The bodies of many prominent writers, artists and political figures rest at the Komitas and Yerevan Municipal Pantheons in Yerevan.
The Komitas Pantheon is in relatively good shape. The same cannot be said of the Yerevan Municipal Pantheon, located at the Central (Tomakh) Cemetery.
Many of the graves are unkempt; the metal adornments broken and the tombstones damaged. The grounds are strewn with garbage. Several years ago, Hetq wrote about the situation: Municipal Pantheon Under Siege.
Armen Soukiasyan, who heads the Special Service of Population community non-profit organization, told Hetq that his group cleans the cemetery and does other repair work there.
Soukiasyan points out that the cemetery is vast and that one security guard isn’t enough and thinks that police should patrol the site just like they do at the Komitas Pantheon. He says most of the pilferage occurs at night. Soukiasyan says his organization doesn’t have the resources to increase security at the cemetery and barely manages to maintain it.
“No matter how much we patrol, garbage from weddings gets strewn about. It’s frequently cleaned. It’s not like a dump or in bad shape,” says Soukiasyan.
The community organization director says he’s contacted the police numerous times to catch those who are responsible for the pilferage. He also claims that recent strong winds have knocked over 80-100 headstones, breaking them.
Soukiasyan also blames the relatives of the deceased buried at the cemetery, who are responsible for periodically cleaning the graves of their loved ones. He says that his organization can’t be held responsible if the damage is caused by nature.
Soukiasyan says that his group doesn’t have the funds to repair the broken tombstones or decorative sculptures.
Karen Khachatryan, supervisor at the Central Cemetery, told Hetq that this summer, just like last year, the Yerevan Municipality repaired many of the graves. Khachatryan claims that most of the damage now visible happened during the past two or three months.
“The cemetery has no guard or garbage attendant. There are women who clean the graves, but they aren’t our employees,” said Khachatryan.
He says that he’s complained to the police about the vandalism and that, in certain cases, the culprits have been identified.
Khachatryan says he can’t imagine what kind of security would be needed to patrol and safeguard the 85-hectare cemetery, but that, at least till five or six in the evening, a few laborers and staff guard the site.
The Yerevan police, in response to our inquiry regarding the theft and vandalism, said that from January 29 to May 5 of this year, unknown individuals stole at 10,000 Euro bronze bust from the tombstone of V. Kocharyan at the Municipal Pantheon. A criminal investigation was launched but later dropped. The culprits were never found.
The police say that from 2014-2016 no other reports of vandalism or theft at the Municipal Pantheon were filed. The police have no data for preceding years.
According to information provided Hetq by the Prosecutor General’s Office, sixteen criminal cases of vandalism/ pilferage of tombstones, busts, statues or other objects at Yerevan cemeteries were reviewed from 2015-2016.
An additional 11 cases were reviewed for desecration of the corpse or burial site, and five for theft.
Of these, 14 cases were dropped because the culprits were never identified. Only in one case was anyone convicted. One case is ongoing.