BY J. DAGDIGIAN
On July 19 with only hours of warning, city workers arrived at Ferdosi Street, a narrow passageway near Republic Square, and tore down the booths of Ferdosi Market. Shops which were in small, private garages were allowed to remain, at least for now. Workers also dug up a part of the street to discourage passage.
This was the site of an old Persian community from the time of the Persian occupation of Yerevan. Two Persian aristocrat brothers had had a large house here, with a harem. I am told when Persian Shah Abbas visited Yerevan he stayed here. The opulent house remains, but in partial ruins, displaying a small remnant of its previous splendor.
During the Karabakh war and the initial days of Armenian independence, when trade with all of Armenia’s neighbors except Iran was disrupted, Iranians supplied Armenia with inexpensive merchandise, setting up a market here. Armenians joined in as well. A while back Iranian merchants constituted perhaps 40% of the business here. The market is now, or at least was until its destruction, entirely Armenian. The market was called “Ferdosi Market” or, more colloquially the “Persian Bazaar.”
Ferdosi Market was like a typical middle-eastern market, like some other markets here in Armenia, or like “flea markets” in the U.S. – only more crowded and chaotic. Apparently the government, publicly citing the poor image this market presented, decided to tear the market down. Coincidently, there also appears a plan to develop a large shopping complex here with underground parking, all financed by large business interests perhaps including some of Armenia’s oligarchs.
Merchants here operate on a shoe-string, selling inexpensive merchandise to customers who cannot afford to shop at many other places. Many customers live within walking distance of this down-scale community. Ferdosi Street, really an alley, is off of Tigran Mets Street near the Republic Square metro station so it is easily accessed from other parts of Yerevan as well. A pair of shoes, for example, can be purchased here for 3,000 dram, about $6. Many merchants borrow money from the bank to finance their inventory, which they pay back when the goods are sold. One woman said she owes $5,000 to the bank. Now that the market is closed she has no idea how she will pay back the bank. Merchants pleaded with the government to delay the destruction of the market until September, allowing them to sell their current inventory and take advantage of parents shopping for their children prior to fall school opening. But these pleas fell on deaf ears.
Rumors say the market will be moved elsewhere, but few believe promises from the government. If the market is moved, in all likelihood the existing customers will not follow and probably merchants’ expenses will rise making their merchandise unaffordable to existing customers.
Shops in private garages on Ferdosi Street are currently allowed to operate… for now. But people say these too will be outlawed as government officials or oligarchs have their eyes on the whole neighborhood. Selling merchandise from homes is against the law and is a punishable offense.
Locals complain that property is often taken by eminent domain, ostensibly for the public good, with owners inadequately compensated and thus unable to relocate. The confiscated property is often sold to private interests for profit.
This action by Yerevan’s city government reinforces, once again, the belief that government is indifferent to the problems of many of Armenia’s citizens and caters only to moneyed interests. After all, most visitors to Armenia equate the flash and glitter of Yerevan’s center to progress, and are oblivious to the difficulties that many, if not most, of Armenia’s citizens face.
For more on this visit: