- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 06, 2004

From Vladimir to Video: Action movies replace a stoic dictator in Republic Square

Where once the father of socialism stood . . .

Where once Vladimir I. Lenin stood bronzed and pointing the way to socialism, an electronic billboard now stands in Yerevan's Republic Square, broadcasting capitalism and the best of Hollywood action movies, and video clips from the former dictator's nemesis, the evil west.

When workers were busy putting up the evergreen State Holiday Tree in late December, other workers were equally busy constructing the 8 x 6-meter industrial gray monitor. Visitors to the square who might have thought the giant screen was there only for the holiday festivities are now learning that loud music and MTV images are likely to be a long-time fixture in the otherwise solemn and stately square.

While authorities are looking for a worthy replacement for Lenin they gave permission to AD Technology advertising company to put the 15-meter high billboard where the 18-meter-tall former leader stood until 1991.

AD Technology is not much older than its billboard. This is the first video billboard placed by the company, but it won't be the last. Nor will it be the only one near a city cultural center. Another will go up on Mashtots Avenue, near the Opera House. A third is planned, but the location is not yet determined.

Except for 2001, when a giant (and controversial) cross was placed there to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of Christianity as the State religion, Lenin's old standing ground has been vacant.

For several months, the city has been running a competition for ideas on what should finally fill the space between the (Marriott) Hotel Armenia and the Post Office, opposite the National Gallery.
. . . capitalism is encouraged through giant screen advertising.

So far nothing has been approved, from 17 entries.

"There are no restrictions; all the ideas are up to artists. It is not clear yet who or what the monument is going to be for and in what style," says the president of the Union of Architects Mkrtich Minasyan. "Even though Yerevan tends towards avant garde, it would be desirable that the monument corresponds to the general style of the Republic's classical ensemble. A monument has to reflect more solid ideas than time or epoch, like in case of Lenin's monument. So it is very likely that none of the presented ideas will pass the contest."

So for now (and indefinitely), the "classical ensemble" shares space with ads for Mika Ltd. (owners of petrol, insurance, cement and several other enterprises), Armsavingsbank and the Armenian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", spliced between music videos and clips from foreign action movies.

Vahram Gharibjanyan, manager of AD Technology and in charge of technical and program support of the billboard, says he chooses clips of movies that are interesting to spectators: such as "Taxi" and "Terminator".

The manager himself thinks Lenin's monument should have stayed, for its historical value. But since the place is vacant, why not fill it with advertisement?

Permission for installing billboards is given by the Mayor's Office, and plans are developed by the department of exterior appearance at the Municipality's Department of Architecture. According to the head of the department Razmik Harutyunyan, Yerevan is divided into twelve communities and each one decides the amount that has to be paid to the community's fund for billboards placed on its territory.

Harutyunyan thinks that people who got used to the Lenin monument have the impression that it's taken off temporarily and he thinks that the billboard will stand here until there is a new monument.

Ads on the board cost $2 to $8 per minute, depending on the number of times it appears.

Citizens of Yerevan who are older and remember well Lenin's statue say that a new monument is needed but the screen does not interfere and it's good that it adds money to the budget.
A very different sort of overseer, now at the square centerpiece

"I am not against the billboard if it brings income, but still I would prefer to see here the statue of David of Sasoun. In general Yerevan needs a culture of city management and a strict system of city interior," says Ashot Melyan, age 48.

The youngsters and guests of the town cannot figure out whether a monument is needed here but say the billboard does not offend the eyes.

"The very center of the city is not a place for advertisement but you can't stop progress," says 23-year-old Yulia from Moldova. "And if a hip animation billboard with sound effects has occupied such a place, it looks pretty organic and goes well with the spirit of the time."

Even in these winter days, it is easy to spot people standing to enjoy the action on the big screen.

"If you're waiting for someone, then it's more fun to look at something racing on the billboard than at a monotonous stream of cars in the street," says Mariam, a 17-year-old student.

Meanwhile, Lenin lies across the square, still as a statue, and out of public site inside the yard of the Gallery.

Salima Tuayeva, of South Osetia, is a student at Caucasus Media Institute, a Swiss-government sponsored training program in Yerevan. New Times Journalism Training Center (home of provides internships for journalists attending CMI.

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