Saturday, March 10, 2012

Women Occupy Yerevan Park on International Women's Day

March 8 — International Women's Day — will be memorable for me this year because of this group of women who broke through the barricades and occupied one of the kiosks in a central Yerevan park. 

For those who don't know, environmental and civic activists have been coming to Mashtots Park nearly every day for over 3 weeks protesting the construction of shops in what they say (and many will agree) is one of the few remaining green spaces in downtown Yerevan. These same shops (most often referred to as "kiosks" though they're much larger than that) were dismantled on Abovyan St. (another downtown Yerevan street) and "moved" to Mashtots Park. From what I understand, the shop owners have a 10-year lease with the city and they have 3 remaining years left on this lease. So to solve the problem of at once dismantling the kiosks on a downtown Yerevan street (a move the mayor initiated following his removal of street vendors in the capital) and not breaking the contract with shop owners, the municipality decided to "move" them to Mashtots Park. The idea is that the kiosks are temporary (so why the concrete base?) and will be removed when the contract with shop owners is up in 3 years. 

Though Armenian prime minister Tigran Sargsyan said he was opposed to permanent structures in the park (note: he didn't say anything about temporary structures), and Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan agreed with him, it's business as usual and the green light for construction of the shops. 

This, of course, hasn't deterred activists who are at the park every day (usually leaving around 8 pm or so) while construction continues. On Mar. 8 (which is a statutory holiday in Armenia), it was the women who took charge and broke through the barricades. Though police were on scene and initially tried to stop them, they eventually gave up and let things be. Yerevan deputy police chief Robert Melkonyan (known by his nickname Bazaz), also on site but in civilian clothing, explained the police's hands-off approach by saying that construction wasn't going on anyway and it was better to avoid any incidents between police and activists — can you believe he actually said that?

And the funniest thing of all, the police — including Bazaz! — handing out flowers to the women. Those who were outside the kiosk accepted them, but those on the inside shook their heads, refusing them and repeating their sole request: that the barricades be removed — which they were. Amazing, huh? Solidarity among women that led to positive results… more of this in Armenia, please.

In the second video (yes, by CivilNet), you can also see MP Anahit Bakhshyan (from the parliamentary opposition Heritage Party), who is also inside the kiosk, and who (at the end of the video) said, "That which these young women are doing today is more than what Clara Zetkin did at her time. These youth will lead us," she says. 

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