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Soviet Guide to Yerevan
The entire following text [with the exception of my comments and additions in brackets] are from the book Yerevan: A Guide, published in 1982 in Soviet times. There is a lot of communist info in this book, which I left intact for you to experience as well. The material is nicely presented in the form of walks around town that take you to these sites. You should note that not all of these places are intact. For example, the Lenin Statue has been taken down. Many thanks to Knarig Svazlian, who gave me this book in the hope I can share it with others. In case you are curious, the book originally cost 1 Ruble and 80 Kopeks.
LENIN [REPUBLIC] SQUARE AND SURROUNDING AREAS
Route: Lenin [Republic] Square—Government House—the “Singing” Fountains—Shahumyan Boulevard—The Park of Communards—Sundukyan Theatre—Ararat Wine Processing Plant—Brandy Distillery—River Hrazdan and ravine. Time 1-1.5 hours.
Cities, like people, are beautiful each in their own way. Some are lovely seen from a height, others unfold their delights gradually as you get to know them. Finally, there are cities whose charm is composed of subtle nuances, distinctive atmosphere, and a special sensation imparted to those present in them. Yerevan is a city of the latter type. Its geographical position, climate, vegetation, and, of course, tufa, the stone of which many of the city’s buildings are built, all contribute to its appearance. You notice the cheerful pink colour of the stone as soon as you enter the Armenian capital.
Our advice is to begin your tour of Yerevan from Lenin [Republic] Square, a convenient spot, because this is where most foreign visitors stay, in the Armenia Hotel. The Ani Hotel, where tourists from abroad also stay, is no more than ten minutes walk away along Abovyan Street.
This is the centre of Yerevan, where ceremonies and meetings are held and through which processions pass on highdays and holidays. The statue of Lenin, the work of Sergei Merkurov (1881-1952), a prominent Soviet sculptor, rises high over the southern part of the oval square. This skillfully executed image of the leader, philosopher and revolutionary spokesman is extremely impressive. The restrained movement of the hand, the slight inclination forward, as if taking a step into the future, give the sculpture a sense of purpose and movement. [The statue is now laying on the ground with its head detached behind the National History Museum, in its courtyard, if you ask they may show it to you.]
- Sergei Merkurov, people’s artist of the USSR, was born in the Armenian town of Alexandropol (now Leninakan) [Now Gyumri, a derivative of its original Armenian name, Gumayri]. He attended art college in Germany (1902-05) and then went on to study further in Paris under Auguste Rodin in 1909.
- Merkurov had met Lenin when the leader was living abroad, and listened to several of his speeches after he returned to Soviet Russia. This personal acquaintance is doubtless the reason why the statue is so convincing and acts so strongly upon the emotions.
The statue was ceremoniously unveiled on November 29,1940, on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia. The pedestal of polished granite was designed by architects Natalia Paremuzova and Levon Vartanov. The qualities of a great work of art, the synthesis of the statue with the surrounding buildings and the well-chosen site, which affords good lighting at any time of day, have made this statue famous as one of the best of Lenin.
Work to rebuild the square, which involved many talented architects, began in 1926. Alexander Tamanyan (1878-1936) is by rights considered to be the squares chief architect. He moved to Yerevan from Petrograd soon after the revolution, when he was already a famous architect and an academician. In 1924 he drew up the first general plan for rebuilding Yerevan, in which the future central square was given a special organising position. In those far-oft years Tamanyan was able to see the features of the socialist city of Yerevan in the small, provincial town. Even his most ardent supporters thought some of his ideas too extreme, and many totally impracticable.
The square was nevertheless built. The leaning houses, single-storey shops, restaurants, eating houses and baths were demolished and replaced by new buildings which organically combined national style and the best innovations of world architecture. By 1929 part of the square’s main building, Government House, was finished. This vast building, which now houses the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR, was finally completed in 1941. It forms an irregular pentagon, with one of its sides curving inwards. On this side five wide arches are supported by attractive columns. An elaborate colonnade, forming open boxes, stretches the whole length of the facade above the arches.
A tall clock-tower, above which flies the Armenian flag, crimson with a blue stripe down the centre, divides the main facade.
Tamanyan studied ancient Armenian architecture at length, reworking and then using many of its features, in order to design Government House. The result is a masterpiece, a truly national work of art, which has greatly influenced subsequent Armenian town planning.
City squares are built in different ways. There are squares designed in one style by one architect. Such, for example is La Place des Vogueses in Paris, whose architect was Claude de Chastillon. Others are built over several decades, and despite the difference in style of architects of different times, have in end acquired unity and integrity, as for example St. Mark’s Square in Venice and Palace Square in Leningrad.
Lenin Square (14,000 square metres) has a unified architectural style. Another administrative building, which houses several ministries, is symmetrically sited next to Government House, on its left. This lovely building, faced in cream-coloured stone, was designed by architect Samvel Safaryan. It repeats, to use musical terminology, the motif and rhythm of Government House, yet at the same time possesses individuality. You can compare these buildings at length, yet while they remain similar, Government House is characterised by its elaborate forms, and the other attracts by its austerity.
Other important buildings on the square are the Main Post Office with telegraph and long-distance telephone services, and the Council of Trade Unions building, which stand to the left of the statue of Lenin as you face it, and Armenia Hotel.
You have doubtless already noticed the intricate ornamentation on the buildings. Armenian stone masons have perfected the ancient and noble art of working with stone. The part that stone, in which Armenia is so rich, has played throughout its people’s history is shown by some Armenian sayings: “Hewn stone will not lie long unused on the earth” “Good stone is precious even when it lies in mud”, “As you won’t sit down to eat with anyone who comes along, so you won’t build a house with any stone you find”.
Much of Armenia’s architecture is decorated with stone designs by master craftsmen. The buildings in the square are adorned with such traditional motifs as fantastically intertwined bunches of grapes and pomegranates, sheafs of wheat and heads of birds and animals.
The “singing” fountains are also to be found on Lenin Square. Designed by engineer and scientist Abram Abramyan, they combine music, water and colour into a unique, unified whole. Hundreds of local people and visitors gather here in the evenings to enjoy the wonderful play of the streams of water, lit by all the colours of the rainbow.
Directly opposite the fountains stands a building which houses three of the city’s major museums: the Museum of the Revolution, the Armenian History Museum and the Armenian State Gallery.
The Museum of the Revolution is one of the most important research and educational establishments in the republic. Its main aim is to show the history of the Armenian people, since the time of its guidance by the Communist Party. The current exhibition here was opened in November, 1960. The museum has over 40,000 documents, photographs and works of art. Its first sections contain roughly 5,000 exhibits which describe the spread of Marxist ideas in Transcaucasia at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, and the founding of social-democratic societies in Armenia. Many of the stands illustrate the revolutionary work of Lenin and his Armenian disciples and comrades: Isaac Lalayants, Bogdan Knunyants, Suren Spandaryan, Stepan Shahumyan, Kamo (Simon Ter-Petrosyan), Alexander Myasnikyan and many others. The Armenian Bolsheviks, true to the ideas of proletarian internationalism, courageously fought tsarist autocracy and the bourgeoisie to win happiness for all the peoples of Russia. The May uprising against the bourgeois dashnak government was a major event in the history of Armenia’s revolutionary movement, and the museum has much to tell us about the heroes of this rebellion. The exhibits also inform us of the decisive events of November, 1920, which culminated in the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia. The museum devotes a great deal of space to the help which Soviet Russia gave the republic in rehabilitating its economy, completely destroyed by the dashnaks. Many exhibits testify to the solidarity and friendship of all the Soviet peoples, of their support for the Armenian people in establishing modern industry and making socialist changes. Many diagrams, plans, maps and photographs illustrate what Soviet Armenia has so far achieved, and prospects for the future. The museum is open from 10:30 to 16:00 every day except Monday. The Armenian History Museum, founded in 1921, has 160,000 exhibits. A visit to the museum is a fascinating journey from the Stone Age and man’s first settlements to the end of the nineteenth century. There are unique relics of how people lived, beginning from the first social system, stone age tools, items made of bronze and iron, weapons from the time of the Urartu state, statuettes, jugs, coins, ornate jewellery and household utensils found during excavations. The ethnographic section houses a collection of national costumes, carpets, amulets and agricultural implements. The architecture of the Middle Age and of the urban culture of Armenia’s ancient capitals Artashat, Dvin and Ani is represented in varied fashion. Interesting exhibits tell of the age-old links between Armenia and Russia, and of Eastern Armenia’s inclusion within Russia. The museum is open from 10:30 to 16:00 every day except Monday. The Armenian State Gallery (entrance from No. 1, Spandaryan St. is considered one of the finest in the Soviet Union. From 1921 its collections have been continually supplemented by those from art collections of other towns and cities, pictures from exhibitions and works donated by public organisations and many individuals. There are now over 16,000 works of Armenian, Russian, West European and Eastern art. The Armenian painting section is the largest, spanning a period from the seventh century to the present day. The most ancient surviving painting are the frescoes from the temple in the village of Aruj and the Lmbat Church. The frescoes from the Church of St. Grigory Prosvetitel (the teacher) in Ani, and from the Haghpat, Tatev and Akhtalin monasteries (tenth to fourteenth centuries) are of a later date. The gallery carefully preserves copies of these frescoes and also filigree illustrations to ancient Armenian manuscripts in its stocks. Secular canvases of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries are also well-represented. Works by the five generations of talented artists from the Ovnatanyan family are worthy of particular attention. There are a considerable number of paintings by the famous sea-scape painter Ivan Aivazovsky, Armenian by origin, and also by such expert artists as Gevork Bashindjhagyan, Vardkes Surenyants, Yegishe Tatevosyan, Arutyun Shishmanyan and others. The rooms devoted to Soviet Armenian art are hung with paintings by the outstanding contemporary artist Martiros Saryan, by people’s artists of Armenia Stepan Agadzhanyan, Fanos Terlemezyan, Mop kodzhoyan, Gabriel Gyurdzhyan, Mariam Aslamazyan, Mger Abegyan, Khachatur Esayan, Ara Bekaryan, Eduard lsabekyan, Oganes Zardaryan, corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Arts Grigor Khandzhyan and Minas Avetisyan. Sculpture is represented by the works of Ara Sarkisyan, member of the USSR Academy of Arts, Suren Stepanyan, Aitsemik Urartu, Nikogaios Nikogosyan and Gukas Chubaryan. It is difficult indeed to list all the talented artists, sculptors, and engravers artists whose works are well known to those who have visited exhibitions in Moscow and the capitals of the Union Republics and the many showings in the world’s major cities. The Russian section of the museum has an excellent collection of works by nearly all the prominent Russian and Soviet painters and sculptors. Eighteenth century paintings include those by Vladimir Borovikovsky, Alexei Venetsianov, Dmitry Levitsky, Ivan Argunov, Karl Bryullov and Vasily Tropinin. There are many canvases by outstanding nineteenth century painters, including those of the peredvizhniki school, such as Alexander Benua, Vasily Vereshchagin, Nikolai Ghe, Isaac Levitan, Vladimir and Konstantin Makovsky, Mikhail Vrubel, Orest Kiprensky, Konstantin Korovin, Arkhip Kuinji, Vasily Poienov, Grigory Myasoyedov, Ivan Shishkin, Ivan Kramskoi, llya Repin and Valentin Serov (one of his best works “Portrait of Akimova”). Russian art of the Soviet period is represented by the famous artists Pyotr Konchalovsky, Arkady Plastov, Ivan Shadr, Sergei Gerasimov sculptor Sergei Konenkov and many others. A pleasant surprise awaits lovers of Western art. While it is of course difficult to display at any one time all the 3,000 exhibits which the museum possesses, many of them (fourteenth to twentieth centuries) have a permanent place in the viewing halls. They include works by artists from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the GDR, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, the USA and other countries, ranging from works by old masters to modern art. The gallery is open from 10:30 to 16:00 every day except Monday.
Shahumyan Boulevard, truly a realm of fountains, has its starting point at the statue of Lenin [Near HSBC Bank]. The myriad fountains are difficult to count, and we will tell you that there are 2,750 pearly streams of water: as many as the years since Yerevan’s founding when the anniversary was celebrated in 1968.
In the middle of the boulevard, which is 220 metres long, there burns an eternal flame in memory of those who fell to establish Soviet power in Yerevan (architect Eduard Sarapyan). At the other end of the boulevard you emerge onto the square where the statue of Stepan Shahumyan (1878-1918), revolutionary and one of Lenin’s closest comrades stands. The life of this talented leader of the masses, publicist, promoter of revolutionary ideas and founder of the first Marxist society in Armenia, was cut short in 1918, when he was shot along with other commissars by interventionists. Sculptor Sergei Merkurov has depicted Shahumyan at the moment of his shooting, with his unfailing courage, pride, persistence and contempt in the face of death for the sake of his beliefs.
The Park of the Communards (opposite Shahumyan’s statue), so called in memory of the 26 communist commissars, Stepan Shahumyan among them, who were shot by interventionists, affords an opportunity to rest. At the entrance there is a modest, but very symbolic sculpture portraying a boy with a jug of water and a glass in his hand. At one time ragamuffins like this, Yerevan gavroches, used to wind their way around the noisy markets and streets selling water.
- In the olden days water was a very precious commodity in Yerevan, especially on hot summer days. In fact, the entire stony and parched land of Armenia lacked water. How the Armenian peasant, tilling his tiny plot of land suffered, how many bloody tragedies took place for the right to water it, even if only for a short time! In many village graveyards there are tombstones, the inscriptions of which tell us that the person buried in that spot was murdered by his neighbour for the sake of water.
- Modern Yerevan cannot be imagined without its fountains sparkling in the sun, without swimming pools affording cool relief, elaborate drinking fountains in the streets, squares and parks. Here you may quench your thirst with searingly cold water.
The park’s main path leads to one of Yerevan’s finest buildings, the Sundukyan State Academic Theatre.
Although Armenian theatre has been in existence for two thousand years, a truly national theatre was only established after the victory of Soviet power. The first performance, on January 25, 1922, was of the popular comedy “Pepo”, written by Gabriel Sundukyan (1825-1912), the founder of Armenian realist drama.
The theatre’s varied repertoire includes plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Schiller, Ibsen, Alexander Qstrovsky, Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, Armenian classic and contemporary authors.
The theatre’s present building, catering for an audience of 1,140, was designed by architect Rafael Alaverdyan and built in 1966. In the spacious foyer there is a panel by Martiros Saryan. The foyer is adjoined by a glass-covered winter garden with a pool.
Now that you have rested in the cool park with its canals and intricate little bridges, our route now takes us along karmir banaki Street (ulitsa Karmir banaki). A little further away, flowing parallel to it is the rushing Hrazdan, crossed by the three-span Hakhtanak (Victory) Bridge, built in 1945 and named in honour of the defeat of the nazi invaders. It is 200 metres long, 25 metres wide and 34 metres high. It was designed by engineer Simon Ovnanyan and architects Artashes Mamadzhanyan and Ashot Asatryan. The bridge links the city with the Echmiadzin Highway, the coach station and airport.
Next to the bridge, on the left bank of the river, stands a huge basalt building with a tall tower, reminiscent of a fortress or castle. This is the Ararat wine processing plant, designed by architect Rafael lsraelyan, and which stands on the site of the former sardar palace. In 1827, in one of the palace’s rooms, Alexander Griboyedov attended the first performance, by officers in the Russian army, of his immortal comedy “Woe from Wit”.
Alexander Griboyedov (there is a statue to him in Yerevan), diplomat, writer and statesman, who took part in the taking of the Yerevan fortress in 1827, devoted much of his energy to liberating Eastern Armenia from the foreign yoke and incorporating it within Russia. His name has become an eternal symbol of the indestructible friendship between the Russian and Armenian peoples.
The sardar palace and its forbidding fortress walls were destroyed long ago. Now tart wines mature peacefully in the cellars of the wine processing plant, at the entrance to which guests are greeted by the words of Maxim Gorky: “Long live the people who understand the art of making wine and who through it transfer the strength of the sun to the spirit.”
These cellars are truly inexhaustible. Every year four million decalitres of wine leave the factory. Armenian wine-growers are justifiably proud of their produce, which has won world-wide recognition at international competitions. According to poets, Armenian wine, sparkling with the sun’s clear light or flowing in thick ruby-red streams, raises the spirit and gives people the strength of the mountain eagle (provided, of course, it is drunk in moderation).
The brandy distillery stands on a high plateau at the other end of the bridge, as if competing with the wine factory in architectural design and the quality of its produce. Architect Ovanes Markaryan used all the geographical features to advantage, and the building, with its nine austere arches, and long flight of steps leading to it, puts a striking finish to the view of the Hakhtanak Bridge.
The descent from the bridge will lead you onto a narrow, winding road, which curves along both banks of the Hrazdan. The wooded cliffs, fantastic canyons, passages and bridges, the many jetties from which you can swim or fish on a fine day, make the ravine one of the places in which the people of Yerevan love to relax.
The Abovyan Children’s Park, which is joined to the town centre by a tunnel half a kilometre long [town center tunnel entrance is across the street from the huge yellow/cream "Saryan Post" building on Saryan Street, going under the post building itself, the park, rides and train are still up and running], lies on the left bank of the river. There is a fun fair and a miniature railway built in 1938. On the opposite bank stands the Hrazdan Stadium, republic’s largest, with a capacity of 75,000.
This is a suitable spot in which to end our first tour of the city:
you can relax in the park with the children, but be careful not to wear yourselves out, for there are many more interesting tours ahead.
LENIN [MASHDOTSI PROSPECT] AVENUE
Route: Gei Mosque—Central Market—Museum of Modern Art—Spendiarov Theatre of Opera and Ballet—Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (the Matenadaran). Time: 1-1.5 hours.
Lenin Avenue [Mashdotsi Prospect] is one of Yerevan's main highways, and it can be reached from Lenin Square along Amiryan Street, from Shahumyan Square along Marx Street. Karmir banaka Street, which we have already visited on our first tour, crosses the avenue at its bottom end. This is where we are going to start our second walk around Yerevan.
The gleaming coloured tiles of the ancient mosque have doubtless already caught your eye: this is Gei Mosque, an interesting example of eighteenth century Persian architecture. It is now the History of Yerevan Museum [actually, it is now once again a functioning Persian Mosque], covering both the prerevolutionary and Soviet periods. The museum has many exhibits which tell us about the ancient inhabitants of the Ararat Valley, and other interesting items include a statuette of Teishebia, Urartu god of war, a mould with cuneiform inscription describing the building of the fortress of Erebuni, a map of ancient Armenia compiled in 751, and banners captured in battle, weapons and the large keys to the Yerevan fortress, all relics of the Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828.
The sections dealing with the Soviet period cover Yerevan ‘S socialist development, its industry and seats of learning and culture. The museum is open from 10:00 to 18:00 every day except Monday.
As you walk up the avenue you will see on the left the arched building of the Central Market (architect Grigory Agababyan, engineer Amazasp Arakelyan). All Yerevan ‘ s markets are convenient and have excellent facilities, unlike the old Eastern bazars.
The Central Market is an original building, somewhat reminiscent of a huge gymnasium. The open-work reinforced concrete constructions give the building of 2,300 square metres a lightness and airiness.
Lenin Avenue is lined mostly with residential buildings, although, of course, not all of them are of equal architectural merit, as they were built over more than one decade.
The Museum of Modern Art occupies the ground floor of No. 7. Frequent exhibitions of works by Soviet and foreign artists are held here, always attracting many lovers of painting, drawing and sculpture.
The outstanding Soviet Armenian poet Egishe Charents (1897-1937) lived a little further up the avenue, in No. 17 on the second floor. His flat has been made into a museum, which is visited by thousands of the poet’s admirers and visitors to the city.
Nearby is the cosy “Kaj Nazar” (Brave Nazar) cafe where you can enjoy a cool drink or an ice-cream. It is named after the hero of a well-known folk tale, Nazar, a rather stupid, lazy coward and braggart, who, by a twist of fate, became king.
Further on, where Tumanyan Street crosses Lenin Avenue, stands the Spendiarov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, one of Yerevan’s best examples of Soviet architecture. It was designed by Alexander Tamanyan, who, in original fashion, combined two auditoria in one building by constructing one roof over both stages. The opera half holds 1,260 people, and the concert hail holds 1,400. The latter was built by Tamanyan ‘s son Georgy, who completed all his father’s works after his death. Both halls are shaped like amphitheatres and have excellent accoustics. The architect was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1936.
The repertoire of the opera company, which gave its first performance at the end of 1932, includes works by both classic and modern Armenian, Russian, Soviet and foreign composers. Some of the best are Armenian operas with historical themes, including the first Armenian opera “Arshak II”, written in 1868 by Tigran Chukhadzhyan. It is set in the fourth century, when Armenia, divided between Byzantium and Persia, fought persistently for her independence. Another opera, “David-bek” by Armen Tigranyan, describes the Armenian people’s liberation struggle against foreign invaders at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and their age-old friendship with the Russian and Georgian peoples.
Statues to two prominent representatives of Armenian culture stand in the spacious square in front of the theatre: to the left is the writer and public figure Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869-1923), sculpted by Ara Sarkisyan, and to the right, composer Alexander Spendiarov (1871-1928), the sculptors of which were Ara Sarkisyan and Gukas Chubaryan. Nearby, overhung by shady trees, lies Spendiarov’s grave.
Music and poetry go hand in hand, and this is very clearly expressed in the work of Sayat-Nova, the ashug (folk-singer, storyteller) of genius who lived in the eighteenth century and wrote in Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani. In 1963, the World Council For Peace passed a decision to celebrate his 250th anniversary. It was then that the sculpture of white marble square slabs with Sayat-Nova’s bust, the work of Ara Arutyunyan, was unveiled.
The eyes of this man who sang of friendship between peoples, love and flowers are turned towards three bas-relief female figures, an Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani. A clear stream of water flows from a small chute.
The street which runs off Lenin Avenue a little below the square where the statue stands is named after Sayat-Nova. Its lawns are covered with roses, the poet’s favourite flower.
Beyond the square, to the right of the avenue, stands the Komitas Conservatoire, founded in 1923. The composers, conductors, musicians, singers, choirmasters and musical theorists who have graduated from here are the pride of modern Armenian music.
If you cross Moskovyan Street, immediately after the statue of Sayat-Nova, you will come upon an attractive residential building, built in the ‘thirties for Yerevan's artists. The many memorial plaques on its facade remind us of the names which made their mark upon the Armenian arts world. Here you can rest a little in the “Skvoznyachok Cafe”, whose tables stand on the pavement, and which fully lives up to its name, which means “little breeze”. It can offer you coffee, made as Eastern coffee should be, on burning hot sand, fruit drinks and juices, and cooling ice-cream.
The huge monument to the Motherland of Armenia can be seen from any spot on the avenue, but you will learn more about that later on. You are now approaching the point where the avenue runs into the cliff-face, of which the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (the Matenadaran), built in 1957, designed by Mark Grigoryan, forms an organic part. Hardly a single visitor leaves Yerevan without visiting the institute; it is one of the most interesting things to see in the republic.
A flight of steps leads up to a statue of Mesrop Mashtots, who compiled the Armenian alphabet (in 396). The scholar is seated with one arm raised aloft, pointing the way to literacy and knowledge to his first pupil, bending his knee reverentially before his teacher. The letters of the Armenian alphabet have been carved into the wall behind.
Before the entrance to the museum, stand sculptures of ancient philosophers, scientists and men of the arts who, from left to right are: Toros Roslin (thirteenth century), Grigor Tatevtsi (fifteenth century), Anani Shirakatsi (seventh century), Movses Khorenatsi (fifth century), Mkhitar Gosh (twelfth century) and Frik (fourteenth century).
As you enter this temple of reason through massive doors of embossed copper, you see before you the entrance hail decorated with a mosaic of the Avarair Battle, one of the memorable events in the life of the Armenian people, when they rose, on May 26,451, against their conquerors. On the wall opposite the staircase there is a fresco, a triptych depicting three different periods in the history and culture of the Armenian people, by Ovanes Khachatryan.
The Matenadaran, which in ancient Armenian means ‘‘manuscript store’’ or ‘‘library’’, is a major centre for the study and preservation of Armenian works of literature. In ancient times and the Middle Ages manuscripts were reverentially guarded in Armenia, and they played an important role in the people’s fight against spiritual subjugation and assimilation. The major monasteries and universities had special writing rooms, where skilled scribes copied books by Armenian scholars and writers, and Armenian translations of works by foreign authors.
The scribes’ lot was not an easy one: for tens of years they would sit in tiny, dark rooms, hunched over manuscripts. It is difficult to say how many of them lost their sight, and how many of them found an early grave because of their job; how much indeed they suffered, these humble people, saving books from fire and pillage, how many of them were killed there in their cells as they sat working. Many manuscripts, like wounded soldiers, bear the marks of sword, blood and fire. The enemy buried them, drowned them and even went so far as to chain them up.
Those selfless scribes, thanks to whom many of the treasures now in the Matenadaran have come down to us, thought not of themselves; they were concerned only for their manuscripts. Here is a touching inscription, appended to the end of a book by a book-lover of olden days:
- Reader mine, I beg of thee
- Drink in my words:
- Take my book unto thyself, keep it and read it.
- If it be captured, retrieve it,
- Place it not in damp places, for it will moulder,
- Nor let the wax of your candle drip upon it,
- Neither moisten your finger to turn the pages,
- Nor in shameful fashion tear out its pages.
Tens of thousands of Armenian manuscripts perished in the innumerable invasions, wars and plundering raids. Approximately 25,000 have survived, including over 10,000 folios and also 2,500 fragments collected in the Matenadaran. The rest of them are the property of various museums and libraries throughout the world, chiefly in Venice, Jerusalem, Vienna, Beirut, Paris and London.
The Matenadaran’s “holy of holies” are the armoured cellars, equipped to protect the manuscripts from dust and damage.
The most ancient parchment book in the stocks is the Gospel of Lazarus, written in 887. There are other earlier manuscripts which have come down to us in fragments from the fifth to eighth centuries. The most ancient paper manuscript dates from 981.
Visitors to the Matenadaran, and there are more than 50,000 annually, can see the best examples of manuscript books and the wonderful illustrations to them in the exhibition hall on the first floor. There are works on history, philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy and geography. On a separate stand is the largest Armenian manuscript in the world, weighing 34 kilograms. 700 calf skins were used in its compilation. Next to this giant is a tiny book measuring 3 x 4 centimetres and weighing a mere 19 grams. Other interesting exhibits include the Gospels of 1053, 1193 and 1411 with the unfading colours of their masterful miniatures, translations from Aristotle, a unique ancient Assyrian manuscript and an ancient Indian manuscript on palm leaves in the shape of a fan.
The Matenadaran’s manuscript collection is of prime importance for the study of the history and culture of Armenia, and also alt Transcaucasia, Asia Minor and many Middle Eastern countries. Works by some philosophers of antiquity survived only in their Armenian translation. These include Eusebius of Gaesaria’s “Chronicle”, the ancient Greek philosopher Xenon’s treatise "On Nature" and many others.
The archives here are also rich, preserving over 100,000 documents of the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries: various deeds, decrees, treaties and letters, which contain vast material on the political and socio-economic history of Armenia and neighbouring countries.
Other relics in the exhibition include the first Armenian printed book “Parzatumar” (Explanatory Calendar), published in 1512 in Venice and the first Armenian magazine “Azdardr” (the messenger) first published in 1794 in the Indian city of Madras. Next to them are the Decree on the founding of Novo-Nakhichevan (a settlement near Rostov-on-Don, now included within the city boundaries), signed by the Russian Empress Catherine II, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s signature. In 1978 the writer Marietta Shaginyan presented the Matenadaran with a previously unknown document bearing the signature of Goethe.
The Matenadaran is constantly acquiring manuscripts found in other countries. Several hundred books dating from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries have recently been sent by Armenians living in Libya, Syria, France, Bulgaria, Romania, India and the USA.
These precious items do not lie unused in the Matenadaran: by carefully studying the manuscripts, many of which are restored in a special laboratory, scholars in various fields can shed more light on many aspects of the history and culture of Armenia, the Caucasus as a whole as well as the Middle East. Experts in Armenia and Eastern studies come from all over the world, and all facilities are provided for their research.
Yet one more manuscript is carefully preserved here. Unlike all the others, however, its pages have been filled in our time. This is the visitor’s book, which contains comments by prominent scientists, major political and public figures, writers, artists and actors. This is the remark left in the book by Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, when he visited the Matenadaran on November 28, 1970:
- "It is with profound admiration that I note the care with which Socialist Armenia preserves the magnificent relics of its people’s ancient culture for present and future generations."
Route: Armenian Society of Friendship and Cultural Links with Foreign Countries—Armenian Artists’ Centre—Children’s Picture Gallery—The Hands Statue—the Chamber Music HaII—Yerevan University—Armenian Craft Museum—Youth Centre—Akhtanak Park—monument to the Motherland of Armenia. Time: 1-1.5 hours.
The people of Yerevan are attached to Abovyan Street, perhaps because it was once the city’s main thoroughfare (then called Astafievskaya Street) [Astafyan Street], or perhaps because, despite modern trends, it has retained many features of the dear old days, and is not spoiled by somewhat monotonous high-rise buildings.
Abovyan Street begins from Lenin Square, and you have probably already noticed one of the buildings near the start, No.2, the front of which is covered with notices of forthcomig concerts. This is the Small Philharmonic Concert Hall, where piano and violin recitals and literary readings are usually given.
The single- and two-storey houses with their balconies lining the first part of the street give it a certain homeliness. One of those houses, No. 10, bears a memorial plaque with the words: “The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky stayed in this house in 1928.” Today it is the Karapetyan Geological Museum.
- The museum houses a display of various building materials: tufas, pumice-stones, slags, basalts, granites and marbles of the most varied shades, and the metals and minerals in which the republic abounds. There are also fossilised fauna and flora from ancient times. The largest single exhibit is the unusually big restored skeleton of a primordial elephant. The museum is open from 10:00 to 17:00 every day except Sunday and Monday.
On the opposite side of the street, at No. 3, the old barocco mansion with an attractive facade of black stone is the headquarters of the Armenian Society of Friendship and Cultural Links with Foreign Countries. From the time of its founding in 1948, the society has done much to acquaint the public abroad with the achievements of Soviet Armenia; it organises exhibitions, tours by dramatic, opera and ballet companies, and holds days devoted to literature and art. At the present time the society is in contact with over 250 state, public, scientific and cultural organisations in over 70 countries. The society publishes a monthly bulletin called “Armenia Today” in Russian, English, French and German.
There are, of course, relatively new buildings on this old section of the street: the Detsky Mir department store for children (No. 1), built in 1935, the Yerevan Hotel (No. 14), the Armenian Artists’ Centre (No. 16), where major exhibitions of Armenian painting, sculpture, drawing and posters are held, and the Moskva Cinema (No. 18), with two winter halls and one spacious summer hall.
On the other side of the Street from the cinema is the Stanislavsky Russian Theatre (No. 7), whose company, formed in 1937, puts on the best Russian classic and contemporary works for Armenian audiences. Plays written by Armenian authors are also performed here in Russian.
The theatre was designed by Karo Alabyan, a talented Soviet architect, although he didn’t escape the influence of constructivism, popular in the ‘thirties. In 1974 the building was reconstructed and refaced in light tufa. Alabyan designed many public and residential buildings, which are highly thought of by architectural experts. He was responsible for such buildings as the Soviet Army Theatre and surface building of the Krasnopresnenskaya Metro station in Moscow, the Sea Port building in Sochi and for the general reconstruction plan for the hero-city of Volgograd. Both Yerevan and Moscow have streets named after Alabyan.
Next to the Russian Theatre, in the same architectural complex, is the republic’s Physical Culture and Sport Committee (No. 9). Over 600,000 people in Armenia are involved in sporting activities. The republic’s main sports societies are “Ashkhatank” (trade unions sportsmen), “Burevestnik” (students), “Trudoviye reservy” (pupils at vocational technical schools), “Sevan” (rural sportsmen) “Lokomotiv” (railway workers) and “Spartak” (workers in co-operative organisations).
Armenian sportsmen have more than once been world, European, Olympic and Soviet champions. Sports fans are well acquainted with the names of world title-holders and Olympic medallists weight-lifters Sergo Ambartsumyan and Yurik Vardanyan, gymnasts Grant Shaginyan and Albert Azaryan, pentathlonist lgor Novikov and boxer Vladimir Engibaryan.
The street’s appearance changes considerably after its junction with Tumanyan Street. Here the pavements are wider, lined with flower beds and shady shrub borders, tiny swimming pools, and paths laid with flagstones wind like forest tracks. You feel as though the pathways of a large park have suddenly been transported into the city centre. Sculptures and decorative jugs, works of the city’s artists, which they have put on public display, form a harmonious whole with the emerald green lawns.
Armenia has long been famed for its artists, sculptors and stone-carvers, and children are brought up to love art. For this reason the world’s first Children’s Picture Gallery (No. 13 on the corner of Abovyan and Sayat-Nova streets) is of interest. Over the years the gallery has developed into a true centre for developing an aesthetic sense in the rising generation. The spacious building includes exhibition halls, workshops, a concert ball and a library. There have been exhibitions of works by children from the Soviet republics, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Britain, France, the USA, Canada, India and Japan. Every year there are several one-man exhibitions of works by children aged from three to 16. By tradition, all the works exhibited remain the property of the gallery, which now has a collection of over 100,000 drawings. When the modern artist David Siqueiros visited the gallery he called it “a true festival for the children of the planet”.
On the opposite corner of Abovyan Street (in the direction you are walking) stands the former building of the Armenian Academy of Sciences. Now it houses two scholarly establishments, the Insititute of Economics and the Language Institute. The chapel of the Katolike Church, built in the thirteenth century, still stands in the courtyard.
The 16-storey Ani Hotel, with its several cafes and restaurants, towers over the corner to the right.
Isahakyans first collection of poetry entitled “Songs and Wounds” was published in 1897. The poet’s best pre-revolutionary work meditates in sorrow and anguish upon the fate of humankind and the injustice of life and is imbued with love for his country and people. His verses called on people to fight against national and social oppression. In 1911, Isahakyan emigrated because of persecution by the tsarist authorities. Abroad he wrote eastern legends and poems in prose, lyric verses which convey the poet’s anguish at being parted from his own country. In 1936, lsahakyan returned to Armenia, where, with renewed vigour he wrote new cycles of verse in which the key note is struck by his love for his country and people, for the land of his ancestors. Isahakyan’s poetry, with its humanism and great respect for human dignity, is profoundly linked with the history and culture of the Armenian people and with the best traditions of Russian and world literature. Many people of Yerevan remember the figure of the famous poet, as he walked slowly along the streets, with his inevitable long cane. He would slightly incline his head and reply warmly to the respectful greetings of the passers-by. This is how sculptor Sergei Bagdasaryan has portrayed him, as he stops for a minute in thought, before continuing on his way.
Further along the square is the original white marble The Hands Statue, presented by the Italian city of Carrara and representing the friendship between the two twinned cities. Yerevan responded by sending the people of Carrara a model of a spring of water made of tufa, and decorated with national motifs, and an exact copy of this stands in the square too.
The second portion of the Boulevard Ring to the right of Abovyan street, is no less attractive and interesting with its swimming pools and fountains, and sports courts.
The unique Chamber Music Hall, designed by Stepan Kyurkchyan, dominates the architecture of this part of the boulevard. This is where organ and solo recitals are given. The original combination of ancient features with modern architectural forms makes this building one of the most remarkable in the city.
The facades of the Yerevan State University buildings (No. 1), Mravyan Street also face onto the boulevard. The university is justly considered to be the best institution of higher education in the republic. It was founded on December 17 1920, during the first month of Soviet power in Armenia. Lessons were held in the building of the former teachers’ college by the light of oil-lamps. Now 15,000 students study at the university’s 15 departments. Its new building was designed by architect Edmon Tigranyan.
Yet one more interesting building in this district is the Chess Club, designed by Zhanna Meshcheryakova, where the many adherents of this ancient game can watch competitions and play themselves. The hall on the first floor contains some relics: the table on which the world championship was fought out between Tigran Petrosyan (the winner) and Mikhait Botvinnik in 1963. The other table there is a gift from Fidel Castro, at which he played the world champion Petrosyan when he visited Havana, which friendly match ended in a draw.
A statue to the great Armenian revolutionary Mikael Nalbandyan stands on one of the corners of the Boulevard Ring.
- Mikael Nalbandyan (1829-66) was a prominent humanist writer, a publicist with enormous knowledge who fought passionately for freedom. He shared the views of the revolutionary democrats of the middle of last century, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen and Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and did not escape cruel persecution by the tsarist government.
- He was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where he spent three years in solitary confinement. He was subsequently exiled to the town of Kamyshin, where he died at the age of 37.
Nalbandyan’s statue is the only one in Yerevan without a traditional pedestal. Tall and gaunt, with his head thrown proudly back, the writer stands almost on a level with the ground. Sculptor Nikogaios Nikogosyan has conveyed the image of the noble fighter, symbol of the progressive Armenian intellectuals, for whom national interests were intrinsically linked with internationalism in the very best sense of that word.
Let us continue our walk along Abovyan Street, [which means you must return to the Hands Statue] which above the ring road, especially after the crossroads with Kirov Street, becomes very crowded and noisy. There are many higher educational establishments, forming an entire student campus, in this district. They include the Medical and Agricultural colleges, college of economics, and just a block away, the Marx Polytechnic and several technical schools.
- There was not a single higher educational establishment in Armenia before the revolution; those wishing to study had to go to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris or Geneva. Now boys and girls from many countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and the GDR study in Yerevan.
- Apart from the university and establishments mentioned above, Yerevan also has a livestock and veterinary college, the Abovyan teachers’ college, the Russian and foreign languages teachers’ college, drama college and sports college. Every year the thousands of experts who graduate from these colleges find work according to the subject in which they have been trained. Students are given state grants, textbooks and accommodated in residences with all facilities for work and relaxation.
Opposite the economics college is a square, always crowded with students from the nearby colleges fond of studying here. Symbolically, a statue of the founder of the Armenian Young Communist League, Gukas Gukasyan, sculpted by Suren Stepanyan, stands at the entrance to the square. The figures “1899-1920” carved on the statue indicate the short life of this courageous youth, who boldly faced his death at the hands of the enemies of the revolution.
In the centre of the square you can see the dome of the small university observatory. This was where, in the 1930s, Armenian astronomists, who were later to gain world renown, took their observations. Of course, the equipment here has little in common with the powerful telescopes of the Byurakan Astrophysics Observatory on Mount Aragats, but nevertheless, it is here that many young people first decided to devote their life’s work to astronomy, one of the world’s most ancient sciences.
The street comes to an end in a circular square, in the centre of which stands the statue of Khachatur Abovyan, (1805-48), a great teacher and educational theorist, and founder of the new Armenian literature and language. The statue, sculpted by Suren Stepanyan, was unveiled in 1950.
- Abovyan was born in the village of Kanaker (now a district within Yerevan), and as a child was a pupil at a religious seminary in Echmiadzin. For a long time his dream of improving his education and becoming active in public affairs remained but a dream until a happy chance led Abovyan to accompany a professor from Derpt University to the summit of Mount Ararat in 1829. The scientist helped the inquisitive youth to gain entrance to Derpt University. After he graduated, Abovyan taught in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), and from 1843 until his tragic disappearance (on April 2,1848, he left his home never to return) he was an inspector at the Yerevan uyezd college. Abovyan s most important novel “Armenia’s Wounds” is based on the events of the Russo-Persian War of 1826-28.
Another, earlier statue of Khachatur Abovyan has an interesting history. It was sculpted by Andreas Ter-Marukyan in 1913 in Paris. Packed and ready to be dispatched to Yerevan, the bronze statue lay for twenty years in a Paris warehouse due to some misunderstanding. When it was finally delivered in 1935, the statue was first erected on Abovyan Street, by the Moskva Cinema, and then moved to the children’s park on the banks of the Hrazdan. In 1964, it found its permanent home by the Abovyan Museum in the house where he lived in Kanaker (Second Street).
Before leaving Abovyan Street, drop into the Armenian Craft Museum (No. 64), with its unique examples of silver and German silver jewellery, woodwork, carpets, earthenware and embossed goods. Armenia today has many skilled craftsmen, who continue and develop the traditional folk crafts, and their products have been successfully displayed in many Soviet cities, France, the USA, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Argentina, Japan, Algeria and Nigeria. You can buy articles produced by these craftsmen in the arts salon at No. 34, Tumanyan Street. [The arts salon on Tumanyan closed years ago.]
The museum is open from 11:00 to 16:00 every day except Monday. Entrance is free.
If you have the time and the energy, we suggest that you now visit Hakhtanak (Victory) Park on kanaker Plateau. You can reach it from Abovyan Square by travelling one stop on any of buses nos. 2, 4,14 or 24. While you are doing so, we will take the opportunity to tell you about another interesting building in this area which has almost certainly attracted your attention, the Youth Centre [or Palace - Yeridasartakan Balad], a huge, very original building in design [resembling a corn-cob], which seems to put the finishing touch to Abovyan Street. It includes a marriage registry office, rest rooms for newlyweds, a cinema-cum-concert hall with a capacity of 1,200, a hotel with 500 beds, an exhibition hall and gymnasiums. The last, slowly revolving storey houses a restaurant.
By using the very latest town planning methods, and all the potential of modern building materials, architects Saribek Khachikyan, Artur Tarkhanyan, Grachia Pogosyan and Martin Zakharyan, and engineers Gerasim Gevorkyan, lgor Tsaturyan and Sergei Bagdasaryan have constructed a magnificent multifunctional building.
A 50-metre-high obelisk, built to celebrate Soviet Armenia’s 50th anniversary, soars skywards at the spot where the bus turns towards our journey’s end, Azatutyan Avenue.
Another few minutes, and we are in Hakhtanak Park, now a thick wood protecting Yerevan from the north winds which at one time blew clouds of dust down upon the city.
The airy park has a large fun-fair, a restaurant with many summer-houses and an artificial lake of 12,000 square metres. Here stands the monument to the motherland of Armenia (sculptor Ara Arutyunyan, architect Rafael lsraelyan), reaching up to the clouds. The figure of a woman, holding a sword half-drawn from its sheath, stands on an imposing pedestal (36 metres high). Inside this pedestal are the six storeys of the “Soviet Armenia in the Great Patriotic War” Museum, with its many interesting documents, photographs, letters and personal belongings of soldiers, and weapons from those years. The Grave of the Unknown Soldier, next to the monument, symbolises the eternal memory in which those who died in the war are held.
The museum is open from 11:00 to 16:00 every day except Monday. Entrance is free.
Hakhtanak has still one more interesting monument, that to the peoples struggle for peace, its eight-metre-high hands stretching up to the sky expressing a range of emotions: anger and passionate protest against war, the pain of loss and confidence in victory. The monument, whose sculptor was Vagan Khachikyan, bears the inscription: “May there never be war, may nobody lose their sons.”
THE ARMENIAN ECONOMIC ACHIEVEMENTS EXHIBITION
A visit to this exhibition will provide much useful information for those among you interested in the republic’s economy, science and culture, and will help you to substantiate some of the impressions obtained from your stay in Yerevan.
The exhibition is in the Leninsky district, one of the city’s industrial areas which once held a multitude of private workshops and a small tannery, since replaced by modern enterprises producing compressors, lathes and spare car parts. The district, however, does not present a typical industrial landscape, as the architects, engineers and builders took especial care over the appearance of the buildings, protection of the environment, and provision of maximum facilities for those who live and work here.
Komitas Park stands behind cast-iron railings on the right Ordzhonikidze Avenue, the district’s main road. Many outstanding figures of Armenia’s artistic world are buried here, including Komitas (1869-1935), one of Armenia’s great composers. His work came to an abrupt and tragic end in 1915; he was so disturbed by the Turkish government’s horrific slaughter of the Armenians, that he became insane. He died in Paris, where the best French doctors were unable to cure him. The Pantheon is also the site of the graves of composers Romanos and Spiridon Melikyan, Aram Khachaturyan, poets Ovannes Ovannesyan and Avetik Isaakyan, writers Shirvanzade, Vrtanes Papazyan, Nairi Zaryan and Suren Kocharyan, historian and Academician Leo, artistes Ovannes Abelyan, Grachia Nersesyan and Vagram Papazyan, architects Toros Toramanyan and Alexander Tamanyan and artist Martiros Saryan.
At the Hairenik (Motherland) Cinema the bus turns onto Kalinin Street, which comes out onto Spandaryan Square.
Suren Spandaryan (1882-1916), professional revolutionary and prominent member of the Communist Party, was more than once arrested and imprisoned by the tsarist government. He died at the age of 34 in Siberia, where he was in permanent exile.
From Spandaryan Square the bus turns onto Tsereteli Avenue, and in several minutes time drops you right by the gates of the Armenian Economic Achievements Exhibition, [I do not know if this exists any longer, but the information is interesting] which mirrors the republic’s economic and social progress. The main pavilion is in the shape of a dome, resting on four points. This light, spacious building houses a display of all the kinds of industrial products currently manufactured in Armenia.
Below is some information about the republic’s main economic sectors.
Power engineering is one of Armenia s most important industries, producing over 12,000 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. There are hydraulic stations sited on waterfalls on the rivers Hrazdan and Vorotan and some thermal electric power plants. In 1976, the Armenian atomic power plant, the first in Transcaucasia, began supplying current.
The chemical industry is among the leading industrial sectors; the major reserves of minerals, excellent raw material for producing all kinds of chemical products, make it possible to rapidly expand the chemical industry. It accounts for ten per cent of the republic’s total output.
The mechanical engineering and metal working industries provide precision machine tools, power transformers, mobile power stations, alternators, hydraulic pumps, compressors, forklift trucks, forge-and-press equipment and instruments. The fact that Armenia is second among the Union Republics for the production of electrical engineering products and fourth for the production of lathes, shows how fast these industries have expanded and what potential they have.
The radio electronics and instrument making industries are also developing rapidly. The most common manufactured goods are computers, measuring devices and instruments, control systems, automated process, and clocks and watches. The republic’s instrument-making industry is fifth in the USSR in terms of output.
Non-ferrous metallurgy existed in Armenia before the revolution, but it only really began to develop after the last war. Existing mines have been reconstructed and expanded, and new deposits have been discovered, which means that Armenia is now third in the country for copper production.
Building materials are one of Armenia’s most valuable resources, and the deposits of tufa are thought to be virtually inexhaustible. The main deposits are near the town of Artik to the north-west of Yerevan. Normally, because of transport problems, building materials are not moved far afield, but Armenia is in this respect an exception, because its tufa has been used to build HEP stations on the Volga and Dnieper, many buildings in Tbilisi, Baku, Kiev and Sochi and to face the building of the French Embassy in Moscow.
Armenian basalts, granites and marbles are also renowned. At one time stone was Armenia’s bane, the age-old enemy of the farmer, but now it is its wealth and pride. Stone is also used to produce yarn and various dyes, as you can see for yourself at the exhibition.
Light industry is represented by carpets, ready-to-wear garments, knitted goods, silk, woolen and cotton materials and shoes; the food and drink industry by wines and brandies, canned fruit and vegetables, very high quality cheeses, mineral waters and tobacco and cigarettes.
The republic’s agriculture has developed many new branches during the Soviet period, although it has lost its primary importance. It concentrates on the cultivation of cereals, grapes, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, technical crops such as sugarbeet, tobacco and geraniums, and on livestock breeding.
The expanding links between the Union republics have enabled Armenia to develop her economy. The RSFSR and the Ukraine provide iron and steel, coal, technological equipment, excavators, bulldozers, tractors and other machinery on a loan basis, while Byelorussia supplies lorries, wood working lathes and construction and road-laying machinery. Electric locomotives, oil products, rolled iron, pipes, insulating materials and electric welding equipment come from the neighbouring republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Education and culture in Armenia are of a high standard. There are almost 700,000 people studying in over 1,500 general education schools. The republic has roughly 70 centres for pioneers and schoolchildren, over 100 music and art schools, more than 60 secondary specialised educational establishments, 13 higher educational establishments, approximately 1,340 libraries, of which 980 are in rural areas, over 1,200 clubs, more than 40 museums and 14 professional theatres, three of them for children.
The medical service is yet another major part of the economy, and is always in the centre of attention for the Party and republican government. Armenia has many treatment centres, sanatoriums, rest homes, and consultancies for women and children. There are 35 doctors for every 10,000 head of population. Medical treatment, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union, is free of charge.
You will see an interesting table on one of the stands:
1920 — 720,000
1940 — 1,320,000
1959 — 1,763,000
1970 — 2,492,000
1980 — 3,079,000</p>
Those figures represent Armenia’s population, which is constantly increasing as a result of a natural growth, migration from other republics and Armenians returning from many other countries.
MORE SIGHTS TO SEE
If you have some time to spare, may we suggest a few more sights for you to see in Yerevan. First of all, there is Barekamutyan Street [Baghramian Street is the current name], which starts from the junction of Lenin Avenue [Mashdots Prospect] and Moskovyan Street, by the Spendiarov Theatre of Opera and Ballet. In the square by the crossroads stands one of the few, indeed perhaps the only statue in the world, of an architect. This is the statue of Alexander Tamanyan, sculpted by Artashes Ovsepyan, an expression of the gratitude of the people of Yerevan to the outstanding town planner who did so much for their city.
On Moskovyan Street, at No. 40, you can see the museum of Ovanes Tumanyan, the great Armenian poet.
A native of the high mountain village of Lsakh (now Tumanyan), Ovanes Tumanyan (1869-1923) produced masterpieces of national poetry. His verse reflects the sorrow of the Armenian people and a burning protest against their oppressors. His epic works are particularly important in that they depict everyday life in an Armenian village. Some of his poems take historical events as their theme, and are imbued with the ideals of patriotism and the liberation struggle against the foreign invaders. Tumanyan also devoted a lot of his time to legends and ballads, reworking folk tales and stories. He translated works by Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolai Nekrasov, Maxim Gorky, Byron, Heinrich Heine, Wolfgang Goethe and other writers into Armenian. Tumanyan’s poems have been published in 40 languages of the Soviet Union and foreign countries. Many of his poems have become folk songs, and his poems and ballads have been used to create classical musical productions, still popular today.
The nineteen rooms of the museum contain an interesting exhibition which describes the life and work of the poet. On the first storey there is a re-creation of the flat in which Tumanyan lived in Tbilisi for many years (he is buried there). The museum is open from 11:00 to 17:00 every day except Monday. Entrance is free.
Moskovyan Street becomes Saryan Street, so named after Martiros Saryan (1880-1972) and here too stands a museum—a memorial one to the artist, at No. 3. A building containing an exhibition of Saryan s pictures is attached to the small residence with its workshop.
Martiros Saryan studied in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He was greatly influenced by Russian art, especially by such painters as Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin. Even Saryan’s first canvases show his penchant for bright colours, his original vision of the world around him, expressiveness and unusual composition. His cycle of works painted after trips to Turkey, Iran and Egypt first brought him renown. In 1921, Saryan settled in Yerevan, and from then on Armenia, its countryside and people, became the main theme in his work. He is particularly famous for his landscapes, including the astonishing “Saryan’s Armenia”, in which he celebrates the beauty of his land renewed. He also painted a fair number of portraits, which are remarkable for their psychological depth and philosophical approach. Saryan was also productive as a book illustrator and stage designer. Exhibitions of his works have often been held in Moscow, Leningrad, Rostov, Tbilisi, Baku, and in dozens of countries abroad. Martins Saryan was awarded the title of People’s Artist of the USSR, he was member of the USSR Academy of Arts, member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, winner of the Lenin and State Prizes of the USSR and was made Hero of Socialist Labour.
The museum is open from 10:30 to 16:00 (to 15:00 on Wednesdays) every day except Thursday. Entrance is free.
Barekamutyan [Baghramian] Street is thought to be one of the most beautiful in Yerevan. The two- and three-storey mansions hidden behind trees give the street an especial charm. It is a street for lovers: even the air is somehow special here, heavy with the fragrance of the soil, sun and flowers. Perhaps for this reason writers, poets and dramatists chose it for their place of residence, the Union of Armenian Writers, at No. 3.
The work of many outstanding Armenian, Russian and Soviet writers is linked with Yerevan. Egishe Charents (1897-1937), whose work is a passionate celebration of socialist changes in Armenia, wrote here, as did Avetik Isahakyan (1875-1957), a major modern poet, Alexander Shirvanzade (1858-1935), prose writer and dramatist, people’s writer of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Derenik Demiryan (1877-1956), author of historical novels and plays and many other Armenian writers who have contributed to the flourishing of Armenian literature.
The history of Armenian and Russian literary links goes back to the time of Kievan Rus (ninth to twelfth centuries). However, they only really took deep roots when Eastern Armenia became part of Russia. The ancient land of Armenia attracted and inspired Russian poets by its austere beauty, and rich heroic past. The first great Russian writer to visit Armenia was Alexander Griboyedov. He had a thorough knowledge of the past and present of the country, and helped to liberate it from the Persian yoke. He was one of the people who drew up the Turkmanchai Peace Treaty of 1828, renowned as a diplomatic achievement.
Alexander Pushkin visited Armenia in the summer of 1829, a trip which he described in his essay “Journey to Arzrum”. One of the passes in the mountains is called after him.
The Armenians too took a great interest in Russian culture. In the first half of the nineteenth century many works by Ivan krylov, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Vasily Zhukovsky, Evgeny Baratynsky and other Russian writers and poets were translated into Armenian. Precisely at that time Russia showed a reciprocal interest in the history of the Armenian people. The Institute of Oriental Languages, opened in Moscow in 1815, made an important contribution to the development of Russo-Armenian cultural links.
In the second half of the ninteenth century the best Armenian writers translated into Armenian works by the Russian writers Nikolai Nekrasov, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Lev Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov.
In 1916 an “Anthology of Armenian Poetry”, edited by the Russian poet Valery Bryusov, was published for the first time in Moscow. Bryusov wrote in the introduction: “I have found in my study of Armenia an inexhaustible source of the most uplifting spiritual joys.” The best pieces of Armenian poetry, dating from as far back as the early Middle Ages, were translated for this anthology by Konstantin Balmont, Alexander BIok, Ivan Bunin, Fyodor Sologub, Sergei Gorodetsky and Sergei Shervinsky. Bryusov did many of the translations himself and in 1923 the Armenian government awarded him the title of people’s poet of Armenia, the first poet given that honour, for great services to Armenian literature and on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. In the same year of 1916 the “Collection of Armenian Literature edited by Maxim Gorky, was published in Petrograd.
In Soviet times, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Maxim Gorky, Andrei Bely, Osip Mandelshtam, Nikolai Tikhonov, Michael Svetlov, Boris Slutsky, Robert Rozhdestvensky and others have published essays, travel notes, poetry and descriptions resulting from visits to Armenia.
Works by Armenian poets writing in the Soviet period have been translated by such great writers as Pavel Antokolsky, Anna Akhmatova, Samuil Marshak, Boris Pasternak, lgor Selvinsky, Alexander Bezymensky, Konstantiri Simonov, Vera Zvyagintseva, Irma Snegova, Bela Ahkmadullina, Veronika Tushnova, Leonid Martynov, Evgeny Yevtushenko and Naum Grebnev. More works of Russian than of any other literature are translated into Armenian, 70 titles on average being published annually.
Lovers and poets are not the only people who have chosen Barekamutyan Street for themselves. The lyrical atmosphere here is also familiar to scientists, normally serious people. The headquarters of Armenian science, the Presidium of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, founded on November 29, 1943, during the war, are sited here at No. 24. Among its first members were the brilliant Eastern and Caucasian expert losif Orbeli (first chairman of the Academy), historian Akop Manandyan, linguists Grachiya Acharyan, Manuk Abegyan, Stepanos Malkhasyan and Grigor kapantsyan, physiologist Ezras Asratyan and astronomist Viktor Ambartsumyan, its current chairman.
The Armenian Academy of Sciences now has 44 members, 48 corresponding members and three foreign members. The Academy consists of seven sections covering the physical and mathematical sciences, physical and technical and mechanical sciences, chemical sciences, Earth sciences, biological sciences, history and economics, and philosophy and philology, uniting under its auspices 30 research establishments. The number of scientific workers in the republic has now reached the impressive figure of 18,000.
The next building of white tufa (No. 26) is the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Armenia, the standing body of the Supreme Soviet which is the republic’s parliament, to which 340 people’s deputies are elected once every five years.
Barekamutyan St. comes to an end where it meets Kievyan Street, which runs steeply down to the Hrazdan and the large single-span bridge which crosses the river ravine. The distance between the arches’ foundations is 110 metres, the bridge’s total length being 364 metres, its width 26 metres and its height 58 metres. It was designed by architect Grigory Agababyan and engineers Varos Pinadzhyan and Nikolai Slavinsky.
On the right bank of the Hrazdan is the large residential area of Achapnyak, which means "right bank", a town within a town, with its own schools, cinemas, shops and hospitals.
Immediately beyond the bridge, on a high hill to the left, stands Tsitsernakaberd (Swallow’s Fortress) Park. Its trees, planted on what was waste ground in the middle of the ‘fifties, now form a dense wood. On the hill’s summit stands the memorial complex to the victims of the 1915 genocide, designed by architects Artur Tarkhanyan and Sashur Kalashyan and artist Ovannes Khachatryan. On April 24, the anniversary of the start of the bloody slaughter, hundreds of thousands of local residents gather here in sorrowful silence.
The monument has two sections: massive basalt slabs bending in grief over an eternal flame, and a pointed mast rising high, symbolising the rebirth of the Armenian people.
Vokzalnaya Square is yet another interesting place to visit most conveniently reached by metro from Lenin [Republic] Square station. You can also travel by road transport from the Rossiya Cinema on the corner of Oktemberyan Avenue and Khandzhyan Street.
Visitors to Yerevan in the ‘thirties were astonished when they passed a huge field several kilometres in length before they reached the town. Now the city has spread to such an extent that the station is almost in the centre.
In the centre of the square, surrounded by the Railway Workers’ Cultural Centre, a cinema and residential blocks, stands the statue of David Sasuntsi, hero of the Armenian folk epic poem. The sculptor was Yervand Kochar.
The image of David, who fearlessly defended his people from foreign invaders, is similar to that of the warriors in Russian folk legends. In 1938 many people in the Soviet Union celebrated the millennium of the legend of David Sasuntsi.
From generation to generation, from century to century, people have handed down tales of David’s deeds, his gigantic strength. The episode of the crucial battle when David, unwilling to shed the blood of the enemy soldiers, challenged their leader Msyrmelik, ruler of the Arab caliphate of Msyr, to a duel and defeated him, is particularly enthralling.
The warrior-like figure of David Sasunsky astride his faithful steed Dzhalali embodies the freedom-loving aspirations of the Armenian people over many centuries. His hands hold his sword of lighting, ever ready to repel invaders; water flows from the bowl above the pedestal, signifying that when the cup of the people’s patience overflows, there is no quarter for oppressors and enslavers.
Much has been written about the statue of David Sasunsky. Since the time of its unveiling in 1959, it has travelled the whole planet over, depicted on postcards and magazine covers, in booklets, photographs, and illustrations to books and travel guides. It has become a symbol of the Armenian people’s love of freedom and of their capital, Yerevan.
We suggest that you complete this tour by visiting the fortress Erebuni on Arin-berd Hill, reaching it either by car from Vokzalnaya Square along Bakvi and Erebuni streets, or by bus No. 15, trolleybuses Nos. 2 and 4 and trains Nos. 7 and 8.
The fortress was erected by the Urartu king Argishti I in 782 B.C.
Urartu was a state in Asia Minor (ninth to sixth centuries B.C.), which at the height of its power embraced all the Armenian foothills. It also subordinated areas south of Lake Van and near Lake Urmiya. Erebuni Fortress and the excavations of other towns such as Teishebaini (on the outskirts of Yerevan), Argishtikhipili (on the left bank of the Araks) and Menuakhipili (on the northern slopes of Mount Ararat) show that the Urartu state enjoyed a very advanced cultural level. Their buildings are astonishing in their magnificence, well planned and elegant. Urartu fell in the sixth century B. C., to be replaced by the ancient Armenian State, which united local tribes including the direct ancestors of the Armenians, the Khayas and the Armens.
Excavations of Erebuni Fortress began back in the nineteenth century, but they were conducted most intensively in the 1950s when the slab with the cuneiform inscription was found, telling of the year in which the fortress, and thus at the same time Yerevan, was founded.
During the excavations the walls of the mighty citadel, the remains of a palace with a room measuring 440 square metres, residential sites, grain stores and great jugs for holding wine and oil have been found. The walls of the palace were decorated with frescoes depicting religious and hunting scenes, animals and plants.
A museum, whose exhibits are constantly being supplemented by new finds stands at the bottom of Arin-berd Hill.
The museum is open from 10:00 to 18:00 every day except Monday.