- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 17, 2003 

The Art of Progress: Lori region residents welcome return to cultural normalcy

It's time to have house-warmings in Lori.

Last Friday Satik Martirosyan stood outside the new Charles Aznavour Cultural Center in Vanadzor, remembering the previous performance hall that stood on the site.

"À day before the earthquake my son was singing here, he had perfectly performed, the hall was full of flowers. How could I know that the next day he would close the door of his life forever," she said.

The mother still grieving for her son 15 years later couldn't bring herself to enter the new hall, but felt some consolation that her son's memory might be preserved in such a place.

The new center in fact hardly compares to the one that was damaged in the 1988 Spitak earthquake.

The hall has been totally reconstructed and includes modern and comfortable arm chairs for seating 500. In addition, two additional smaller halls were constructed, as a rehearsal hall and a cinema.

The Vanadzor Cultural Center is one of 35 centers rebuilt through a $17.5 million donation to Armenia by the Lincy Foundation, the philanthropic agency of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kirkorian.

Reconstruction of the Vanadzor center was made possible by a $540,000 Lincy donation and $435,000 allocated from the State budget. An additional $252,000 went to purchase equipment including lighting and a sound system.

The opening of the center revives performance art in Vanadzor - once Armenia's "second" cultural city.

"There was a time when people like Aram Khachaturyan and Rostropovich performed in this Cultural Center. Russian, European and, of course, Yerevan's most famous actors were on tour here," says musician and pedagogue Sveta Arzumanyan.

President Robert Kocharyan toured the new hall, and said that every time he has passed it since 1988, he was thinking when will it finally be possible to reconstruct it.

"At last, I won't be ashamed of passing by it now," he said.

A two-hour performance of choir, recitals and dance was offered as Lori residents' show of thanks for the restoration of their art center.

The Vanadzor Cultural Center rebuilt by the means of Lincy Foundation will carry the name of Charles Aznavour.

There was more than art to be grateful for, however.

In Spitak last Friday 248 families held a mass house-warming party to signal completion of housing projects on sites destroyed by the earthquake, which had its epicenter in Spitak, a city of about 20,000.

It was the second year Spitak has had reason to celebrate. Last autumn 276 families moved from temporary tiny homes and hostels to the new buildings. In total during the past two years 529 apartments have been built in Spitak using finances assigned by the Lincy Foundation. Still, though, 604 families are waiting for housing.

"A few years ago we didn't believe that one day we wouldn't be in these rusted domics (small metal houses) any more and that our children would attend schools in normal buildings," says Karineh Mekhakyan, a resident of Spitak.

Women who lost their houses like Mekhakyan approached and felt the walls of their new apartments, touching the floors, amazed at the detailed repair.

Unlike Spitak, construction works of apartments have already finished in Vanadzor (population 135,000). And in addition to the Aznavour Center two sports schools and a kindergarten have been reconstructed. The Abelyan Dramatic Theater is still under construction.

Four music schools, a music college, a school of fine arts, and numerous dance, vocal and theatrical groups are helping keep alive Vanadazor's cultural arts reputation.

The opening of the Aznavour Center is evidence that the notion of "disaster zone" is changing year by year.

According to the head of the Lori region, development isn't just confined to art. Henrik Kochinyan says industry is in recovery as well and that output has increased 27 percent in the past year.

Student of Vanadzor Pedagogical Institute Karineh Karapetyan believes that in their city even little economic growth has its influence on people's lives. She is jobless today, but says that even her decision to stay in Vanadzor is evidence of progress.

"A few years ago after graduating from an institute or leaving school everyone ran to Yerevan or if there was opportunity they left the country," says Karapetyan. "Today me and many people like me are full of hopes as we have new apartments and we are bound to this land, our beautiful Vanadzor with stronger roots."

According to Agnes
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