Despite heavy rain, a group of about 40 protestors gathered near the Parliament on June 28 in the latest demonstration over the fate of ancient gardens.
The Dalma Gardens cover 530 hectares of land near the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and have a history stretching back 3,000 years. It is now considered a cultural-historical monument where, since ancient times, grapes have been grown and wine produced.
More than 1,000 farmers currently work the land, many of them for decades. However, Yerevan Municipality’s urban development program now threatens to engulf Dalma Gardens.
The gardeners claim that an official decision has already been taken to uproot fruit trees and vines in order to build roads and to sell the territory to numerous factories.
“They uprooted fruit trees that I’ve been growing for 13 years and threw them in front of me saying they’re acting in accordance with the law,” says Elmira Konstandyan, one farmer. “Those were thick trees which I’ve been taking care of for years. My heart aches when I recall it.”
“I have sifted the soil with my own hands and made a garden,” says 70-year-old Karlen Egiazaryan showing his hands black and hardened from soil. “I grow grapes and other fruit and the government has decided to turn our gardens into prairies and to start construction.”
Those protesting at the Parliament say they will never agree to deprive future generations of having the gardens, describing the land as the heart of Yerevan. One says: “Recently, there has even been a water problem, which didn’t exist before, in order for the gardens to dry out. But our will is strong and we were watering the gardens with buckets.”
Gayane Hakobyan is a mother of five small children and survives by working her garden. She says she has a lease for at least 10 more years but that the municipality does everything to get people off the land.
“At night when many return home from the gardens, officials secretly make measurements as if the land was theirs,” says Gayane’s husband Gagik Poghosyan. “Two days ago they entered on a tractor to destroy fruit trees and it is only thanks to our joint efforts that we managed to get them out and to save the garden.”
Farmer Shakespeare demands protection for his land
“We demand from the Parliament to leave us alone and deal with this issue,” says a white haired old gardener named Shakespeare. “This land has belonged to us and has to stay with us. We did everything for the gardens to survive.”
Hakob Sanasaryan, the president of the Union of Greens, which campaigns for the environment, says that Dalma Gardens demonstrates the human capacity to turn semi-desert land into rich and fertile gardens through persistent work.
“The issue is very serious. If the gardens are destroyed the city will lose its lungs,” he says.
Sanasaryan says everything has become complicated since the status of Dalma Gardens changed to a development zone. Further determination of its future is carried out in secret by the city and national authorities and accompanied by disorienting propaganda. For instance, the Mayor of Yerevan and the city’s chief architect insist that the city planning project will give an opportunity to save and maintain the Dalma gardens, but Sanasaryan says this amounts to a death certificate.
“Putting Dalma Gardens under construction to fulfill the budget is very much like a villager who kills his only cow just to eat khorovats for one day,” he says.
Ashot Sahakyan, the head of Territorial Policy Analysis Department at the National Assembly, assigned to investigate the issue, says that after the gardeners’ request they are studying the matter hard.
Elmira Kostandyan saw 13 years of work destroyed in a day
“If there’s so much noise around the issue then something’s wrong there. We shall try to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible,” says Sahakyan.
“If the government has made a decision we have no right to interfere, but since we care about those people, we’ll try to protect about 400 gardeners who have applied to us and whose gardens are outside that territory.”
Gardener Ruben Rostamyan is pessimistic. He says: “We went to the President’s residence and we’ve contacted other officials. However everything seems pointless. Everyone promises that everything will be fine, but promises are just words and the situation gets worse.
“But nothing will stop us, we’ll appeal wherever we can both to international bodies and to our government. We shall fight for the gardens until the end.”