The Armenian foreign ministry building -- 14,000 square meters of Stalin-era, colonnaded grandeur -- will soon be charging foreign guests for visits. The building, perched on Yerevan’s central Republic Square, has been sold to Argentine-Armenian millionaire Eduardo Eurnekian, who reportedly plans to set up a luxury hotel in the structure.
Many Armenians opposed the sale, arguing that the cultural value of the building and its location make it better fit for a cultural purpose. What does it say "about the image of our country, our capital city, its center, if half or even most of the buildings at its heart . . . are to be hotels, not centers of culture?” asked Samvel Karapetian, head of the non-profit group Research on Armenian Architecture .
As in other ex-Soviet cities where commercialization is changing the faces of downtown areas, many consider the privatization of state buildings that used to house government offices (and hosted historic events) to be improper and distasteful.
In neighboring Georgia, there has been a lot of carping about earlier plans for the privatization of Tbilisi's old parliament building, a structure with a prime role in the country's recent history.
(The privatization plans, reportedly, are now frozen.) In Azerbaijan, the destruction of buildings from Baku's 19th-century oil-boom era also has raised alarm.
But, in Armenia, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has defended the sale, saying that downtown Yerevan needs more luxury hotels. “There is always [a] shortage of hotels when more than two international events take place in Yerevan at the same time,” he is quoted by ArmeniaNow as saying. Investors and high-profile visitors could use an extra space to hang out, he added.
Plus, how could government officials resist a $51.36-million-plus offer – reportedly, double the price for a square meter of property in the area? The argument is that the building can help Armenia make money and still busy itself with foreign affairs.
The government will use the funds to build Armenia a new, downtown foreign ministry by 2015, Asbarez reported, citing RFE/RL's Armenian service.