City for Sale: Echmiadzin mayor makes questionable deal on public museum
By Vahan Ishkhanyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter (used with permission)
The Mayor of Echmiadzin has sold the premises of the city’s Folk History Museum after giving assurance that the city property would not be among properties being let in a series of business deals swung by the mayor.
As previously reported in ArmeniaNow Mayor Hrachik Abgaryan has been criticized by some residents of Echmiadzin for selling public libraries to private enterprises, including those to which the mayor has connections.
The director was told the museum would not be sold Now, the selling of the museum is expected to create more discontent among residents of the city and Seat of the Holy See.
Director Hasmik Hakobyan was assured that the museum was not going to be sold and, a month ago Abgaryan told ArmeniaNow that the premises would be kept for public use. But ArmeniaNow has learned that the decision to sell the property – valued at about $100,000 and sold for $7,000 – was made months ago.
The museum was established in 1964. In 1984 it was relocated to its present territory, which is in the central street of the town. It has about 12,000 exhibits, of which 500 are on display, including late stone-age pieces – from items dated the 5th Millennium BC to domestic items used at the beginning of the 20th century. The current and former staff members say that the museum was built with their hands, the state had not helped with anything:
“This museum is something like a church, after it is destroyed it will take years to restore it to its former look,” says Hakobyan, who has worked in the museum for 34 years.
Staff members constructed exhibits inside, such as the copy of a round house dated to the 4th Millennium BC (a replica of the house discovered during excavations), which is laid with bricks and mortar, and a tonratoon (the shed which houses a tonir – a big jar dug in the earth in which fire is made, used for baking bread) with a special type of roof. The doors of the museum are made with special wood engravings. Upkeep of the museum has been maintained by staff, with no government funding.
The museum is to be relocated to the civil registration office, which is situated in the territory of the mayor’s office (the chief of the civil registration office was still not aware that a museum would be housed there instead of his office).
“I was very angered when I learned it was sold,” says director of the joint cultural directorate of the mayor’s office Eduard Hakhverdyan. “The deal was before me, I was not aware. Serzh Sargsyan says that troops need to be sent to Iraq to protect Armenian cultural hubs, however if they do not protect culture in their own homeland, how will they protect it in a foreign land? If you go there, please go, but do not speak on behalf of culture.”
The deal was closed by the former director of the joint cultural directorate Benik Shamiryan, who later was appointed director of the joint educational directorate and made the decision to sell the territories of the libraries.
“The museum is being brought to a more central place (it is about 50 meters from the museum to the civil registration office), it will be more spacious (the sizes of the new territory are not known),” says Shamiryan. “It is being done according to the interests of the museum.”
Details of the deal suggest other interests, however.
A territory of 495 square meters plus a 70-square-meter cellar was sold for 3.46 million drams (though the price was not revealed to the public), about $7,000, which is about 15 times cheaper than the market price.
Although the territory was sold through an auction, it was considered simply formality and the buyer had been known in advance – businessman Zarzand Karapetyan. It is also known that Karapetyan has also recently bought an apartment, widely believed to have been handed over to the mayor.
“If we at least knew about the auction, other buyers could have come forward,” says Hakboyan.
No funds are foreseen in the budget for repairs in the new territory.
Staff members say they are cautious against objecting to the sale of the museum and claim that the mayor has threatened to fire the director if the sale is protested.