Armenia’s Sanahin Monastery: Abbot and Primate Accuse One Another of Allowing Illegal Graves at UNESCO Site
The Sanahin Monastery, founded in the 10th century in the Armenia’s Lori province, is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
However, many historical parts of the monastery of Sanahin, including the church of All-Savior and the gravestone of Grigor Toutevordi, the chapels of the Zakaryans and Arghoutyans are not properly cared for, buried under dirt and weeds.
On top of this, a conflict has now surfaced between Father Avetik, the abbot of Sanahin Monastery, and Archbishop Sebouh Chouldjian, Primate of the Diocese of Gougark of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church.
Chouldjian strictly reprimanded Father Avetik in writing for not preventing a burial on June 21 within 2.5-3 meters from the monastery's Zakaryans’ chapel.
Father Avetik refutes the charge.
“I can collect facts and file a lawsuit against Chouldjian, " says Father Avetik. He wants to publicly ask the Primate of the Diocese of Gougark why more than a dozen graves appeared in the monastery's territory during his leadership, without being prevented. Most of these graves are completely closing the access to the Zakaryans' chapel from the eastern side of the monastery.
Father Avetik says that he wasn’t aware of the funeral on June 21 at the chapel, but after finding out about it, he informed the primate and wrote an explanation letter. He saw the funeral on June 21. He says he didn’t think that the funeral was going to be done right next to the chapel. On the evening of July 2, at around 17:00, he saw a grave, already built in front of the chapel of the Zakaryans.
"I was shocked. I asked why they entered our territory. The son of the deceased, Gagik Veranyan, got surprised and said there was a misunderstanding," Father Avetik says. Gagik promised him to move the grave to another place after 40 days. Then Father Avetik called the metropolite and informed him about what happened.
Archbishop Chouldjian called the Department of Historical and Cultural Monuments.
Karen Yolchinyan, the person responsible for the historical-cultural monuments of Alaverdi, and other representatives took photos of the grave the next morning and recorded that two historical graves were deported, the access to the chapel is closed and the works on the grave are stopped. However, a week later the relatives of the deceased continued them.
Gagik Veranyan said that for many years the allocation of the funeral area hasn’t been regulated in the Sanahin cemetery. "I didn’t think I was doing something wrong. All four sides of the Zakaryans' chapel are graveyards of our villagers, " Veranyan says. After burial, he quickly built his father's grave with the help of his relatives.
As for the deportation of historical graves, Veranyan says that the guard of the cemetery and the elders of the village testified to the police that he had not touched them. Gagik was in an uncertain state, he didn’t know how to deal with his father's grave.
"If burial next to Zakaryan's chapel is forbidden, why isn’t there any warning sign? Well, in that case, it’s not the family of the deceased to blame, " says the widow Elena Veranyan.
Father Avetik Soghomonyan was appointed an abbot of Sanahin Monastery ten months ago. When he arrived at Sanahin, he noticed that during the last 25 years the graves of Sanahin villagers have reached the monastery territory.
"And they are so close that there is a small trail left by which we go to see the chapel of the Holy Resurrection or the famous khachkar of the Toutevordi. If we don’t pay attention, they will close it, too, because people have no idea of the value of Sanahin Monastery. Besides, the size and boundaries of the territories surrounding the historical values have not been clarified yet, and the latest scandal has proven that there are no laws, no rules and regulations were applied, no warning signs or panels are there. The church has never rebuked the population for crossing that border, "says Father Avetik.
Father Avetik says he’s never received a clear plan of the monastery grounds and he doesn’t know what territory belongs to the monastery. He blames the Gougark Primate for enlarging the Sanahin cemetery at the expense of the monastery's territory. He says he won’t surrender and will have this grave removed from here.
The burial next to the Zakaryans' chapel on June 21 was condemned by the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. "The problem requires a clear, coordinated solution to keep our historical monuments free of such arbitrary local activities," wrote Father Vahram Melikyan, who heads the Echmiadzin news service.