Gas Station Owned By Prosperous Armenia Party Honcho Violates Safety

Grisha Balasanyan

2009/08 /03 | 18:00

The gas filling station belonging to "Artyom-M.M.M. Group Ltd" is
located practically on the bridge where the Yerevan-Ashtarak and
Yeghvard-Ashtarak roadways intersect. It belongs to Artyom Makaryan,
who heads the Spitak branch of the Prosperous Armenia Party. (Note:
We are not talking about "gas" as in petrol, but natural gas.

Most cars in Armenia are modified to run on both types of fuel)

It’s been more than two years now that the Aragatzotn Regional
Administration has been trying, without success, to get the gas station
to operate according to the law. The structure differs from the plan
submitted to the Ashtarak Municipality and many codes were violated
during its construction.

The gas station is located on the 22.6 kilometer stretch of the
Yerevan-Ashtarak-Gyumri-Georgia interstate. It falls with the
municipal boundaries of the town of Ashtarak and its safe operation
should be at the center of attention of the appropriate municipal
authorities. However, all legal norms of how a gas station should be
operated safely are flouted for all to see. No one seems to care.

Police mandated specifications overlooked

During construction, the RoA Highway Police also reviewed the intended
site for the gas station and didn’t oppose the plan, while at the
same time stressing that construction should meet the specification
as detailed in the blueprint.

There were six conditions that had to be satisfied. Let’s note a few
of them:

– Along the roadway, the structure must be at least 18 meters away
from the nearest traffic lane.

– A supplemental paved section measuring 50 meters by 3.6 meters
must be constructed in order to ensure the safe passage of transport
vehicles into the gas station.

– The site must be paved, leveled and marked with direction signal,
etc. There must be adequate drainage facilities from rain run-off.

Ishkhan Ishkhanyan, Chief of the Highway Police Department, handed
an official letter dated November 23, 2007, containing the above
provisions to Artyom Makaryan.

Accidents aplenty at site

However, these required standards were essentially violated during
the construction of the station, resulting in a spate of automobile
accidents in the vicinity; often with deadly consequences.

On March 4, 2009, a Kia Forento smashed into the station’s wall,
killing 40 year-old Hamlet Margaryan from Nor Hajin on the spot. Three
other passengers in the car were seriously wounded.

Residents of Ashtarak say that stretch of roadway was already dangerous
even before the gas station was built but that the number of accidents
has skyrocketed as a result.

The main cause for the traffic accidents is that Artyom Makaryan
built a wall around the gas station without a permit. The blueprint
he submitted for approval included no such wall.

There was another tragic accident at the station last year. An
electrician doing work at the station was rushed to the hospital with
burns as a result of not following the safety regulations.

Local residents take action

Local Ashtarak residents are so incensed that the local authorities
are willing to turn a blind eye to the problem that they have sent off
letters to the inspectorate services attached to the RoA President
and Prime minister, the Minister of Territorial Administration and
Deputy Prime Minister, Armen Gevorgyan, the Mayor of Ashtarak, the
Aragatzotn Regional Administrator, etc. However, since Artyom Makaryan
is "well connected" no official dare raises a finger against him.

Ashtarak resident Lilit Sardaryan has launched her own active little
war against the gas station owner. She is the one who has been
"disturbing" various officials with her protest letters and she is
the one who gets frustrated when all her effort is for naught.

Based on the petition of Lilit Sardaryan, Anahit Asatryan, Chief
of the Department of Civilian Complaints and Suggestions at the
RoA Presidential Inspectorate Division, sent an official letter to
Aragatzotn Regional Administration dated November 4, 2008, requesting
that they investigate the situation at the gas station. In his
response, Ashot Davadyan, head of the RA’s Department of Municipal
Construction, reported that he sent a directive to the Mayor of
Ashtarak requesting that "gas station operations be halted and that
necessary modifications be made to the structure enclosing the station
in order that it meet required norms".

Bureaucrats pass the buck

One year has since passed but no one has followed up on the directive
and demanded that the station adhere to municipal specs.

On June 4, 2008, again due to the perseverance of Lilit Sardaryan,
Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevoryan sent a directive to the Aragatzotn
Regional Administrator. In his response, Ashot Davadyan reported
that "Artyom-M.M.M. Group Ltd" was in possession of all pertinent
construction documents – architectural blueprint, land allotment
certificate and work permit.

"However, the standards set down by the Highway Police in said gas
station’s blueprints have not be met," Mr. Davadyan added in his

It appears that former Aragatzotn Regional Administrator Gabriel
Gyozalyan was also powerless in coming up against Artyom Makaryan
and his gas station.

On March 10, 2009, the former Regional Administrator sent a letter
in response to Hrayr Karapetyan, the former deputy to the National
Assembly President.

"There have been numerous investigations made by the inspectorate
services of the RoA President and Prime Minister. After which,
directives have been sent to the Regional Police Chief and the
Ashtarak Mayor, demanding that the site be brought up to the required
specs. However, no such work has been undertaken to date," according
to the former Aragatzotn RA.

Various police chiefs and the Mayor of Ashtarak have displayed a lack
of interest while the inspectorate services of the president and
prime minister have failed to follow up on the case. Is it because
Prosperous Armenia Party member Artyom Makaryan has met whatever
demands they have made?

The code violating gas station has also surprisingly passed technical
safety inspections.

National Technical Safety Center has much to answer for

Since a gas station is considered to be a safety risk, the law
requires such structures to undergo a safety inspection at least
once every year. We asked Ashot Petrosyan, Director of the National
Technical Safety Center, (State Non-Commercial Organization) to name
the specialist who conducted the investigation of the gas station
and when the last inspection was made.

We also asked how long had the gas station been in operation. NTSC
Director Petrosyan avoided giving any specific answers.

"The gas station located at the intersection of the Yeghvard-Ashtarak
and Yerevan-Ashtarak highways operated by the "Artyom-M.M.M. Group" is
not listed in the NTSC’s registry of dangerous commercial enterprises,"
writes the NTSC Director

His answer was all the more evasive since the registry he cites
only lists those commercial enterprises that have experienced
"technically-related" accidents. Our original question dealt with a
different matter.

Since the registry of dangerous industrial facilities is maintained by
the NTSC, and gas stations are classified as "potentially dangerous
facilities", our particular gas station must be so registered. This
means that NTSC Director Petrosyan knows whether the facility in fact
was inspected or not.

According to our sources in the NTSC, the "Artyom Group" signed
a 173,530 AMD inspection contract with the NTSC and that the gas
station passed.

The specialist who conducted the inspection was Hay Tovmasyan, who
by the way is the husband of Director Petrosyan’s sister. No wonder
the director wished to conceal this information from us.

Given that the gas filling station owned by the "Artyom Group" had
building code violations from the very start, this means that the
NTSC examiners, knowing this full well, nevertheless gave the station
a passing grade and thus seriously broke the law themselves.

According to the law, by conducting a faulty inspection, the examiners
(or examining unit) are liable to fines ranging from 500 to 1,000
times their minimum salaries. Let’s wait and see if the NTSC examiner
will be so penalized after this article is published.

We should note that the NTSC, according to its charter, is obliged
to examine and make conclusions regarding the construction,
reconstruction, renovation, expansion and technical outfitting
of potentially hazardous industrial sites and to see to it that
modifications are made to ensure that all sites meet legally required
safety specifications.

During our investigation, we were not able to contact Artyom
Makaryan. Representatives of the Prosperous Armenia Party refused to
give us his cell phone number, arguing that they weren’t authorized
to do so. We spoke to Aramayis Matosyan, who manages the Prosperous
Armenia Party office. During our conversation he said that,
"Mr. Makaryan hasn’t been to the office for the past ten days. He’s
in Yerevan but has changed his telephone number. We don’t know the
new number so that we can get in touch with him. We will have to wait
until he calls us with the new number."

There is no information regarding the "Artyom-M.M.M. Group Ltd." to
be found in any of the usual reference sites.