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Destruction by "Restoration" Armenia's Ancient Monuments in Peril

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  • #11
    Re: Destruction by "Restoration" Armenia's Ancient Monuments in Peril

    Originally posted by Siggie View Post
    What a shame... Initially I was angry that our historical structures in other present day countries were being destroyed either outright or under the guise of "restoration", but it's far more sad that it's happening at the hands of the Armenian government too.

    What's at the root here? Ignorance? Cost? Why are they projects being bungled?
    Is safety a concern in some cases? For instance, with the Garni bridge? Did they make that case at all about it being a functional bridge?
    The most obvious explanation is that in Armenia much of the construction industry is controlled by criminals - so these criminals are simply using the monuments as a cash cow and the government is using the "restoration" of monuments as a way to distribute state funds to their criminal allies (who are often family members anyway). That is what happens in Turkey a lot.

    In Armenia the current neo-medievalist ideology of the Armenian Church also works against accepted conservation principles. The Church considers itself to be the owner of every church in Armenia, regardless of the physical condition of the structure. It is actually illegal for a private individual or a state body to own a church in Armenia, even if it is a complete ruin and an archaeological site, without first getting the permission of the Armenian Church to do it. Rather in the way that in medieval times old frescos used to be regularly destroyed in order to provide the space for new frescos, Armenia's churches are merely functional spaces for what the Armenian Church want to do in them. The Armenian Church does not value them as historical objects and is ideologically incapable of preserving them properly.

    Since the end of the Soviet era, the Armenian Church has been given the ownership of almost all of Armenia's historical churches. Before that it owned almost nothing and most of the historic churches were state owned and under the protection of the Ministry of Culture of Armenia.

    In October 2004, 150 churches were "returned" (as the Church likes to call it). There was an earlier transfer the previous decade of an even larger number of churches (I think it was over 500). And in 2007 some 5000 sites that were on the official list of "historical and cultural monuments" that belonged to the state were disposed of. This resulted in many more churches, mostly ruined ones this time, being handed over to the Armenian Church. Under the "Law of the Republic of Armenia Regarding the Relationship Between the Republic of Armenia and the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church", the Armenian Church has the legal right to rebuild or renovate any historical church it owns. Because of that law it does not need permission to alter or rebuild, or to engage in any public consultation, or to employ proper conservation experts. Basically, it can do whatever it wants to the monuments it owns, and do it whenever it wants. And to do it, it often uses money from shady Armenian oligarchs inside Armenia and from Russia. They, in return, get silence from the Church on political matters, and support from the Church in keeping the population docile and compliant.

    And I think there is also a secular ideology in Armenia that promotes complete rebuilding. Since the 18th-century, most of Europe has had the cultural concept of the “romantic ruin” which gives important philosophical and aesthetic functions to ruins. A ruin, in other words, has its own validity beyond that of an archaeological site. Armenia does not seem to have that cultural concept (or, at best, it is recognised by very few. I remember on my first visit to Armenia I bought a watercolour painting of a little ruined church with a flock of sheep crowding around it, all done in fiery colours and loose brush strokes, and the artist described it, in English, as a "romantic view"). In Armenia, a ruined medieval monument is almost always seen as a very negative thing, as a visual reminder of historical injuries done to Armenia, injuries that can only be healed by completely rebuilding it. The fundamental principle of modern conservation – that the historical integrity of ancient monuments must be retained so that their entire "evidential value" is preserved - cannot co-exist with an ideology whose desire is to return everything back to an imagined golden age. For example, in the 1990s the 10th-century Surp Hovhanness church in Burakan was "restored". This involved the demolition of the defensive additions that had been built onto the gables of the church in the later medieval period because that was not a period of history that the "restorers" valued.
    Last edited by bell-the-cat; 05-29-2013, 02:32 PM.
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    • #12
      Re: Destruction by "Restoration" Armenia's Ancient Monuments in Peril

      Originally posted by TomServo View Post
      (Also, the redesigned Flickr is unsightly).
      But still full of stolen photos. On checking, I now see that this "James Gordon" has just copied the Haghartsin monastery photos from Wikipedia, but on Flickr he is saying he had taken them. I've changed the Flickr links to the Wikipedia links.
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      • #13
        Re: Destruction by "Restoration" Armenia's Ancient Monuments in Peril

        Originally posted by Siggie View Post
        For instance, with the Garni bridge? Did they make that case at all about it being a functional bridge?
        I think the article says the bridge never had a parapet, and was never designed to have one. The "restorers" have just copied in a heavy-handed way the design of the much bigger "cat bridge" at Haghbat.

        It doesn't look like the bridge is used a lot - there is just a footpath at either end. Has a single person ever fallen off the bridge before? If not, there is no safety issue. And even if there was a safety issue, a visually and structurally unobtrusive metal railing could have been added at the most dangerous points, like what you sometimes see on monuments in Britain.
        Last edited by bell-the-cat; 05-29-2013, 02:48 PM.
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