Ministry Rents Out Zvartnots: 7th Century Ruins May Be Stripped of UNESCO World Heritage Site Status
On June 14, a Facebook user in Armenia posted that the site of the Zvartnots Historical-Cultural Museum-Preserve located outside Yerevan had been rented out for an invitation only corporate party.
The Facebook post was complete with photos showing that metal sheeting had been erected behind the pillars of the 7th century ruins to hold up a large viewing screen. A large outdoor tent had also been set up on the lawn in addition to a huge set of letters publicizing the party’s sponsor, «Тройка диалог» (Troika Dialog).
Given that the party was by invitation only, groups of tourists visiting the Zvartnots ruins were turned away.
Vardan Grigoryan, director of the Zvartnots site, later told Hetq that he didn’t even know who had organized the party, only that they were a bunch of Armenian and Russian benefactors and that it was a government sponsored event.
Grigoryan, who’s worked at Zvartnots for 29 years, said that four public toilets had been renovated for the event.
“I only have two cleaning attendants for the entire site. They were running after everyone going to the toilet with a pail in hand,” he complained, adding that not one stone at Zvartnots had been damaged.
Grigoryan voiced his astonishment over the uproar that the event created, urging those who complained to come to the site and volunteer to help out.
“Today, someone fixed the toilets. Someone else will erect a fence one day,” Grigoryan said.
Ministry of Culture: Renting out Zvartnots in exchange for toilet renovation
Vladimir Poghosyan, who heads the Ministry of Culture’s Service for the Protection of the Historical Environment and Cultural Museum Reservations SNCO, told Hetq that his agency signed an agreement with a company called Camp Ventures on May 27 according to which the company would renovate the public toilets and that, in return, the site would be allocated to it for organizing an event.
When Hetq raised the point about Zvartnots being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Poghosyan replied that it indeed was so but that the event took place on a platform opposite the administrative building. When Hetq countered that a large screen was affixed to the back of the columns, Poghosyan replied, “Yes, it was planned to show distinctive images of the cathedral in 3D.”
Poghosyan said that the price to lease the site for one day is 700,000 AMD (US$ 1,699). He assured me that it cost much more to renovate the public toilets. (Below photo)
In my conversation with Poghosyan, he was quick to enumerate other points of the lease contact obligating the lessee to keep the area clean and not to damage any section of the historical site. Any violations of the contract would subject the lessee to paying compensation.
Another point in the contract was that the lessee would not hinder the daily work at the site – watering the grounds, etc. Hetq later found out that none of the grounds crew was allowed access on the day of the event.
Camp Ventures: “We were only the technical contractor”
Camp Venture’s Press Secretary Anoush Beghloyan told Hetq that contrary to Poghosyan's statement the company wasn’t the organizer; merely the technical contractor for setting up the tent. She stressed that the tent was erected outside the perimeter of the Zvartnots site.
When I asked why a Ministry of Culture official had mentioned Camp Ventures as a signatory to the contract, Beghloyan responded, “Either the official was misinformed or it’s a case that I can’t comment on such a statement. All I can say is that Camp Venture was hired to erect the tent.”
Beghloyan refused to say who the actual organizer of the event was, arguing that she didn’t have any such right.
It should be noted that Camp Ventures was founded in 2007 and is the successor of School Ventures. Camp Ventures is one of the companies sponsoring the Dilijan International School program. Another sponsor of the program is Ruben Vardanyan, a former shareholder in Troika Dialog.
Zvartnots: World Heritage Site
The Zvartnots site, along with the cathedral and churches of Echmiatsin, are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The UNESCO website has the following to say about Zvartnots:
“The Zvartnots Archaeological Site is a unique example of Armenian architecture of the early Christian period. Building of the temple was begun by Catholicos Nerses III in the mid-7th century. After relinquishing the Catholicossal throne for a time in 652, but after his return to office in 658 he completed the construction of the temple with its secular annexes and its ramparts in 662. Zvartnots exerted a major influence on the architecture not only of its own time but also on that of later centuries.”
In spite of its uniqueness, Armenia’s Ministry of Culture is more than willing to rent out the location for events, including wedding parties, for a measly $1,690.
We wonder what Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan has to say on the matter. He is the president of a special committee at the International Organizations Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that deals with UNESCO related issues. The head of the department is Vahram Kajoyan.
Kajoyan told Hetq that he couldn’t answer any of our questions without permission from above and suggested that we submit our queries in writing.
According to a Hetq government source, UNESCO would immediately remove Zvartnots from its World Heritage List if it heard about the party that took place.
But it seems that the Ministry of Culture is going out of its way to get Zvartnots blacklisted. Perhaps it’s intentional on the part of the minister. Then, with all restrictions out of the way, the commercial potential of the site would be even greater. Maybe the ministry has plans to build a nightclub on the ruins of Zvartnots?
Photos: Katar Taslakyan, Narek Aleksanyan, Vahe Sarukhanyan