Police authorities in Armenia have urged local environmental activists to call off their plans to dismantle kiosks in a Yerevan public park, warning that such an unauthorized step will draw a response from law enforcement.
In a statement disseminated on Thursday, the national police force stressed that any action of that kind against what is private property in Mashtots Park would not be protected by the public assembly law and, therefore, would require that the police step in.
Earlier this week, a group of environmental campaigners notified the Yerevan municipality and the chief of the national police that they were taking the matter into their own hands by planning to dismantle the boutiques that were recently installed in a green area off the city’s main Mashtots Boulevard.
They said they were not satisfied with government assurances that the kiosks would stay in the park for only three years after which they would be dismantled as part of a broader conservation effort for the city.
The shops mainly selling clothing were previously located on the sidewalk of Abovian Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. They were dismantled along with hundreds of other kiosks across Yerevan last year. Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian said the city had to offer an alternative location in downtown Yerevan to the owners of those particular shops since they had valid contracts signed for many years ahead.
In an open letter addressed to Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian the environmental activists, including well-known filmmaker Tigran Khzmalian and political scientist Manvel Sargsian, said a dozen of members of their civil movement with proper tools for the dismantling action will come to Mashtots Park on March 31 to deconstruct the mostly metal and glass constructions. They asked the police chief to ensure their security.
“Of course, this is not only action for dismantling these kiosks. It is clear to everyone that this is just an occasion, a symbolic deed. I am sure the police and the Yerevan municipality understand this, too,” Khzmaian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
“This is a form of peaceful disobedience, because citizens have the right and obligation not to obey illegal decisions,” added Sargsian.
Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, also called on the pressure group to abstain from their plans of dismantling what is now private property by law.
“If their actions become unlawful, then the retaliation will become lawful, which is something that worries me,” Andreasian said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
The police further stressed in their announcement that any actions by the protesters encroaching on the private property will be deemed as disturbance of public peace and security and will draw a police response within the framework of the law.
Environmental protests in Mashtots Park began in early February and have so far been mostly peaceful. Tension rose at one point in the middle of March after police officers confiscated a tent pitched there by some activists. The green campaigners denounced the action that the police described as lawful.