Featured in the illustration, full picture of the building from above, October 2023.
In the first part of the EVN Report series on the historic buildings of Yerevan, the convoluted privatization of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs building was highlighted. This article also focuses on the issue of privatizing buildings of historical and cultural value, which are left derelict. In the second part, we present another privatized historic building which has been abandoned.
A two-story building with a façade made of black tufa stone, located at 9 Aram Street in the heart of Yerevan, is known as Aram Manukyan’s house. It was constructed in the 1910s based on the design by architect Boris Mehrabyan, and previously belonged to Fadey Kalantaryan, a Deputy in the Yerevan City Duma. The structure sits on a 183.6 square meter plot and includes 10 apartments.
According to the plaque on the building, Aram Manukyan resided here during the last two years of his life (1917-1919). He is one of the most significant figures in Armenian history during the early 20th century. Manukyan played a major role in the self-defense of Van during the 1915 genocide and also organized military resistance against Turkish forces during the battle of Sardarapat in 1918. He is widely recognized as the founder of the First Armenian Republic and served as the Minister of Interior Affairs from 1918 to 1919. The street is named in his honor.
Eminent Domain and Change of Ownership
By Decree 108-N of January 25, 2007, the government recognized 9 Aram Street, along with other structures, as buildings of overriding public interest. The government argued that the interests of urban projects in the area take precedence over the interests of the owners. The government described the structures as semi-dilapidated, not earthquake resistant and generally unsafe.
Yacoubian specializes in representing governments in commercial transactions and international arbitration, communication, aviation and energy. In 2004, it was revealed that the government had paid him $266,700 US for representing Armenia in negotiations with foreign investors. Media reports indicate that he had a close relationship with the then Minister of Justice, Davit Harutyunyan. Yacoubian had previously owned Kia Motors Armenia CJSC which has since been declared bankrupt. Currently, Yacoubian has been charged with conspiring with government officials to acquire properties below market price, and a search warrant has been issued for him.
Glendale Hills was declared bankrupt at the end of 2015. Earlier, by government Decree 1227-A on November 6, 2014, 9 Aram Street and other buildings were transferred to Old City CJSC, which is owned by Vartan Srmakesh (Sirmakes in documents). Srmakesh, an Istanbul-born Swiss resident, is the co-founder and CEO of the Swiss watch manufacturing company Franck Muller.
Srmakesh also owns several other companies, including watch making company AWI, Ararat Football Club, the Maralik cotton textile factory, and the Artsakh HEK OJSC, which used to operate the hydroelectric power plant on the Sarsang reservoir in Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, Srmakesh is the sole owner and chairman of the board of ArmSwiss Bank and owns 51.7% of Artsakh Bank stocks through the Business Foundation of Armenia CJSC. Previously, he served as the Consul General of Armenia in Marseille, France.
On November 14, 2014, Old City CJSC (owned by Srmakesh) signed preliminary real estate sales contracts with IMC and Glendale Hills CJSC. The contracts obligated the companies to transfer a plot of land measuring 8,839 square meters from the territory of Old Yerevan to Old City within a year. As an advance payment, Old City paid the full amount [the value is not mentioned in the documents].
On December 1, 2014, the government, represented by Minister of Urban Development Narek Sargsyan, signed an agreement on the Old Yerevan construction investment program with the representative of Multicontinental Distribution LLC, owned by Srmakesh. It was stated that the construction would commence in 2015.
How the Building Collapsed
The cadastral file of 9 Aram Street reveals permits for the demolition of four apartments in the building. These permits, issued on May 24, 2008, were authorized by Yerevan Deputy Mayor Karen Davtyan and intended for execution by the developer Glendale Hills. There is currently no information available on permits granted for the demolition of other apartments of the building.
However, satellite images from October 2009 show that the roof of 9 Aram Street was already partly missing, and by 2011, only the external walls remained.
According to Article 21 of the law “On the use and preservation of historical and cultural monuments and historical sites”, the demolition of monuments is prohibited. However, law enforcement officers only took action on the alleged crime after nearly a decade.
In April 2019, the prosecutor’s office announced that a criminal case had been initiated. The investigation revealed that 9 Aram Street was partly demolished due to the demolition permits issued by officials of the Yerevan Municipality. Additionally, officials from the Ministry of Culture failed to fulfill their responsibilities in monitoring the protection and use of monuments.
The Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case under Part 2, Article 308 of the Criminal Code (Abuse of Official Powers Resulting in Carelessly Caused Serious Consequences). The preliminary investigation for this case was assigned to the Investigative Committee.
Despite more than four years passing since the issuance of this press release, the Investigative Committee has informed EVN Report that the preliminary investigation is still ongoing.
The Question of Preservation and the Idea of Turning It Into a Museum
In the government’s 2007 Decree on recognizing 9 Aram Street as eminent domain, it was mentioned that there are numerous historic buildings and structures in the area. Construction activities will allow the restoration of these buildings and structures through private investments, while blending the architectural style of old Yerevan with the buildings and structures currently under construction.
The government emphasized the investors’ responsibilities for safeguarding these buildings, citing the provisions outlined in the law on “the use and preservation of historical and cultural monuments and historical sites” and the government’s April 20, 2002 Decree 438.
In recent years, there have been numerous calls to convert the building into a house-museum dedicated to Aram Manukyan.
In 2016, Narek Sargsyan, the Minister of Urban Development, affirmed in response to an inquiry from ARF member of parliament Aghvan Vardanyan that the ministry would be commited in pursuing the conservation and restoration of the building. Sargsyan also gave assurances that, taking into account recurrent suggestions for establishing a museum zone dedicated to Aram Manukyan, the ministry would follow up with the developer to explore and potentially implement the project.
In 2017, a group of young people organized a civic action near the building. Then-Minister of Culture, Armen Amiryan, also participated. In an interview with reporters, he expressed his desire for the building to be protected not only by law but also by the public’s attention as a city treasure.
The minister stated, “Let’s not only protect it by law, but also by forming public opinion and attitude.” Despite the building already being in a dilapidated condition due to illegal demolition permits, Amiryan assured that it could not be demolished because it was protected by law.
In April 2020, Gayaneh Melkom Melkomian, a member of Yerevan City Council, suggested to Arayik Harutyunyan, then Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, and Mayor Hayk Marutyan, that the building should be taken under State care and converted into Aram Manukyan’s house-museum, or another appropriate institution.
“We cannot leave the fate of this historic monument to the discretion of a private person and consign Aram Manukyan’s historic house to oblivion,” she wrote.
In May 2021, Nvard Vardanyan, another member of City Council, disclosed that the investor had consented to turn 9 Aram Street into a house-museum. Several months later, Vardanyan informed Factor.am that an agreement had been reached between the American-Armenian benefactors and Srmakesh to convert the building into a house-museum.
In November 2022, Harutyun Vanyan, Head of the Department of Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports mentioned that the building is planned to be reconstructed
“We have discussed the reconstruction design; both the government and the investor envision the building undergoing reconstruction,” he said. “The challenge lies in the execution of this plan, with the legal proceedings dragging on.”
Levon Vardanyan, the architect of the Old Yerevan project, told EVN Report that the results of a seismic survey conducted in 2021 revealed significant damage to the facade. Seismologists insisted on dismantling the stones and rebuilding on the same site. According to Vardanyan, the risk of collapse means that work on the building can only begin when the final approval is granted, which is currently being undertaken by the Yerevan municipality.
The Final Approval: Litigation
For several years, the previous occupants of apartment #10 in the building have been disputing the validity of the sales agreement with Glendale Hills, along with other related matters.
In the cadastral file, there is a deed involving the former occupants of the apartment: Hovhannes, Isahak, Aram, Lusine and Armine Vardanyan, as well as Narine Hunanyan and Glendale Hills. This deed refers to a contract signed between the parties on December 20, 2007. According to this contract, the sellers are obligated to vacate the occupied space and transfer it to the buyer. The sellers receive a monetary compensation of 12,756,000 drams (almost $42,000 based on the exchange rate on that day), in exchange for the sale and release of the real estate. In return, the sellers will be provided with a furnished apartment measuring 36.3 square meters in a new apartment building to be constructed in the Glendale Hills district, located near the Yerevan wine factory. If the apartment is not provided, the sellers will receive its market value instead.
In response to the Vardanyans’ appeal, Arman Petrosyan, the Deputy Head of the Cadastre Committee, stated in July 2020 that, based on the cadastral files, apartment #10 on 9 Aram Street was registered in the name of Glendale Hills CJSC on December 25. This registration was done in accordance with a notarized contract dated December 20, 2007.
According to cases available in the court information system, the Vardanyans have been attempting since 2008 to compel Glendale Hills, through the court, to make partial amendments to the contract and sign a new one. They have also sought to invalidate all legal documents relating to the recognition of exclusive overriding public interest regarding the apartment, as well as the state registration of Glendale Hills’ rights. In another case, they have requested changes to the description records from the municipality, the Yerevan Investment Development office, and the Yerevan Cadastre, among others. However, all of these appeals have been rejected.
In 2019, during a conversation with Hetq, Isahak Vardanyan insisted that the apartment was taken from them through falsehoods and coercion. No sales contract was signed with him, and no handover-acceptance deed was drawn up. Vardanyan claimed that Glendale Hills deceived them regarding the size of the apartment, offering only a 37 square meter-sized apartment as compensation instead of 90 square meters, which he insisted was the actual size of their apartment. They were also pressured to sign the preliminary contract or face eviction. Additionally, Vardanyan discovered his signature at the bottom of the title deed, despite insisting that he had not signed it. The Vardanyans’ request to amend the contract was rejected by Armenian courts, and the case has now been brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The court information system also has data on the ongoing court case, in which Vardanyan is seeking to have the cadastre invalidate the registrations of illegal ownership rights and compel them to provide information about the land located at 9 Aram Street. On June 26, the Civil Court of General Jurisdiction of Yerevan accepted the case for proceedings.
As noted in the previous article, the absence of the practice of drawing up a preservation agreement is the primary reason for the abandonment of historic buildings. The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport informed EVN Report that the structure at 9 Aram Street also lacks a written preservation agreement. Moreover, this building is implicated in a criminal case related to its demolition, and prolonged court disputes have been dragged on for years.
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