destruction of the old historical environment. But from a social point of view, the problem is much harder to solve. Many Kondetsis themselves are utterly fed up with the rickety, dilapidated houses they live in. They dream of the new homes, even in the outskirts of the city, that they have been promised them for decades now.

Father Tirayr was born in Kond and is now a priest at the Church of Saint Hovhannes. He told us several interesting things. The church was built in 1710 and has served the district's religious-minded populace to this day. Over the years, new families arrived and the local population grew. Sometimes, houses were built right on top of each other, without any common utilities, as was the case on Kond's hill. The monk himself lives without any normal modern conveniences, and says his neighbors are tired of living in these conditions. He supports the appropriation of Kond, but only provided no modern European style buildings go up in its stead. "During Soviet times too, the authorities were scared to deal with Kond, since as soon as they would enter, the people would ask them, 'Why should we live like this, while you live in luxury apartments?'" Father Tirayr said.

The authorities admitted that the problem they were trying to solve was paradoxical, and in 1984-85 announced a tender for an architectural plan to reconstruct Kond. Interviewing one architect, Karen Demirchyan, then first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party, declared, "Have you been to Paris, seen Montmartre? I want Kond to become Yerevan's Montmartre".

We met this architect, Arshavir Aghekyan, and discussed the changes that had been planned.

"The plan wasn't a complete reconstruction, but a reconstruction that would integrate the old and new environments. The plan involved the construction of residential and commercial buildings; in short, it would have become a beautiful eastern neighborhood." Aghekyan's blueprint called for the construction of beautiful stone stairs with stone houses all along either side. Looking down from the top, the houses would appear to be built one on top of the other, but that would be an illusion, preserving Kond's historical flavor.

Aghekyan sadly acknowledges that his colleagues have been systematically destroying the buildings that define Yerevan's past. Kond itself has no buildings of particular historical or cultural value, but as a whole, it is the only part of the city that has preserved the city's historical atmosphere, and its reconstruction should adhere to that principle. If, however, the reconstruction is approached in the same way as the Northern Avenue project, nothing at all will be left of Old Yerevan, and the city will have just another area of densely packed high-rises in its center.

The appropriation of the district hasn't started yet, but the problems have

The details of the reconstruction program are only known among the upper echelons of the government, and people in Kond do not trust the government. They fear a repeat of the Northern Avenue situation, that they will lose their property for symbolic sums of money, that they will be left out of the game, and others will take over the land they inherited from their grandparents.

Their uneasiness is justified. In Soviet times the government tried to improve residents' living conditions, and 500 families in total were given new apartments in multistory buildings. The homes they had moved out of were immediately taken over by relatives or neighbors, many of whom were never given titles to the property. When most Yerevan homes were privatized, many people in Kond were left without titles to their property; on paper, they own nothing, and so they fear the worst when it comes to compensation. Others, who somehow managed to extract titles to their property from the government, expect to be compensated more fairly.

80-year-old Vanik's had his home seized by the government once before, when the Dvin Hotel was built. He received no compensation. He moved to new land near the church and built a new house. Now this house is to be leveled too. Vanik is determined not to let that happen; he'll be waiting for the first person who tries to enter his house with an axe.

In an apartment at 32 Rustaveli Street, a woman who moved here as a bride fifteen years ago has still not been allowed to register her name as a resident of the building. In the same neighborhood, a young man has returned from the army, but still is not registered in the home he grew up in.

The people of Kond say that some time ago, the head of the Spandaryan District Council signed agreements with them whereby if they didn't want to wait for an apartment in Kond in exchange for their land, they would be given an apartment in some other part of Yerevan. But Vanik Sirabyan, who heads the department of appropriation at the Yerevan agency in charge of the reconstruction project, says these contracts have lost their legal force, as the Kentron district is not the legal successor of the Spandaryan Council. He didn't, however, rule out the possibility that the government would adhere to some points mentioned in those contracts. He also said that the residents who have already vacated their homes in Kond have received compensation. In accordance with Government Decree 683 of October 10, 2000, on "land taken for state or social needs", in 2003 and 2004, 171 families received a total of more than $2,060,000 in compensation based on the average market value of their property at the time.

Meanwhile, the Appropriation Committee in the Mayor's Office confirms that some citizens who attempted to register property they had owned for 100 years were denied. The registrars drew up the floor plans, and allowed some to build houses and denied others the same right.

Kond's many problems have gone unsolved. Instead, there is the new Government Decision 57, according to which the appropriation procedure has become even harsher. "If the owners of land and property, people registered in the illegally built houses and their underage children do not leave their property within five days of receiving the offer of compensation, they will not receive compensation for their property, in accordance with Article 8 of this decree." Rather than tackling the problems people in Kond have been living with for so long, the government has chosen to threaten and intimidate its own people.