Campaign flyer for Viktor Mnatsakanyan

Mayoral Candidate Viktor Mnatsakanyan Wants to Reduce Traffic Jams, Make Yerevan Friendlier City

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YEREVAN — The candidate’s first name, Viktor, and the name of his eponyomous Victory Party may have been the first things voters noticed about Viktor Mnatsakanyan at the onset of Yerevan’s municipal electoral campaign. However, I discovered another defining feature when we sat down at his office. Candidate Mnatsakanyan’s vision of the future of Yerevan is substantially grounded in the history of the capital city.

Viktor Mnatsakanyan participating in an event at the American University of Armenia

“This building was built by Gevorg Tamanyan, the son of Aleksander Tamanyan, the chief architect of Yerevan in the 1920s-30s. When the architect father passed away, the opera house building was only 1.5 meters (~5 feet) tall. It was Gevorg who built the big part of the Opera House as we know it now, although junior Tamanyan humbly never took credit for it. That’s why almost everyone knows as the father, not the son as the builder of Yerevan’s opera,” said the politician. Later, our conversation frequently returned to architects, from Tamanyan to Toros Toromanian, and their vision for Armenian cities.

Mnatsakanyan occupied the office of chief executive of Yerevan’s central region for a relatively brief period in 2018-2019. He resigned in October 2019 due to disagreements with then-the mayor Hayk Marutyan, who himself later resigned and is now running for office against Mnatsakanyan, Tigran Avinyan, and other candidates. Avinyan and Marutyan are perhaps the best known of the competitors. The mayoral elections are to be held on Sunday, September 17.

Mnatsakanyan, right, at the Victory Party’s office with cameraman Hayk

To my question as to when his interest in history and how to make the city a better place started, Viktor surprisingly pointed to an old cobblestone in the corner of the room. “It all started with this paving stone. Abovyan Street was paved with these stones for decades. But in the renovation process in the early 2000s, they were removed,” recalled the politician. Viktor strongly believes that the maintenance of the historical image of the city should accompany renovation and innovation. Back then, he and his friends set up a Facebook page dedicated to preserving the image of Yerevan. These initial steps eventually contributed to his decision to become an urbanist and study the structure of city life. Viktor believes the city neighborhoods should allow more space to the pedestrians; he seemed to be skeptical about building streets and highways at the expense of walking people.

Mnatsakanyan’s Facebook post about the traffic jams of Yerevan

The course of our conversation naturally led to the dilemma of Yerevan’s traffic jams. The candidate thinks the number of service vehicles should be reduced and better organized. “Over a dozen Armenian companies produce and distribute dairy products. Imagine how many trucks are circulating in the city delivering milk and yogurts to the stores every day. These types of services need to be limited to the early morning hours and regulated in many ways,” thinks the candidate.

Then he referred to the ambitious plan of building new metro stations that have been on the agenda for years, with a series of stations in the Ajapniak area (the east bank of the river Hrazdan) being the most actively discussed ones. The construction of Ajapniak stations started when Armenia was a Soviet Republic but remained unfinished.

Stickers of the Victory Party

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“The metro is a luxury for wealthy cities. Yerevan isn’t that wealthy yet. As of now, Ajapniak should be connected to the rest of the city through on-surface modern rail-trams, not metro. The first option is about ten times more affordable,” suggested the candidate. Another way is developing a system of aerial trams. Yerevan used to have one, but it was shut down in 2003 after an accident that took lives. “One accident, no matter how tragic it was, shouldn’t have led to the abolishment of the decades-long system of a commute. We don’t abolish public transportation when the buses crash, correct? Instead, we should try to improve it,” said Mnatsakanyan. He believes the people of Yerevan should benefit from the area’s landscape and rebuilt air-tram stations to connect the central part of the city to the hilly areas of Nork-Marash.

Victor suggests making public transportation free of charge. Worcester, MA, Alexandria, VA are among American towns to make the public commute free. The European experience (Tallinn of Estonia, the countries of Luxembourg, Malta, and others) shows that with no cost people ride public transport more extensively, instead of driving cars. There are over 100 cities with free public transportation around the world. This is helpful for the environment too.

“The reduction of traffic jams is going to be easier than the reduction of the dust in the city. We have no choice but to rebuild green zones in Yerevan,” the politician says. From the irrigation system to the endless construction that Armenia’s capital is undergoing these days, everything needs to be reset. “On Abovyan Street, in the heart of the town, there is ongoing construction right now with no protective shields,” noted Mnatsakanyan.

The modernization of the city results in both benefits and losses. The politician believes as time goes by, there is more isolation among people, and a decline in social relationships. “We used to play in our yards when we were kids. That would make the neighbors more social. Nowadays, the children go to game clubs, not to the playgrounds,” remarked Victor, seeing this as a sign that interpersonal relationships are not what they used to be. The Victory Party chose “mardamot qaghak” [companionable city] as its slogan for this election that conveys the message of a more friendly city for its citizens.

The following video segment showcases segments of the interview with mayoral candidate Viktor Mnatsakanyan.

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