Mural Depicting Sassoun Resistance Needs Restoration; Culture Ministry Launches Fundraiser
A mural in the village of Apaga, in the Etchmaidzin region of present-day Armenia, depicts the heroic resistance of the villagers of Sassoun, in western Armenia, more than a century ago.
Fleeing persecution in the Ottoman Empire, many from Sassoun resettled in Apaga (which means “future”) in 1919, bringing with them their culture, norms and shared history.
In 1974, Sargis Muradyan, a People’s Artist of Armenia, painted a mural symbolizing that history and longing for their lost homeland on the wall of the newly opened cultural center in Apaga.
The mural’s colors have since faded and cracks have appeared here and there. The mural, aptly entitled “Sassountsiner”, needs repairing.
“You see that mustachioed man? That’s Sargis Muradyan. The guy who has fallen is Kevork Chavush. That’s Andranik, and that’s Sose. Four scenes are taking place. It took some three months to make,” says Apaga resident Aghvan Martirosyan, adding that the artist mixed beer with the paints to keep the colors from fading.
The center of the mural depicts the Mary and the Christ child, in Armenian traditional dress, with a rifle nearby. Another scene shows the funeral of Kevork Chavush, a legendary Armenian freedom fighter. Another depicts fighting between Sassoun villagers and Ottoman soldiers.
Visitors to the mural are greeted by manuscript of the epic, Daredevils of Sassoun.
Aghvan Martirosyan was the cultural center’s caretaker in 1974 and remains so today. He says such works of art were banned at the time since they were considered too “nationalist” in content. He says several works were submitted for the cultural center, and that Muradyan’s was approved by the village authorities.
Higher-ups in the government rejected the mural and delayed the opening of the cultural center. Apaga residents resisted and the leader of the local state farm threatened to resign if the mural was rejected.
Apaga residents say that news of the mural reached as far as Baku, prompting Soviet Azerbaijani officials to lodge a formal protest over the nationalist mural in neighboring “brotherly Armenia.”
Apaga residents still retain traces of the Sassoun dialect spoken by their forebearers. A large map of Sassoun adorns the wall of the village mayor’s office. Pins identify the seven villages in Sassoun from which Armenians left, first resettling in the Ararat Valley, and later, in Apaga.
Years ago, Apaga Mayor Artashes Barseghyan and Zarouhie Muradyan (the artist’s daughter) petitioned the Ministry of Culture to save the mural from further wear and tear. A commission of experts inspected the mural in 2016, registering it as a national monument. Arguing it lacks the funds, the ministry hasn’t done anything to repair the mural.
Instead, the ministry launched a fundraising drive this year to save the mural.
Ara Zaryan and Kristine Lamughen, two mural specialists from Italy, say they are willing to work on the Apaga mural for free. It’s only their travel, lodging and art material expenses, estimated at €6,160, that must be paid.
Those wishing to donate can to so at the following ArdShinInvest Bank accounts:
2475907059160020 - RUR
2475907059160030 – USD
A benefit concert for the repair of the mural will be held at Yerevan’s Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall on September 17.
Photos by Gagik Aghbalyan