On Tuesday, casino plans for the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concerts Complex (Hamalir) in the western part of Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, were assailed by the wife of the late Karen Demirchyan, former speaker of the Armenian parliament and Soviet and Armenian politician.

Beloved by Demirchyan, the arena was sold to a Russian BAMO Holding Company by the Armenian government for US$ 5.7 million in 2005. In an attempt to gain support for the sale and privatization of the property from Yerevan citizens, Murad Muradyan, Russian-Armenian businessman and head of the holding company agreed to keep the name of the arena, a condition of the sale made by then Armenian president Robert Kocharyan, as well as an approximate US$ 10 million renovation investment. In August of last year ownership of the arena was re-nationalized by the Armenian government due to debt accumulation.

Only a year after the transfer, last week the Armenian government announced the sale of the complex for US$ 30 million to newly Armenian registered company, NTAA Investment Group LLC. In an estimated investment to exceed US$ 100 million, the private firm will be obligated to retain the arena’s name, keep current employees at minimum wage for six months, continue its use as a sports and cultural complex, and provide the Armenian government and its citizen’s free access to the Armenian Genocide memorial Tsitsernakaberd, located on arena grounds, and five yearly events hosted at the arena free of charge.

The deal which promises 250 new jobs and a large entertainment center with concert halls, hotel, an indoor water park, stores, conference rooms, restaurants and a casino, according to Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, has been denounced by the minister’s opposition citing proximity of the genocide memorial to the casino, among other reasons. Calling the casino an affront to the memory of her husband, Demirchyan warned that unless the deal is amended to exclude the casino, the family would demand the facility’s name be changed. She added, “I have no doubts that if they open a casino it will become an ugly version of Las Vegas.”

The Armenian architects of the unique complex which now hosts various events including figure skating shows throughout the year were awarded the USSR’s highest prize in 1987. Because of Demirchyan’s integral part in the construction and renovation of the arena which was forced to close in 1985 due to a fire, it was renamed in his honor shortly after his assassination in 1999.

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