The National Cinema Center of Armenia Falls Victim to Government Privatization Schemes and Property Developers
When talking about the cinema industry in Armenia one name that automatically comes to mind is Hay (Armen) Film, the Soviet Armenian film studio, that produced such well-loved hits as Guys from Band (1960), We and Our Mountains (1969), The Color of Pomegranates (1969), and many more too numerous to mention.
Many say it was the Golden Age of Armenian cinema.
Three years ago, the building that once housed the National Cinema Center of Armenia on Teryan Street in Yerevan was auctioned off, to make way for a high-end multi-apartment building.
The story of what transpired over the years mirrors the ups and downs of Armenia’s cinema industry since independence in the early 1990s. It’s a tale of government mismanagement and profit-driven ambition by various public agency heads and private developers.
National Cinema Center of Armenia (NCCA) Director Shushanik Mirzakhanyan was embarrassed to tell Hetq that she must now host guests in cafes. The Center now rents space in a HayFilm building outside Yerevan.
HayFilm Studio Built in 1928; A Landmark Demolished
The original structure, built on 2 Teryan Street in 1928, then housed ArmenKino, Hay Film’s predecessor. The blueprints were drafted by Yerevan’s first Chief Architect Nikoghayos Buniatyan.
It was a big step forward for Soviet Armenia’s fledgling cinema sector. Films could now be made indoors, under artificial lighting, on sets protected from the elements outside.
Films being shot at the old HayFilm studio (Courtesy of Melik Karapetyan archives)
In the late 1970s, HayFilm relocated to the outskirts of Yerevan, along the Ashtarak Highway. Most of the Teryan building was handed over to Armenia Public Radio, which turned the space into a recording studio appropriately called the Teryan Studio. A small section of the building continued to be used for filmmaking.
In 2005, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, HayFilm was privatized along with many other state-owned assets in Armenia. It was sold to Armenia Studios, a subsidiary of CS Media City. Promises to invest millions of dollars into the studio never materialized.
The Teryan building was taken over by the State Property Management Committee.
A year later, the HayFilm studio (named in 1966 in honor of the Soviet-Armenian film director Hamo Beknazaryan), was rechristened yet again and became today’s National Cinema Center of Armenia. The NCCA was allowed to use the building and an adjoining space next door at 3a Teryan Street.
Privatization Schemes and the Building’s Eventual Sale
What followed were a number of schemes to finally privatize the space and sell it for a huge profit.
In 2007, then studio director Gevorg Gevorgyan petitioned the government to allocate the structure to a private company, arguing the building was falling down.
Gevorgyan told the government that he struck a deal with a company called LC Royal. If the government gave its permission, ownership of the Teryan building would be transferred to the company, which, in return, would allocate 400 square meters of renovated space to the NCCA as owners.
Gevorgyan wrote to then Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to get a green light for the deal. Nothing happened, and the building remained standing.
Jump to 2015. Chairman of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia Ruben Jaghinyan, petitioned the government to transfer some 200 square meters of space attached to the studio to his agency. Jaghinyan argued that he needed more space to install new equipment and operate more effectively.
Based on this, the government decided to allocate the building housing the film studio to Public Radio of Armenia.
However, representatives from Armenia’s Council of Public TV and Radio told Hetq that the real reason for the building’s transfer was to ultimately sell the 1,168 square meter recording studio housed there. The Council had concluded that it would be too costly to renovate and technically modernize the space.
In January 2016, the film studio’s building was transferred to Public Radio of Armenia. Two moths later, the Council placed the two buildings, totaling some 1,366 square meters, and the land up for auction.
The 2 Teryan Street building prior to demolition ((Courtesy of Melik Karapetyan archives)
The record of the Council’s meeting reveal that Public Radio of Armenia (PRA) wanted to use proceeds of the sale to build a modern music recording studio on the fourth floor of a building it owned on Yerevan's Alex Manoogian Street.
In short, the Council sold the buildings under the nose of the government’s State Property Management Committee and Yerevan municipal officials.
Building’s Purchase Price Remains a Mystery
The starting bid for the property was AMD 720 million.
Mark Grigoryan, the former head of the PRA, declined to provide details of the sale to Hetq, arguing commercial secrecy. Council member Stepan Zakaryan however claims the property was sold for AMD 300 million.
2 Teryan Street; the new building
Akva Len-Shin purchased the property, razed the old studio building in 2017 and built a four-story apartment building in its place.
The developer is selling one square meter of residential space for $1,500-$1,600, arguing that the building is close to Norther Avenue shops and Republic Square.
Area residents opposed the construction of the new building and wrote to the Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan, but to no avail.
They then took the developer to court, claiming the company failed to comply with demolition requirements and avoided compensating them for damages incurred. By the time the building was completed, the plaintiffs had withdrawn the suit.
Campaign to Save HayFilm Studio Unsuccessful
Before the old film studio building had been sold and later demolished, cinema specialist Melik Karapetyan had launched a campaign to turn it into a media museum. He argued that Yerevan needed a public space to research and exhibit all the old film and audio archives that miraculously had been preserved.
No one was interested. Instead, officials eyed it as a prime piece of downtown Yerevan real estate.
Izabella Muradyan, a descendant of the building’s architect Nikoghayos Buniatyan, rails against the tendency so prevalent in Yerevan for years to demolish all the historic landmarks and build anew.
So, who owns apartments in the new building?
Armen Muradyan, a shady street character who used to sell cement produced at Gagik Tsarukyan’s Ararat Cement Plant, owns an apartment.
Muradyan is also linked to Prosperous Party of Armenia (BHK) MP Grigor Grigoryan, who served as Armenia’s Commander of Police Forces from 2001-2008. (Grigoryan was fired after the March 1, 2008 post-election violence.)
In 2011, Muradyan was arrested for possessing 14 grams of marijuana. He was held for 21 days and then released on one-year probation.
His neighbors include the daughter and son-in-law of Enrico Apriamov, the former Deputy Chief of General Staff of Armenian Armed Forces.
Today, the National Cinema Center of Armenia rents space in the HayFilm studio building on Ashtarak Highway.
Estimates to renovate the adjacent 3a Teryan Street building total AMD 31 million.
Surprisingly, in a Facebook post published in August 2018, Ministry of Culture adviser Raffi Movsisyan noted that AMD 113.8 million had been allocated to the NCCA between 2006-2018 to subsidize its rental expenditures.
“In other words, it was possible to renovate the space belonging to the NCCA four times over and to cover the cost of the property it rents until today,” Movsisyan wrote.
In the meantime, Public Radio of Armenia, which argued that it needed more space, continues to lease some of its space, located at its Alex Manoogian headquarters, to various private companies.
Photos of the new residential apartment building at 2 Teryan Street were taken by Ani Sargsyan