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Armenia: Activists #Occupy Yerevan Park

This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.

Green spaces in Armenia continue to dwindle at an alarming rate, but a small yet dedicated group of environmental activists has also grown in recent years. Now, after launching campaigns for the country's endangered Teghut Forest, saving the Trchkan waterfall from destruction, and confronting officials over the sale of land to copper companies, the group has moved its fight to the capital, Yerevan.

After the municipality authorized the erection of shops in Mashtots Park, one of the city's last remaining green spaces, the activists have for almost two weeks taken part in their own ‘Occupy’ movement, which received widespread coverage last year when it spread to over 95 cities in 92 countries. Evicted last week from occupying the construction site, more than 100 of the environmental activists broke through a police cordon to demand a reversal of the decision to build in a public park.

The activists stayed until sundown in almost freezing temperatures with some such as @asenqte tweeting several photos of the scene.

Activists in Yerevan Park. Image posted by @asenqte

Activists in Yerevan Park. Image posted by @asenqte

The hashtag ‘#OccupyMashtotsPark‘ was also spread on Twitter before Monday night's action and used by Armenian news outlets and individual journalists as well as bloggers and activists [hy]:

@vtaang: ով ա գալիս գնանք Մաշտոցի այգի? հիմի, դուրս եմ գալիս տանից… #OccupyMashtotsPark

@vtaang: Who is coming to Mashtots Park? I'm leaving the house now… #OccupyMashtotsPark

@vtaang: ես գնացի, ժող. ջան միացեք, էս քաղաքը առանց են էլ լրիվ կանաչազրկվել է, իրոքից ինչ կմտածեն ու ինչ կշնչեն ապագա սերունդները OccupyMashtotsPark

@vtaang: I'm going. Dear people, unite, this city has been left green-less, really – what will future generations think and breathe. #OccupyMashtotsPark

Livestreams also appeared online:

@Kornelij: Live from #Yerevan mayor http://www.livestream.com/savemashtotspark #OccupyMashtotsPark

@Kornelij: One more channel from #Mashtots bambuser.com/v/2383669 #OccupyMashtotsPark

Videos were uploaded by citizen journalists with one by Epress showing students from the Yerevan State Linguistic University in action chanting with activists and carrying signs:

Another uploaded by environmental news agency EcoLur features popular artists and musicians voicing support for the activists and condemning the city's decision to construct the shops:

Caricaturist Vrej Kassouny, whose work has depicted the environmental struggle in the small South Caucasus country before, posted a video of the creation of his illustration, Green Mashtots, (featured below) on his Facebook fan page. It depicts the statue of the park's namesake, creator of the Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashtots, flanked by high end brand boutiques.

PanARMENIAN.Net / Vrej Kassouny

PanARMENIAN.Net / Vrej Kassouny

Some of the activism was initiated by the ‘Մե՛նք ենք այս քաղաքի տերը’ (We are the owners of this city) Facebook group [hy], which has over 4,000 members and advocates for the protection of green spaces. Activists posted their thoughts, sharing videos, photos and links to news stories about the occupation.

Among the photos posted, group member Hovhannes Sargsyan shared one of dozens of protesters entering the construction site:

Some like Facebook user Arpine Zargaryan also used the group as a forum to post a statement on the intent of the struggle, which she stressed was purely environmental and not political, and asked that it be shared across social networks [hy]:

բոլոր այն մարդիկ, ովքեր թյուր, և պայքարի բուն թեմային կապ չունեցող լուրեր են տարածում, թող ԱՍՏՎԱԾԱՎԱԽ լինեն ու լռեն!!!

Every one who is spreading information that has nothing to do with the original theme of this struggle, let them stay God-fearing and silent!!!

ՄԵԿԸՆԴՄԻՇՏ ՀԻՇԵՔ!!! ՄԱՇՏՈՑԻ ԱՅԳՈՒ պայքարը բնության, շնչող բայց անլեզու ծառերի, կանաչ Երևանի, մաքուր քաղաքի և ԲԱՐՈՅԱԿԱՆ ԲՆԱՊԱՀՊԱՆՆԵՐԻ պայքար է ձեր ու ձեր զավակների համար

ALWAYS REMEMBER!!! Mashtots Park's struggle is about nature, living but voiceless trees, green Yerevan, having a clean city and that of ethical ecologists for you and your children.

Outspoken environmental activist Mariam Sukhudyan also posted a message of support in the group from Norick Markosian, an Armenian Diasporan abroad:

TO THE BRAVE ACTIVISTS AND CITIZENS OF ARMENIA:

Since I am a Diaspora Armenian, I cannot be there physically to participate in the protest that has been going on in the Mashtots Park for a while. Believe me when I say, I have been going to sleep, and awaken with every single one of you in my mind. Your individual faces are vividly in front of my eyes at every moment. My biggest wish is to have the… opportunity to meet every one of you, shake your hand, and give you the biggest hug that I can. With your un relentless protest and iron will you are demonstrating that all hope is not lost. You are proving that, although our country is run by bunch of money hungry thugs, but there are still people left who have not lost the human side of their character. You are proving that there are people who care for the land that belongs to us, not to them. I hope that your persistent struggle is the beginning of the end to this dark days of our history. YOUR GENERATION IS OUR HOPE, YOU ARE OUR TOMORROW. KEEP ON GOING, VICTORY WILL BE OURS.

Many believe the construction of shops are illegal and linked to oligarchs and other government-connected businessmen, a problem Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian vowed to end late last year. According to some media outlets, for example, the boutiques to be installed in the park are reportedly owned by the brother of the ex-mayor of Yerevan, Gagik Belgaryan. Reports also allege that parts of the park are owned by Armenian Minister of Health Harutyun Kushkyan and Migran Poghosyan, Chief of the Compulsory Enforcement Service.

In response to the outcry, Yerevan's Mayor Taron Margaryan issued a statement in which he welcomed the public's involvement and touted the construction as a temporary solution for shop owners whose places of business were removed from Abovyan Street in downtown Yerevan. However, that didn't prevent construction from resuming during evening of 20 February, continuing into the early morning to ensure that activists wouldn't be around to disrupt workers:

@unzippedblog: FB reports say building works in #Yerevan park restarted at night, with police presence,when no activist around #OccupyMashtotsPark #Armenia

CivilNetTV, the online broadcasting channel of the Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation captured the news on video:

According to a Facebook event, Մաշտոցի այգի, օր 12-րդ (Mashtots Park: Day 12) [hy], protesters have vowed to press on from at the construction site with a full schedule that includes a guitar concert and a meeting with ethnographer Aghasi Tadevosyan. Police have also offered to hold a roundtable with civic groups to discuss the “legal grounds for the police actions” in the park.

This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.

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