Famous Yerevan eatery Dolmama is threatened with destruction after authorities transfer ownership to Samvel Mayrapetyan, a wealthy business owner with close connections to figures from Armenia’s pre-revolution government.
Armenia’s Compulsory Enforcement Service ordered the owner of the place, Jirayr Avanian, to hand over the keys of his restaurant to the building’s new owners within 15 days.
Jirair Avanian told OC Media he sees the order as ‘theft’ and has said that he will refuse to comply with the order. ‘If they need to get me out, they’ll need to do it by force’, he said. ‘Me, my friends, and the customers are going to stay there, they would need to walk over my body to enter the restaurant’.
Avanian bought and opened Dolmama in central Yerevan in 1998. It is located in one of the few pre-Soviet buildings left in Armenia’s capital. Since it’s opened, it has become a culinary mainstay of the city. Outside the restaurant, a board displays images of the prominent people who had eaten at the establishment, a list which includes the likes of Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton, Kanye West, and Charles Aznavour.
The new government-mandated owner of Dolmama is Samvel Mayrapetyan, a wealthy business owner and construction magnate with close connections to Armenia’s pre-revolution authorities. At present, Mayrapetyan is facing charges for his alleged role as a middle-man in a $7 million bribe.
A long fight
Avanian’s ownership of the restaurant was first challenged in 2008, when the Armenian government attempted to seize it by declaring eminent domain (the seizure of private property by the state with compensation due to ‘public and state needs’ or ‘overriding public interests’). Avanian challenged the decision in court, and has kept de facto control of the restaurant through repeated appeals — it appears, until now.
Avanian, however, remains confident that he will emerge victorious and keep his restaurant. He is not alone in this opinion.
Nuard Vardanyan, a member of Yerevan’s City Council from the ruling ‘My step’ faction, told OC Media that Avanian’s years-long legal battle ‘was carried out with gross violations of the law’. Vardanyan added that she hoped that the issue would be resolved before the deadline given to Jirayr Avanian.
Vardanyan said both the government and the municipality have the ‘political will’ to solve the issue and save the building, as well as a number of options — especially if it is discovered that the initial declarations of eminent domain were made under conditions that violated the law.
The Dolmama controversy is only the latest in a long list of eminent domain seizures in Armenia, the most prominent of which was the seizure and demolition of numerous residential homes to allow for the construction of Northern Avenue, a high-end retail and pedestrian avenue.