the end of life Vahan Ghazumyan was looking
at the world through the eyes of his stone
In a secluded alcove above the Zangu Gorge an
artist has left 30 years of his life in stone.
Near the well-known building of the Yerevan Wine
Factory, the unadvertised work of artist Vahan
Ghazumyan is his legacy, and a commentary of his
The master sculptor began carving his stone garden
in 1971. When he died at age 80 earlier this year
some 100 pieces were left as his eternal memorial,
named by the poet Shiraz as "Garden of Stone".
His memoirs tell of his and his garden's intention
. . .
"Using my own forces I wished to create
a bright evidence of the Armenian people's world-building
nature," he wrote. "For bringing my
aim into life I chose a wild rocky spot of Zangu
Gorge. For its unsightly look this spot filled
people living in the neighboring areas with displeasure
and they turned it into a trash dump. I cleaned
up the whole territory myself without any technical
equipment and founded there a rocky garden made
in folk style."
And where there was once garbage, there are now
such sculptures as horses, a lion, the crucifixion
of Christ, an eagle, Mt. Ararat, carved into the
side of the hill and standing independently under
every tree branch.
Ghazumyan's son, Samvel, leads guests through
his father's work, explaining how each piece represents
a moment of history or of national symbolism.
master sculpted the dictator hoping that
he will save him Andranik
A lion sculpted in the inner part of the rock
represents the Armenian nation who shoulders a
huge burden, tragedy of Armenian nation, and growls
at the injustice of the world. A doe and its calf
symbolize the idea of generations' immortality;
horses are the Armenian wishes etc. Samvel puts
water on the stones so that images may be better
seen. "When they are dried it looks like
the meat of the stone is opening," he says.
"He had been working the day before he
died," remembers the master's widow Maro.
"Rubbish from the wine factory filled the
garden. He cleaned it but he got intestinal clogging
and he died. When we slept he used to go (collecting
firewood) I used to tell him, 'enough working'
but he always said that the work is his rest."
The master also built six rooms in the rocks
and each of them has symbolic meaning. "Mher's
room" (Mher is a character from Sasuntsi
Davit epos) and another has the name of the sculptor
where again one can find Ararat Mountain, a lion
as well as small and big vestries that symbolize
Western and Eastern Armenia, around which is wrapped
a snake, representing the enemy. There are about
50 wooden statues of Armenian fidais, victims
of the genocide and animals made by the master
in one of the rooms.
"He had made all of that by his hands. He
used only chisel and hammer. Many chisels had
been used for these rocks," says Samvel.
One of the rooms symbolizes an Armenian patriarchal
home with tonir (ancient Armenian stove) and Russian
"When a Russian general Melnikov visited
this place he said, 'It would be great if there
was a Russian stove next to the tonir',"
so he made a Russian stove next to the tonir as
a symbol of two country's friendship," says
Ghazumyan is happy to share with everyone
the heritage left by his father.
Many of his statues reflect the way of thinking
of the intelligentsia of Soviet Armenia, for instance,
memorable stones dedicated to the friendship of
Armenian and Russian nations.
The self-taught sculptor used to say "You
must do whatever your soul tells you to do".
Listening to his soul he had made the most unique
works, such as statues made in primitive style
of antiquity. One such piece, a bust of a Karabakh
woman, was seen by the chief architect of Kiev,
who couldn't believe that the sculpture was not
of ancient origin.
There are memorial stones placed under the hillside
and dedicated to the victims World War II, victims
of the persecutions of 1937 and victims of the
1988 earthquake. A memorial dedicated to the Armenia
genocide has an inscription placed at the request
of the poet Shiraz on it: "the one who forgets
the Armenian genocide will become an enemy of
In this section one can find the most important
work of the master. It is a plaster model of national
hero General Andranik's statue, which differs
from others with its light and white color. It
was the only piece for which Ghazumyan first made
a plaster model. Soviet authorities prohibited
public exhibition of the piece.
"He had been sculpting Andranik's statue
for one year covered with a slipcover so that
nobody could know what he was doing," remembers
In 1978 after finishing the work, the master
placed the bust of the commander on the highest
place of the hillside. It had been there 40 days
when policemen came and threw it from the rock.
a whole year no one could guess that the
sculpture he was working on was Andranik
"When we came we saw the door was sealed
and there were numerous people standing. Vahan
was told to throw the statue himself. He said
that it is the same if you asked me to cut my
child's throat. Finally, they threw the statue
down. But nothing happened to the statue,"
The plaster model of the commander replaces its
original version in the stone garden. The original
is in a private garden somewhere in Ashtarak,
and its owner, according to the master's relatives,
agrees to sell it only for $1000.
There is also a statue of Vladimir I. Lenin in
the garden. Probably it is the only place in Yerevan
where the dictator's statue is on display. Relatives
of the master say that he had sculpted Lenin's
statue for protecting the one of Andranik. By
having one of Lenin, Ghazumyan thought maybe the
soviet authorities would let him keep the one
Master Vahan's official work was head of the
Yerevan Wine Factory's committee on landscape.
In 1987 he was conferred with the Order of Honor,
a medal for civilian service to the State.
Not on any list of official parks or monuments,
Ghazumyan's stone garden nonetheless became popular
by word-of-mouth. The names and impressions of
visitors to the garden fill 17 guest books.
Samvel says that if he can find a business partner,
he wants to make his father's place into a tourist
attraction, including a traditional-styled tavern
serving wine from the family garden.