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Yerevan's Ban On Street Traders Sparks Protests

Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian has clamped down on street vendors.
Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian has clamped down on street vendors.
YEREVAN -- Yerevan's city administration is facing angry streets protests after its decision to ban street trade in the Armenian capital, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Mayor Karen Karapetian ordered the ban after taking office last month. Police began enforcing it this week, clearing sidewalks of people selling a wide range of goods: from fruits and vegetables to construction materials.

Many hundreds of traders in Yerevan now risk losing their sole source of income as a result of the ban.

About 100 vendors gathered outside the mayor's office on January 19 and 20 to express anger at the measure and demand a meeting with Karapetian.

The crowd chanted "Karen, come down!" and "Work!" Some protesters tried to enter the municipality building but were held back by police officers guarding it.

"He gives us no jobs, no pensions but tells us to stop working. Why?" said one angry man. "How many families will now be left hungry?"

"We don't steal, loot, or kill," said a female trader. "We are fighting for survival."

Many of Karapetian's predecessors attempted such bans but eventually backed away in the face of similar backlashes. Street trading was only mostly driven out of downtown Yerevan.

"All previous mayors realized that you can't deprive people of their means of survival. But this one doesn't offer us any alternative," said Aram Arakelian, another protester.

Arakelian, 36, is one of about 200 traders selling household goods and construction materials on a busy street in the city's central Kentron district. He said all of them have installed cash registers and hired accountants in recent years to pay taxes required by law.

"After all, nowadays no factory, no enterprises provides as many jobs as street trade does," Arakelian told RFE/RL. "People have taken out loans with their apartments used as collateral and found ways of supporting their families. But the mayor made at least 12,000 Yerevan residents jobless in one fell swoop."

Neither the mayor nor his aides agreed to meet the protesting traders. Hovannes Ghalechian, an official from a municipal department on trade and services, was authorized to talk only to journalists.

"No action against the law can be justified on social grounds," said Ghalechian. He said municipal authorities are ready to open new retail markets for the traders to work in.

"Street trade is not only illegal by law but also dangerous for health," Ghalechian said. "They are not interested in moving out probably because it's more beneficial to do business on sidewalks .... They may be paying taxes, but that doesn't mean they can sell things anywhere they want."

But some traders did not accept that explanation. "My apartment is used as collateral; I sell eggs to support my family," said one middle-aged man. "Why is [the mayor] banning that? Will he support my six kids?"