Accessibility links

Breaking News

Armenian Kiosk Owners Protest Forced Closures

Owners of commercial kiosks in Yerevan protest against Mayor Karen Karapetian's decision to dismantle them.
Owners of commercial kiosks in Yerevan protest against Mayor Karen Karapetian's decision to dismantle them.
YEREVAN -- Kiosk owners in the Armenian capital have been demonstrating against the closure of their businesses on the orders of Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

More than 100 of the entrepreneurs gathered outside Karapetian's office on August 8 to protest against what they see as an illegal and unfair decision that will leave them without jobs.

Karapetian made the decision following an equally controversial ban on street trade that was imposed by him in January. That ban affected between 3,000 and 10,000 people.

The closure of the kiosks -- which sell food, cigarettes, and other goods -- began about three months ago and appears to have gained more momentum recently, with scores of owners receiving written notices informing them that their properties will be dismantled in the next three days.

Mayor Karen Karapetian
Some of them vowed to resist the enforcement of the ban, while others began daily demonstrations outside the municipal administration on August 5.

Karapetian spokeswoman Shushan Sardarian told RFE/RL that some 1,200 small shops have already been dismantled. Though she could not give the total number of kiosks that are due be shut down, it is thought to be in the thousands.

The Yerevan municipality says Karapetian's decision applies only to those kiosks that operate without valid government licenses or are located on major streets in the city.

Sardarian said municipal authorities are ready to sign "mutually acceptable" agreements with the owners of kiosks falling into the latter category.

"That means that they will probably be offered other locations [for selling things]," she said.

Some protesters dismissed that offer.

"We have one-year contracts with suppliers [of goods], and we have taken loans from banks," one of them told RFE/RL.

Many of the protesters also claimed to have recently purchased government licenses allowing them to sell tobacco and alcohol and paid other taxes in advance.

"I received a license just a few days ago," complained one woman. "Why didn't they tell me about this?"

"A supermarket and a 4-square-meter kiosk pay the same amount for a license," said another kiosk owner. "That's 245,000 drams ($668) a year."

Armenia's leading opposition forces have condemned the kiosk closures and the earlier ban on street trade.

Three parliament deputies representing the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party met on August 8 with Karapetian to demand that authorities at least suspend the dismantling process.

One of the lawmakers, Stepan Safarian, said the mayor rejected their demand.

Safarian told RFE/RL that the Zharangutyun representatives have requested an urgent meeting on the issue with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.

Both the central and municipal governments ignored similar street protests that were staged by traders and attended by some Zharangutyun parliamentarians in the spring.

Read more in Armenian here