- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 06, 2004

Is There a Problem Here?: Painters turn protestors, but not sure why

A place for painters . . .

Last week the vernisage in Saryan Park was filled with not only paintings but also with unhappy painters. The park, across from the Opera House, is usually empty during winter months, but became active due to Mayrakaghak (Capital) Union of Artists non governmental organization which organized a demonstration for artists' protection.

Many gathered. But it turned that only a few knew why.

"They say they want to take vernisage from artists, but it's not clear yet whether they're taking it from the artists or from Mayrakaghak ngo," said artist Minas Martirosyan.

"They" in this case refers to the Kentron (Center) community authorities, in whose part of Yerevan the popular park is located.

In 2000, Saryan Park was given (for 25 years) to the ngo for free use as a place where painters can exhibit and sell their work. (The "vernisage" -- a French word having to do with painting exhibitions - has in fact been active since 1992). The head of Mayrakaghak, however, says the agreement has been being violated from the beginning.

"There already are cafes on three sides and two kiosks near the street, the operation time of which has expired, that are littering and damaging the architectural view," says the head of Mayrakaghak Narine Vardanyan.

According to leaders of the ngo, their letters and complaints remain unanswered.

Vardanyan charges that the Centron authorities want to close down the vernisage.

The conflict with Kentron started when the ngo asked permission from the municipality to start constructions of a gallery-storehouse and a toilet. Permission was not granted.

"Having a storehouse is a really urgent matter, since the members of the ngo are from different regions and it's not easy to bring tens of paintings from Dilijan or Gyumri every time," says the executive director of Mayrakaghak, Artyom Lazaryan.

Mayrakaghak NGO has applied to court accusing Kentron of creating obstacles to their construction plans. A lawsuit filed in the Court of First Instance was settled in favor of the painters. Kentron appealed, but a higher court did not overturn the verdict.

According to community head Gagik Beglaryan, there were no intentions to close the vernisage. In fact, he says he is on the side of the painters and wants to see them display their work for free. As it is now, he says, each painter must pay 1,000 drams (about $1.80) per month to the ngo. Beglaryan argues that there should be no charge for using the property since it was donated by the community.

Community authorities, however, are opposed to the artists building in the park.

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