Out with the Old, in with the New

Please note that this post may stem entirely from my western developed-country bias, and I want to acknowledge that early on.

I’m painting in a very broad stroke when I say that the people of Armenia, as well as people in most developing countries, are always looking at the new and not interested in the old. This was clear when I asked a coworker where I could find a store that sold old classic soviet watches. He told me that no one here wants old soviet things and my best chance was to go to Vernissage [the largest flea market in Armenia with lots of pieces of art mixed in with other things] where they have lots of old things (he didn’t use the word junk, but it’s clear he had zero interest in such things).

Now combine this interest in the new with the promise of wealth and corruption and you have Yerevan’s construction industry. After a 52% drop in the construction industry during the global economic crisis, construction in Yerevan is booming again. As there isn’t much available land, especially in the center, anytime something new goes up, something old comes down.

A recent example is a historic covered market that was sold to the oligarch Samvel Alexanyan, who has a monopoly on sugar and flour imports. Even though the Mayor says the destruction of the market isn’t authorized, he didn’t stop it. Fortunately, a special committee formed by the city and national government has said that the destruction must stop.  However, the committee based its views on violations by the contractor, implying that Alexanyan will be able to continue as soon as he resolves these violations.

A protest march was held to protect all of Yerevan’s cultural monuments including the covered market. How much the protesters will be able to protect historic buildings is unclear. Armenia is past the days of blatant cronyism surrounding the forced expulsion from people that used to live on what is now Northern Avenue. Protests at the time were powerless to stop it. While things are better, that eviction is only one of many where families were evicted without sufficient compensation to find a new home within the city. Perhaps the best hope for the protestors is to cynically point to the luxurious apartments of Northern Avenue that sit empty as the expected rush of rich Diasporans and Iranians never appeared.

In contrast, one of the reasons Armenians hate the Azeris so much is because of their disregard for Armenian’s culture and history. Azeris lived in some of the lands that were outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast that are now a part of Artsakh, which held old Armenian churches and graveyards. The Azeris had no respect for those structures and cut up the khachcars (stone crosses) and used the pieces as building material.

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2 Comments

Filed under Urban Development

2 responses to “Out with the Old, in with the New

  1. olga

    Gabe, thanks for this! It didn’t seem biased at all! And thanks for what you are doing in Armenia, maybe one day Belarus will be happy to receive you 🙂

    • Gabe Armas-Cardona

      Hi Olga, thanks for the comment! I’m having a blast here in Armenia, and maybe if I learn some Russian I can hop over to Belarus or other CIS states. I might not go though because I have a friend here from Belarus who says that the food in Belarus is much worse than the food in Armenia.

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