Roger Colombik (USA) in collaboration with Jerolyn Bahm-Colombik (USA)
participatory art and interventions in the city of Yerevan
Supporting artists: Vahe Budumyan, Gohar Karapetyan, David Nubaryan (Department of Fine Arts, Armenian Open University)
Program director: Susanna Gyulamiryan
The Northern Avenue, Yerevan
At the corner of Teryan and Northern Avenue, a Soviet era building has the air of festivity adorning its façade. Flags and banners sway from wrought iron balconies in the early summer breeze. Approaching the structure, a more sobering intent of the proclamations becomes clear. SOS is printed in large block letters. In this particular circumstance, SOS translates to SAVE OUR BUILDING. The residents are joined in solidarity, bravely united in opposition to the oligarch’s insatiable oligarchic greed.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the Armenian government established a mandate of ‘State Needs’ as its principle guide for urban development in the central hub of downtown Yerevan (to be called Northern Avenue). For the thousands of residents to be effected by the government’s imminent domain plans, the exact nature of what the state needed was never discussed with them. Within the historical neighborhoods desperately in need of civic infrastructure improvements, the populace welcomed change.
Genuine State Needs such as civil society principles of progressive urban development that addressed community, education, health and the preservation of history were never brought into the dialogue. Serious discrepancies soon emerged in regards to fair and adequate compensation for homes and property.
Through the manipulation of legislative procedures and control of the independent judiciary, the government and developers established the Project Implementation Office. Their intimidating policies resulted in:
– ridiculously undervalued compensation packages
– threats of violence towards families/individuals that refused the offers
– forced evictions
Basically, this was a government sponsored slash and burn policy of deportation and forced migration. When former President Robert Kocharian celebrated the opening of Northern Avenue at a ribbon cutting ceremony, he gleefully looked out across the promenade of retail and residential post-modern glitz and stated, ‘It’s overwhelming, right?’ These same malfeasant government policies toward private property are now being imposed upon residents in several neighborhoods. For the historic community of Kond, for the SOS building off Northern Ave. and for the few remaining families living in the shadow of vacant opulence along Aram St., the situation is, well, overwhelming.
With our public intervention work our collaborative team hopes to ignite a constructive public dialogue that addresses the relationship between genuine State Needs and a civil society. The use of the Monopoly logo as a framework for our visual identity was developed as a politically relevant and easily recognized symbol to address this important issue.
This project was funded by CEC Artslink, Colombik Studios and ACSL.