Cultural Clash: Development of Genocide memorial area brings controversy to Armenian public

Between the genocide memorial with eternal flame and the statue of a mother trying to save her child from a massacre, there is a restaurant…
Another caf矩s being built that could disturb the peace and sacred silence
Events that shook Soviet Armenia forty years ago in 1965, historians say became the first step in the struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire.

Popular protests in front of the Opera House where official gathering were held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide turned into public unrest. Arrests followed the disturbances. However, the ice was broken and soon the consequences became visible.

The official opening of the Memorial for the victims of the Armenian Genocide in Tsitsernakaberd took place on November 29th 1967.

Sashur Kalashyan, one of the creators of the memorial recalls that until the very last day of construction they could not believe that the opening would take place. “The officials of Soviet Armenia had been often visiting the construction site and they would say ‘Hurry up, at any moment we can get a call from Kremlin to stop the construction’.”

This month the genocide museum-institute organizes a series of events dedicated to the 40th anniversary since the opening of the memorial.

And especially these days some issues related directly to the memory of victims raise indignation of many in Yerevan.

The construction of new restaurants in Yerevan no longer disturbs residents who have become accustomed to seeing the city turned into a café mall.

An exception, though, is the reaction to two new construction sites now going up near the Genocide Memorial, generally considered sacred ground to Armenians.

Hayk Demoyan, director of the museum-institute of the Armenian Genocide, (which is located near the memorial) says that one site of construction is designed for a golf playground and the other for a restaurant.

“It is outrageous that there will be entertainment spots nearby the genocide memorial and the museum, especially now when the Genocide recognition is one of the top priorities of our foreign policy,” says Demoyan.

Demoyan however refused further comments. He believes that his announcement will attract the public attention but says he is not going himself to start a protest campaign against the new constructions.

“It took me a lot of efforts and distracted from my mission as a director of the museum to fight the municipality’s decision to appropriate territory of belonging to the museum. The mission of museum is academic work, not political, but I hope those political and public figures who really care for the history of our people would interfere.”

It turns out that the city’s biggest concert entertainment hall -- the sport and concert complex after Karen Demirchyan and Genocide memorial share the same address -- park Tsitsernakaberd. There are often concerts in the complex as well as various expo-exhibitions, state conferences. 98 hectares out of 120 of park is under the jurisdiction of the museum and the rest belong to the concert complex, which has some cafes and restaurants in its territory.

The new constructions in the Tsisternakaberd have just started but it is believed that one construction is designed for a cafeteria or restaurant.

However an official from the Yerevan municipality, the body which allocates land and authorizes any new construction in the city says they are unaware of the constructions in the Tsitsernakaberd.

“Regardless of whether the land is submitted for use to some unit for starting a construction there should be permission of the municipality. We provide no authorization for the construction in the park and we have to check whether it is true,” says Gevorg Khurshudyan from the municipality.

The issue of entertainment spots in the area adjacent to the memorial are not new. The ex-director of the museum Lavrenty Barseghyan was planning to set up restaurants nearby the museum. In one of the interviews to ArmeniaNow Barseghyan said that the restaurants would represent the cuisine of Western Armenia. “Tourists who come to visit the memorial as well as official delegations would have a chance to get in touch with the history of Western Armenia. The interior of restaurants would be made in the traditional manner of that time.”

Barsegyan’s ideas were not realized; still he did not avoid the criticisms of public for having a lodge in the park.

Meanwhile one restaurant is currently operating in the area.

In a two minutes walk from the place where official delegations plant trees in memory of genocide victims the restaurant “Akori” shatters peace with music and raises indignation of many citizens in Yerevan.

The ad sign of Akori invites visitors on the highway from the Hrazdan stadium. The next sign shows the way to the Genocide museum and memorial.

MP Alvard Petrosyan says it is inadmissible that in the territory of the park where the Genocide memorial is located operate restaurants, which “smell with vices and kebab.”

Sergei Vardanyan, historian, the Vice-Chairman of “Hamshen” non governmental organization in Yerevan believes that the Tsitsernakaberd park should stay as a place where people come to pay tribute, no matter that the concert hall was built in the same park. (Hamshen is an ancient Armenian province captured by Ottoman Turks in 1489.)

‘Besides the moral aspect of the issue, Tsitsernakaberd Park should stay untouched because it also represents historical value,” says Vardanyan. “It is known that there was an ancient fortress on the territory of the current park. There should have been an archeological study of the park, instead of making digs for the new constructions.”

“In all countries there are places where people go to mourn, or for joy. How is possible to make this in one place? The memorial of genocide is not only one construction but also the surrounding environment.”

Sergey Minasyan, political expert of the Caucasus Media Institute also believes that the thriving construction business should have limits, especially when it refers to national values.

“Of course business has its laws but officials should not allow business to go as far. Tsitsernakaberd is associating with April 24, with the annual memory procession and it would be blasphemous if round the year people would visit the place for fun. The huge green zone is a tidbit for many businessmen; however they should think at least in this time that their business contradicts to morality.”