“State Need”?: And what of the needs of Buzand Street families?
With apparent disregard for a pending court order, a platoon of law enforcement estimated by observers to be about 40 strong, went into the home of Astghik Hovhannisyan last Friday and evicted the six-member family as it has dozens of others in what used to be the placid neighborhood of Buzand that has become Yerevan’s battleground for citizens’ rights.
Children returned from school with no home to return to as members of the Republic of Armenia’s “Red Beret” special forces acted on orders traceable to powerful and politically-connected oligarchs who are buying up prime real estate at ghetto prices.
It is no longer news that families such as the Hovhannisyans are being displaced because they have become an inconvenience. Dozens have shared their fate since the first blade of urban renewal fell in the city center neighborhood this spring.
But what continues to make news and noise in the capital is the fact that the very bodies entrusted to uphold the law themselves flagrantly ignore it. To explain:
While Astghik Hovhannisyan’s chairs and cupboard and nightstands – the artifacts of more than 60 years at 17 Buzand Street were being carried out by hired-hands, an appeals court had not yet issued a ruling on the family’s complaint that a development company’s offer of compensation was not only unsuitable, but insufficient according to the law.
The Hovhannisyans lost their home because they did not agree to accept the $10,500 offered to get them to leave, by Vizkon Ltd. a development company under the direction of Gevorg Vardanyan, former Minister of Nature Protection.
Astghik’s father, 61-year-old Hrachik Hovhannisyan, has never known another home. Four of his family members have permanent registration at the address. According to a government decision reached to cover compensation for the current city-center redevolpment, relocation payment should be $3,500 per registered occupant. (In the case of the Hovhannisyans, $14,000.)
(Evictees have different status. Some of them are evicted from their own territory, some of them did not have time to privatize the territory and are also subject to eviction. And some are evicted from the territory in which they had lived for years and have registration. The two latter groups are called apartment users.)
The latest report of the Republic of Armenia’s Ombudsman Office criticizes the government decision: “It is well known that the territories of the capital that are declared “alienation zones” are territories mainly occupied by private apartments, and still during the Soviet times, the owners of these apartments registered in their apartments their relatives, friends, acquaintances, and also others, legal and unlicensed additional constructions were created – sometimes even bypassing limitations by often-unjustified Soviet laws, buildings were transferred from one to another with a purchase and sale agreement signed in an internal order. This way, these territories became extremely densely populated. For residents it was considered though not convenient but nevertheless a place to stay, a family did not consider themselves to be homeless.”
The Ombudsman concludes that one should have consider the rights of residents having all types of statuses no matter whether they are owners, have permanent or other registration.
The Hovhannisyans are a family having the status of registered, of whom by the government decision compensation can be received by those who have permanent registration. “We don’t need money, we told Vizkon, give us 40 square meters to live,” says Astghik.
Initially, Vizkon offered to pay $7,000, representing two residents. A court ruled that they must pay for a third ($10,500). The Hovhannisyans also wanted compensation for a fourth, eight-year old David Hovhannisyan. Vizkon refused and court ruled in favor of the developers. The Hovhannisyans appealed.
While the Hovhannisyans waited with empty hopes (the court has not ruled in favor of residents even one time) a decision from the cassation court, bailiffs emptied their home.
For Hrachik Hovhannisyan, a few hours of tense standoff and subsequent display of force, rewrote his history.
Crying, his sister-in-law advised: “Hrachik jan, forget that you were born here.”
After the eviction, bailiffs refused to allow Hrachik to return inside for a change of clothes. Only after long persuasions Astghik and her mother were allowed to go inside and take their documents. But in the turmoil they failed to find all their belongings which according to them they kept in a bag (gold, and $2,000 they had borrowed).
While the bailiffs took the property out, a demolition squad had torn down the walls of the house, the roof and dislocated the windows for the house to become uninhabitable.
The order under which they have been evicted is designed to accommodate “state needs”.
By that definition, the state “needs” a district of elite buildings that will never fall into the budget of the Hovhannisyans or their neighbors, while turning profits for oligarchs who enjoy the privilege of power and the protection of a judiciary that has proven unsympathetic to the “needs” of common citizens.
“We have been pressured for a year for state needs,” says 32-year-old Astghik crying. “We will go out and sit in the street, we don’t know how to escape from these beasts, simply we don’t know. We don’t have a tent to hide in.”
While the Hovhannisyans things were being removed, news came that the court had suspended the eviction, however the bailiffs continued to take the property out. In their haste to finish the job, plates were broken and the cupboard damaged.
Half an hour after a loaded truck drove off and the bailiffs went away, a lawyer brought a letter of the appeals court chairman addressed to Tigran Tadevosyan, head of the Yerevan Police Department’s Bailiff’s Office Eviction and Population Division informing the latter that the court decision had not come into legal effect, meaning that the eviction had to be stopped, and demanding the return of the order that was given for eviction.
Later, workers told the Hovhannisyans that the Vizkon managers had given them “a good working over” for not razing the house to the ground at the time of the eviction and left an opportunity for the Hovhannisyans to return there. During another eviction on the same street, workers had ruined the house so much that the residents could not live there and live near the ruins (click here for the previous article).
Tuesday (October 4) a lawyer for Vizkon visited the Hovhannisyans and expressed his bosses’ threats that if they did not leave the place in two days their house would be leveled with a bulldozer with the assistance of the “Red Berets”. The lawyer, apparently embarrassed by his duty, refused to answer ArmeniaNow’s questions.
The Hovhannisyans returned to their apartment – emptied, and with a wall knocked down and the windows destroyed. The children have gone to live with relatives. Other residents repaired the windows and brought a folding bed and live in what is left of 17 Buzand . . .