Built to Last: A Georgian Armenian’s house plans for eternity

Built to Last: A Georgian Armenian’s house plans for eternity
By Vahan Ishkhanyan ArmeniaNow reporter

28 May, 2004

(from Akhalkalak, Georgia) In the Georgian town of Akhalkalak,
Serozh Hakobyan is one of those rare people who have apartments in
two worlds. The one for this life is on Rustaveli St. The one for
the next life is in the Akhalkalak cemetery.

He tells a visitor: “I am both in this world and in the other one.” And
he takes every guest to show them his grave.

Serozh says he’s ready to go … Next to his family, his grandmother,
grandfather, mother and father, he has built his and his wife’s graves,
a polished stone with a portrait of the couple and their birth dates,
Hakobyan Serozh 1932 and Hakobyan Manushak 1933. All that remains
are death dates, a carving task assigned to their only child,
their daughter.

“Since I didn’t have a boy, I thought I myself would make my grave,
so that it’s not hard for my daughter,” Serozh says. “Since I could
afford it, I made one for me and my wife. My wife agreed with me,
saying it’s better this way, so that we don’t have to bother our
child. Why should she be troubled because of us later?”

Making a grave is a man’s job. He has to go find a stone, give it
to a master, follow how they’re polishing it, find a painter to
carve from photos properly and he has to bargain with everyone. In
1994, when he had some money saved, Serozh did all that’s required
for a grave. And, allowed the privilege of choosing how he will be
eternally remembered, he carefully chose a painter from Yerevan to
do the tombstone portraits.

In his town, plenty of others know their final resting places. But
the others are next to graves that have already been filled, most
with the remains of a spouse, before the survivor’s name was carved
next to the deceased.

But Serozh’s grave is totally empty, ready for a house warming.

“This is my permanent apartment, we are guests here, our main apartment
is here, buddy,” says Serozh looking at the black gravestone.

The 72-year old former taxi driver isn’t in any hurry to take up
residence, but says when that time comes, well, so be it.

“Whatever’s there it’s there, whatever’s not, it’s not,” Serozh
says. “I can only say if you’re an honest man, your soul will be
in peace.”

Serozh says he believes in God and follows all the church ceremonies
like Easter, baptism, sacrifice and etc. He always keeps icons in
his pocket.

“Icons of Mother Mary, of my Lord the Christ have always been in my
pocket and thank God that after driving a taxi for 45 years I haven’t
had any trouble. I’ve met all kinds of people in my car but haven’t
seen harm from any of them.”

Since retiring from the taxi business, Serozh has been a pensioner. He
get 15 lari (about $7.50) a month, which of course is not enough
for survival. So now he trades at the Akhalkalak market selling
sieves and other little things.

Doesn’t he get closer to the death by building himself a grave and
isn’t he afraid of dying?

“Of course not, buddy,” laughs Serozh. “Whether it gets you closer
or not, whether you’re afraid or not, when the time comes for you
to die, you’ll die. The main thing is to live as long as you can,
humanly, decently, with respect. If you like people, people will like
you. Otherwise, if you’re born, you have to die. If you live for 100
years you have to die, if you live for one year, you have to die … ”

On Easter and All Saints Day and other church holidays, all the family
visits the graves of Serozh’s parents to eat, drink and honor the dead.

One day when his grandchildren visit his “eternal apartment”,
they’ll see an inscription saying that Serozh’s tombstone is “from

It’s ok if grandchildren didn’t make it, they were too small, how could
they,” Serozh says. “But those who pass by will know that this man
had respect and honor, since his grandchildren had built his grave.”