is running out of room for its dead. According
to at least one specialist, unless conditions
and customs change the capital could become "Cemeteryland"
in the next two decades.
"Condition of the cemeteries in Yerevan
is very depressing," says Garnik Aghajanyan,
director of the city's undertaker's office. "If
new cemeteries are not opened we will face the
reality of not having any place for burying in
almost one year."
Today 14 cemeteries out of 18 in Yerevan are
considered to be closed, as far as they are full,
and have no territory for expanding. New plots
for burials are allotted only in four cemeteries,
which the undertaker's office says will also be
considered closed soon.
In reaction to the crisis, the Government of
Armenia allotted 87 hectares to the Yerevan Town
Council to be used for three new cemeteries.
About 20 burials take place in the capital every
But it is not the number of burials, but the
amount of land occupied by each burial that has
created the shortage of space. Each gravesite
is allotted 10 square meters, however it is often
the case that families fence off areas two or
three times that size to allow room for relatives.
Aghajanyan says managers of several cemeteries
were fired for allowing the violation.
He says, however, it is impossible to restrict
such occupation at cemeteries where families see
large sites and demand such territory of their
Next to cemeteries with approved gravestones
and small plots left from the Soviet period newly
designed cemeteries of independent Armenia mushroomed
within the past 10 years.
"There are gravesites in Yerevan that can
be treated as places of art," says Karen
Darbinyan, director of the stone processing industrial
union Ktevan Ltd. "These are real works of
art created by architects and sculptors. But these
precious works are just wasted money, and have
no value, because they are located in the cemetery."
In the capital, a common grave marker can be
purchased for as little as $200. But the trend
of late is for families, often at great sacrifice,
to spend $1,000 to $1,200. And among Yerevan's
new rich, there is the occasional order for up
to $100,000 for monuments of precious stone.
Psychologists explain all this as phenomenon
associated to the process of development.
"In this period of changes we abandoned
our idols, refused everything we had before, and
now we are looking for new criteria," say
Anzhela Vardanyan, psychoanalyst-psychologist,
assistant professor of psychological sciences.
"Our social system has changed. Before it
was frightening to be rich, because they could
imprison you any time for that. Now it symbolizes
power, strength and beauty, which is also being
expressed in this sphere.
"Of course there are people leaving to other
countries to earn money through their hard work,
then spending it for decorating their loved one's
grave and afterward starving again. But this is
very important for them. We have to respect their
Yerevan's new cemeteries will be located in the
three ends of the city and according to the director
of the undertaker's office proposed sizes will
Parliament has to pass the law on burials soon,
and according to it the family of four gets no
more than a 10 square meter plot," Aghajanyan
Still, this is a short-term solution he says.
"According to our estimations territory
of 87 hectares will be enough for 10 years, and
there will be a need for additional space after,"
Aghajanyan says. "If everything continues
like this, 20-30 years later Yerevan will become
a cemeteryland. The only solution is to have a
It costs about $1 million to build a crematorium,
the director says, an amount that exceeds allocations
of the State budget.
But it is not only financial considerations standing
between the lack of burial space and a potential
"We are Christians and if we act according
to the Gospel the dead must not be burnt. 'You
were made from soil and you will become soil again',"
says Father Tirair Sahradyan of St. Hovhaness
Church. "The body has to be given to the
soil as Christ was given to the soil.
"As an individual, but not as a clergyman,
I cannot imagine my father being burned. This
is inconsistent phenomenon for the Armenian. The
Armenian has to make a dirge, put the coffin on
his shoulders and take it to the cemetery, and
the priest must say a prayer. Otherwise, one of
the seven Armenian Church sacraments-burial orders
-would be misplaced."
But the psychoanalyst says the current population
can be led to change.
"It is not important we are or aren't Armenians.
We can adopt phenomenon of cremating, accept it
in the Armenian way, and do it in a way convenient
for us," Vardanyan says. "This doesn't
mean to say a last good-bye to the loved one in
a barbarous way. We can keep traditional rituals."
She says the important issue is how the concept
of cremation might be presented.
"Death is also a business. If cremating
is State-funded there will be many interested
people. The most important matter is to give people
free choice. This problem needs individual solutions,
and everyone needs to choose for himself the way
to say good-bye to his relatives."