Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Vartan Matiossian

According to Gayane Abrahamian's report on EurasiaNet.org (September 27, 2012), "Experts claim that almost 50 percent of the 24,000 religious monuments in Armenia are in urgent need of repair, and that around 30 percent are on the verge of collapse." Claims of national pride for being the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion are worth nothing when the symbols of that pride are being disregarded, to put it mildly.
The area around the historical monastic complex of Geghard, one of the most cherished touristic sites in the country, "is a dump with as much garbage and waste as there is in city dumps," asserted historian Samvel Karapetian, the head of Research on Armenian Architecture (RAA). "And it’s not the Turks or Georgians or Azerbaijanis who do that. We are the ones littering, polluting, destroying."
Deputy Culture Minister Arev Samuelian also placed the burden on the general Armenian public.
"Attitudes have to change. The state or the church cannot put guards in front of each church to not let people write on the walls or light candles on cross-stones or inscribe their names," Samuelian told EurasiaNet.org. "Society has to become aware of the value of [historical] monuments."
Of course, lack of education has something to do with these acts of vandalism. But also the sorry state of disrepair of some well-known monuments.
Allocation of money for restoration of historical and cultural monuments started in 2005 and some 5 million dollars have been spent to restore 34 churches. Some of those restorations have proved controversial. For instance, in 2009, three medieval monasteries had been subjected to "incorrect, unprofessional work" according to the Chamber of Control of Armenia, which charged the Ministry of Culture with the misuse of 186 million drams ($465,000) out of its budget. The head of the Historical-Cultural Monument Protection Agency, Gagik Gyurjian, was dismissed, but three months later he was "compensated" with his appointment as head of the museum and fortress of Erebuni, the 8th century Urartian site that stands as the birthplace of Yerevan and where graffitis are not missing on the walls.
His replacement at the Agency, Serzhik Arakelian, said that they have now a more stricter policy of control, but not too much money.
Bakur Hovsepian, a state-appointed administrator who oversees Goshavank, says he has repeatedly turned to the Ministry of Culture and Church for help in restoring the monastery’s main church. He contends that the structure is on the verge of collapse. The short response has always been "No money."The monastery sends 20 to 26 million drams ($50,000-$60,000) per year to Echmiadzin from the sale of candles, souvenir and visitor donations. One wonders why that money is not allocated to church reparations.
In 2011, a popular campaign assembled video footage that showed the derelict state of Sanahin monastery, an UNESCO World Heritage site. It prompted a strong wave of discontent against the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, who reportedly responded that he had "nothing to do with the monasteries and churches in the mountains." Finally, the Ministry of Culture created a commission on churches and invited German experts to examine the property. A restoration effort began early this year.
The Mother See also periodically comments that it lacks the funds to look after churches and monasteries. "We have limited resources and have to restore the monuments by state means, but if those funds keep being misused, then one day everything will simply disappear," commented Father Vahram Melikian, Holy Echmiadzin's spokesperson.
It is ironic that funds are not found, except for pharaonic projects, such as a second veharan (Catholicos residence) in Yerevan or a mammoth cathedral in Moscow.
Armenian churches in Turkey continue to be desecrated, rows over Armenian churches in Georgia are periodically highlighted in the press, and the outcry over the destruction of the cemetery of Jugha by Azerbaijanis is still resonating.
It is easier to see the speck in the other eye than to take the log out of one's own eye.
It is also easier to avoid asking and telling.

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