Preserving Gyumri: Museums show life during the city’s glory days
August 13, 2004

Preserving Gyumri: Museums show life during the city’s glory days

By Gayane Lazarian
ArmeniaNow reporterIn the center of Gyumri, next to the Museum of National
Architecture and the Mercurov Museum, is the city’s “visit card”.
“Every Gyumretsi brings his visitors to this museum.,” says a guide at
Dzitoghtsonts Tun. This exceptional visit card is also a subject of our

>From Gyumri’s glory days . . .
Once home to Gyumri’s richest family, the Dzitoghtsians, the museum is a
look at life from about 1830 to the 1920s, when Gyumri was a Caucasus jewel.
“Dzitoghtsians were Gyumri’s richest family and had a beer factory, springs,
bath-houses,” says 75 year old Axniv Movsesyan, who, like many residents,
knows the museum’s history well.
The family emigrated from the Western Armenia village of Dzitogh and, in
1872 built their home, which shared a yard with the home of Greek sculptor
Sergei Mercurov’s father, Feodor, whose family owned businesses in Baku,
Tbilisi and Western Armenia (modern Turkey).
Following the Mercurovs from Western Armenia, about 40 Greek families
settled in the southern section of Gyumri around 1830.
In 1984, the Mercurov and Dizitoghtsian homes were made museums and part of
the Armenian State and National Museum of Ethnography. This year they
celebrate their 20 th anniversaries.
After the 1988 earthquake that destroyed most of Gyumri, eight families
moved into the museums. But even during that time, exhibitions were held in
the parts of the homes that were not temporary shelter.
“The hearth of a culture had to continue to breath and live,” says the
manager of the Dzitogtsants Tun, Sona Harutuinyan.
In 1997, Dzitogtsants Tun reopened, through the financial support of London
Armenian Vache Manukian. And, last year, US billionaire Kirk Kirkorian’s
Lincy Fund financed renovation of the Mercurov. The Armenian Government also
allocated five million drams (about $1 million).

19th century elegant living
The manager says the museums conform to European standards, after being
renovated of their “communist influence”.
A combined tour of the museums gives visitors a taste of Gyumri when it was
grand (and when it was called Aleksandrapol, named after the wife of Nikolai
The exhibits, about 1900 of them, prove that Gyumri was one of the most
important Caucasus trade and craft centers. There were approximately 100
crafts made in the city and the names of the streets and districts came from
craft names.
Hasmik tells that trade people were divided into 4 groups: Bazazes- who were
dealing with fabric trade, Ardars- with adornment, Alafs- with the
agriculture trade and Dukhances- alcohol trade.
In the museum you also can see the house wares of Gyumri’s middle and upper
Homes of the rich differed by arches, and Hasmik says that theatrical plays
took place in those home. The place in front of arches provided a background
for various scenes.
With plenty to show of Gyumri’s past, Haroutinyan complains that the many
exhibits are only a small portion of what could be shown in the museums.
Instruments for craft making, for example, are only depicted through
“When in 1997 we were reopened, Shirak marzpet Ararat Gomtsian and Minister
of the Culture said to me, that Gyumir doesn’t have a gallery and that it is
necessary to put crafts away and show pictures,” says Haroutuinian.
She describes with pain how different craft instruments and other very
valuable things are locked for 7 years because there’s no proper place for
display. The tools of stone cutters, black smiths, carpet makers, tin
smiths, dress makers – the basic occupations of the period – are not on

Inside Mercurov
“Today we closed such important things for Gyumri history and I am afraid
that when we take them out in the future they will be destroyed,” she says.
Haroutinyan also worries about the heating system in the museum. She says
that 19th century paintings by Aivazovski, Garzoo, Sarian, Minas, Sureniants
are frozen in very cold winters and vice versa in summer.
She says, too, that 30 air conditioners installed during the Lincy
renovation ruined the historical/cultural value of the buildings.
I was against that air conditioners, because we can’t pay so much for
electricity,” Haroutuinyan says. “We need 1 million drams a month for about
six months to heat the building in winter. And 1 million drams is our budget
for the entire year. These air conditioners are something artificial.”