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Yeranuhi Soghoyan

A Gyumri Love Story: Restoring the Pre-Wedding Group Bathing Tradition

Old Gyumri was famous for its public baths. People attended baths mostly on weekends. They ate and relaxed, spending 5-6 hours there. There was also a tradition of gathering all the relatives of the groom and bride in a bath on the eve of a wedding.

70-year-old Mkrtich Manoukyan remembers his memorable wedding in 1985. It’s still talked about in his hometown Gyumri.

He was 37 back then, and all his relatives and friends were concerned that he was still single. He says he was too occupied with his work in Yerevan, in Kosh Correctional Facility, and didn’t have time for relationships. His father periodically came up with a long list of potential brides, sending him to “see and choose” a suitable girl.

Mkrtich Manukyan

He met his future wife when he went to a regular “bride-check”. However, it wasn’t the candidate herself, but her friend Hasmik, who was helping set the table, that attracted his attention.

Hasmik was 20 at the time and her mother was against her marrying Mkrtich, who was 17 years older. That’s when the couple decided to run off to Yerevan and negotiate with Hasmik’s parents from there. In the end, after three months of negotiations, her parents gave up, and the wedding was scheduled on November 30, 1985.

Hailing from Gyumri, Mkrtich recalled the tradition of pre-wedding bathing and decided to restore it, inviting around 100 people to one of the oldest public baths in Gyumri, founded in 1880 by one of the wealthy citizens of Alexandropol (Gyumri) and turned into N4 Bath House during the Soviet years.

Groom and bride arrived there on a phaeton (carriage). The musicians were invited from Yerevan. Even Mkrtich’s grandma, who was 91, joined the festivities. His aunt was the main singer, entertaining the guests with Armenian folk songs. Mkrtich made sure that best Soviet delicacies, beer and cigarettes were offered to the guests.

The bath director invited some journalists and workers from the Kumayri Reserve-Museum. An article about the restored pre-wedding bathing tradition was published in the local newspaper in December that year, making this wedding even more popular in Gyumri.

The publicity had its negative effect, too. Mkrtich was called by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and asked to give explanations. Luckily, he wasn’t dismissed after all.

The official wedding ceremony, with 400 invited guests in attendance, followed the public bath day. It lasted until the next morning.

Unfortunately, the couple’s happiness didn’t last long. Mkrtich lost his young wife and daughter on December 7, 1988, when the Spitak Earthquake hit.

He has never thought of marrying again. He says it’s probably a family tradition: his father didn’t remarry, either, after his mother died in 1968.

Mkrtich doesn’t like modern wedding ceremonies. He says people have got alienated, while, in the past, any ceremony and tradition aimed at bringing people closer to each other.

"Now, once the guests leave the wedding scene, they don’t recognize each other the next day. Too many foreign things have been brought into our lives, while the old ones have been forgotten. It’s not enough to restore the old - it should be applied, too. If people don’t speak their native language for a long time, they forget it. The same with traditions. The present generation doesn’t know them, hasn’t heard of them, and there are no narrators left,” says Mkrtich.

He thanked us for visiting and allowing him the opportunity to recall the wonderful years of the past.