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 September 26, 2003 




Protecting the Past: The history of Yerevan is held in the hands of dedicated museum workers


The museum is limited to space in the corridor..

While all around her every morning Yerevan awakens to its dizzy speed of modern living, Armineh Karapetyan finds her way through the chaos of Mashtots Avenue and into the past.

Separated from the present she opens the iron door of a small room and steps along black and white pages of Yerevan. Here carefully kept in pink boxes thousands of photos portray carriages riding along narrow streets, the first trams and several big and small houses located throughout the length of the streets.

Armineh, 43, is one of nine women working in the Yerevan History Museum, whose working day consists of taking care of the relics of the past. Inside these walls about 87,000 pieces of history tell the story of a city.

"We have always been searching for things that had been used by our ancestors," says Karapetyan, custodian of the photo archive of the museum. "One must live through this in order to understand how much we do care for these exhibits."

For the past 10 years Karapetyan and her colleagues have carefully tended the artifacts in an obscure, unmarked building in a residential yard. The "museum" is housed in a former school, since being moved out of its former location where now stands the Blue Mosque.

Since the mosque and property were given to the Embassy of Iran, the Yerevan History Museum and the Museum of Nature Protection have essentially been homeless.

Current plans call for the history museum to be housed in the municipality building that is presently under construction. But until then, as for the past decade, there is little chance for guests or residents to have access to the capital's history.

A year ago, several dozen items were taken from the museum collection and are displayed on the narrow corridor of the building. Even in such limited capacity, there is a sense of the richness of the entire collection.

Two big keys of Yerevan prison of the 19th century, weapons, the first Armenian brandy named after Tairov and dated 1894, a stone-carved model of the Catholic Church from the 13th century . . .

Valuable antiques are among the historic items.

"The interest in the history of Yerevan has always been high and keen," says director of the museum Armineh Sargsyan. "Even in such conditions we have had approximately 900 visitors during one year including schoolchildren, students, Diaspora Armenians and foreigners."

In October the capital will be celebrating the 2,785th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan. But at the museum, visitors learn that the territory of the city was occupied in much earlier time periods.

According to its director, there are no places besides the museum where one can get complete information about one of the oldest and most ancient capitals of the world, Yerevan.

The archeological collection of the museum contains stone and metal tools, bronze weapons, decorations and clay artifacts found during excavations carried out in a few districts of the capital. The skull of prehistoric man is also there. It was found in a cave in Yerevan (next to Yerevan lake) and, according to archeologist Benik Yeritsyan, who was conducting excavations in the cave, it has a history of 60-70,000 years.

There are also numerous ethnographic items referring to history, culture and way of life of the modern time period (19th-20th centuries) in the museum. Valuable collection of Armenian fine arts presented by paintings of Bashinjaghyan, Terlemezyan, Saryan, Giurjyan and other famous masters is also included into the number of exhibits representing modern history.

All these valuables are kept on different floors of the museum and custodians are taking care of them as carefully as they can, however there are no hermetic windows, air conditioners or other such equipment for proper preservation.

"The hard destiny of the museum has also had its influence on the workers," says custodian of the section for weapons and clothes, 50 year old Hasmik Kamalyan. "Imagine a family moving to a new apartment. It takes time and efforts to move all the stuff and place them in the new apartment.

"Believe me it is much harder to move 87,000 items, especially, when each item has been packed and counted separately."

According to scientific secretary of the museum Hermineh Sargsyan, the work they do here became their way of life.

Architect Torosyan says the museum's new home will be a good one..

"We say that if a new employee can manage to work in the museum for one year then he or she will work here for another 40 years," says 47 year old Hermineh, who has been involved in this field for 25 years. "It becomes a vocation when independently of your salary you do everything to help the museum live and exist longer."

The salary of women custodians is 13,000 drams ($22) and this, according to them, is enough only for covering their transport charges and drinking coffee during the breaks.

"It is not a poor salary that brings us to this museum," says 54 year old Leila Simonyan, who is in charge of the archeology section. "I don't know what is the reason, however, few people entering this field leave it. Maybe they create a spiritual relation with the past."

Workers hope that the present government will keep their promise and provide the museum with the part of the new building of municipality. (The $3 million structure is scheduled to be completed next year.)

Author of the project, architect Jim Torosyan says that it is a great idea to place Yerevan History Museum together with the municipality in the same building.

"The new building will have a big yard and its right and left wings will have constructions connected with high arches. One part of the building will be taken by the museum. The yard of the municipality must also be museum's yard, where cross stones and jars demonstrating the history will be placed and exhibited."

Torosyan, 75, planned the building in 1980.

"A memorial like this must be dedicated to the 12 historical capitals that had been wrecked and destroyed and they don't exist these days, however, thanks to Yerevan they are still alive," says Torosyan.

The five-storied construction will have 12 columns with memorials. Each of them will have an inscription on it with big letters of Armenian historical cities such as Tigranakert, Van, Ani, Vagharshapat, Kars, Mush. On one part of the building there will be 60 meter tower for viewing the city and Mount Ararat.

According to the architect's plan, the staff of the future museum will have very convenient halls and rooms for demonstrating exhibits as well as rooms for conducting scientific works of the museum.

"I am sure that if the museum is next to the municipality the mayor will be paying much attention to it," Torosyan says.

But it will be tomorrow. And today the destiny of Yerevan history still depends on nine women, who in expectations of the better days are fairly and carefully taking care of every part and detail representing the history of Armenian capital.


According to Agnes
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