The controversial construction of an apartment building in a Yerevan neighborhood appeared to be suspended on Monday following renewed clashes between riot police and angry local residents backed by dozens of civic activists.
The police detained at least 26 mostly young activists on Saturday after they blocked an adjacent street, demanding a halt to what they say is an illegal redevelopment project. They all were released from police custody several hours later.
One of the activists, Argishti Kivirian, suffered serious injuries to his head and required hospitalization. He claimed to have been beaten up in a police car.
In a written statement, the Yerevan police accused the protesters of disrupting public order and “trampling on the rights of other citizens.” It warned that police officers will not hesitate to use force if traffic through Komitas Avenue, a major thoroughfare, is blocked again.
Karen Andreasian, the state human rights ombudsman, criticized the police actions as disproportionate. “Particularly disappointing was the unprofessional, emotional and irregular conduct of certain police officers,” Andreasian said in a statement. He said his office will demand an official police explanation for the injuries inflicted on Kivirian and other activists.
Residents of the buildings located around the construction site say that the new structure would be too close to their homes and block their sunlight. They also claim that the construction is illegal because they did not agree to it.
The Yerevan municipality denies these claims, saying that the private developer, a company called Liber, was authorized to start work on the building’s foundation and basement. The municipality also clarified last week that Liber has not yet been granted permission to build the rest of the 7-story apartment block.
The construction site was deserted on Monday. Local residents holding vigils there said construction workers unexpectedly left it early in the morning. “Neighbors yelled at them and they stopped their work in the morning. But we don’t know when they will be back,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Liber’s owner, Edward Abrahamian, claimed that his employees sprayed the site with special chemicals used for fracturing big rocks in order to avoid disturbing neighborhood residents. But he also made clear that the construction will likely resume only if his company receives the final permission from the Mayor’s Office.