- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 31, 2003 

Church and Estate: Clerics and academics duel over future of academy

Few people in Yerevan know that behind the building of the Institutes of linguistics and economics there is a hidden 13-th Century church.

White doves bask in the last autumn rays of sun striking the cupola of the Katoghike Saint Astvatsatsin (Holy Mary) Church. Their tender cooing mixes with the candles burning in the churchyard imbuing everything around with inner peace.

Few people in Yerevan know that the cozy St Katoghike Church is hidden behind the building of the institutes of linguistics and economics of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia located at the intersection of Sayat-Nova and Abovyan streets.

"For many years the building of the Institute of Linguistics has been hiding from people this construction dated from the 13th Century and the church cannot properly carry out its mission," says Avetis Danielyan, the priest at St. Katoghike.

"First of all the whole church must be reconstructed here. The territory is so small that 72 people can hardly find room in the church during masses and church services."

Almost all the ancient churches functioning in Yerevan were built after the violent earthquake of 1679. Except St. Katoghike, which before faced Abovyan street with its facade.

In 1930, according to a resolution of the Soviet authorities, a number of churches were destroyed in the center of Yerevan. Some, like St Katoghike, "hid" in the yards of other constructions.

Archimandrite Father Arshak Khachatryan, head of staff of the Holy See at St Echmiatsin, says: "In 1936, when they started to destroy St. Katoghike, it became clear that it had two components; the yard constructed in the 18th Century and the building built in 13th Century.

"The construction was saved from destruction with the efforts of devoted architects. To solve the problem and isolate the church, it was hidden with another building and thus sentenced to imprisonment."

The St. Katoghike Church from inside.

It is inscribed on the northern wall of the church that it was built in 1264 by someone from Ani city. It is the oldest church in Yerevan. It was reconstructed in 1693 on the foundation of the 13th Century St. Astvatsatsin Church destroyed by the earthquake in 1679. In 1995 the church was again sanctified and is now a functioning parish church.

Ter Avetis says every time he has planted trees on the territory of the church he has found stones, tooled on one side and broken on the other. Today, cross stones and other fragments of the destroyed church are brought even from the yards of neighboring buildings and placed in the yard of St. Katoghike Church under the sky.

"Why are tooled and hacked stones below the ground? The Communists buried the entire historical past. We can't see the foundation of the church. We must dig at least four meters deep to reach the bottom," says Ter Avetis.

Under the program of restoring its rights over churches confiscated during Soviet times, the Holy See applied to the Government on September 13 to take possession of the territory of St. Katoghike Church and the neighboring institute, which is located on land that once belonged to the Apostolic Church.

On October 2, the Government adopted a draft resolution on transferring "buildings and constructions to the Apostolic Church of Armenia", according to which the building of National Academy of Sciences is to be handed over as a gift to the Church for the purpose of constructing a residence in Yerevan for the Catholicos.

According to the resolution, the institutes of linguistics and economics will be moved to the Institute of Literature on Grigor Lusavorich street.

Father Khachatryan says: "People talk about constructing a residence for the Catholicos. But if the building hiding St. Katoghike is going to be taken away then a construction must certainly be built behind the church.

"That will serve as a place where the Holy Patriarch will have official receptions. Throughout our history spiritual fathers have always had residences in the capital in addition to their spiritual centers."

Cross stones and other fragments of the destroyed church placed in the yard of St. Katoghike are "heavy" reminders of the past.

The 120 staff of the institutes are unhappy, however. Lavrenty Hovhannisyan, deputy director of the Institute of Linguistics says: "Our academy was founded in this building. In civilized countries centers like this one are always preserved. Our claim is not private. We can work where we get a table, we simply want the building to serve its purpose and be the center of Armenology."

The disputed building was built in 1938, serving first as a school and later as a hospital during World War Two. In 1943, the National Assembly of Sciences of Armenia was founded here, whose first presidents were Orbeli and Hambardzumyan. All institutes of the academic system functioned here.

"Today the whole scientific staff was presented with a fait accompli. It means nobody paid attention to the scientific achievements. There are values that should not be donated or touched," complains scientific worker of the institute Gayane Mkhitaryan.

Last week, scientists from the institute conducted a silent protest outside the building. On Monday, October 27, they sought permission from Yerevan municipality to organize a demonstration.

Josef Avetisyan, an Orientalist, says he would like to see historical monuments reconstructed in Yerevan.

"Scientists are worried about preservation of the Armenology center but our culture and language are inseparable aren't they? It's not fair to think about Mesropian language and not to think about Mesropian church. This language was spoken for the first time in a church and it was the Church that spread and preserved the culture," he says.

Ter Avetis is worried that sun rarely touches St. Katoghike with its rays. The building shades the church from the East and moisture corrodes its stones. St. Katoghike suffocates.

Khachatryan in his turn believes the freed church with its medieval architecture can become a symbol connecting Yerevan's past to the life of the modern capital.

"It is high time for St. Katoghike to be appreciated as a construction of medieval Yerevan and symbol of spiritual life in the conditions of independent and national statehood," he says.

According to Agnes
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This week Armenia was commemorating the fourth anniversary of October 27 terroristic act in Armenian parliament and paying tribute to its victims. Among others Stepan Demirchyan visited the cemetery and laid flowers on the grave of his father, late speaker of National Assembly Karen Demirchyan.



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