Shengavit Historical And Archaeological Culture Preserve


[ Part 2.2: “Attached Text” ]

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013|Posted byContributor
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Display of ancient artifacts in the Shengavit museum



Summary: The Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve
is a stone-age archaeological site on the bank of Yerevan Lake in
Yerevan. It contains a small museum and remains of a settlement dating
to the 4th millennium B.C. In 2009 Mr. Vladimir Tshagharyan assumed
the position of director of the site, reporting to the director of
the Erebuni Museum, Mr. Gagik Gyurjyan. The Shengavit preserve and
Karmir Blur archaeological sites (both in Yerevan) are under the
control of the Erebuni museum and its director. Mr.

Tshagharyan had a staff of two others at the site. There was no ($0.00,
yes zero!) funding for the operation or maintenance of the site which
was badly in need of repair. In 2012 the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister
City Association (CYSCA) initiated a program to buy construction
materials to allow Shengavit’s staff to maintain the site and make
needed repairs. That year, as a representative of CYSCA, I briefly met
with Mr. Gyurjian who inquired about the amount of aid available from
CYSCA and stated that funding should go through him. When told this
was impossible he acquiesced to CYSCA’s plan to purchase construction
material which would be used by Mr. Tshagharyan to make repairs. By
the end of 2012 significant improvements were made to the site, though
an immense amount of work still needed to be done. In 2013 additional
funds were raised by CYSCA for this project but at every step numerous,
deliberate obstacles were created to halt progress. Erebuni’s director
appeared more interested in the amount of funding available from CYSCA
than the maintenance and improvements Mr. Tshagharyan planned for
Shengavit. With Mr. Tshagharyan’s hands tied and unable to continue
Shengavit’s maintenance and upkeep, he resigned. This terminated
CYSCA’s support program as well as a support program by another
NGO. Details are contained in the main body of this article. Facts
for this article were corroborated by a number of individuals.

This report is mine alone and not that of the CYSCA or any other

Part 1:


In 1925 it was discovered that a Neolithic (stone-age) settlement
existed on about 15 hectares (37 acres) of land above the Hrazdan
River. This settlement existed from the late 4th millennium B.C. and
was inhabited for close to 2,000 years. A number of Armenian and
non-Armenian archaeologists and scientists have examined this site
on and off since its discovery.

Currently most of the site is inaccessible as a Soviet era hospital
(Hospital No. 6) was built on the site and following independence the
Miami Hotel, a gas station, and other structures were built on top of
the ancient settlement. The current archaeological preserve consists
of 5 hectares (12 acres) with inadequate security and fencing, and
a small wooden 1930s era building which serves as its museum. Until
mid-summer 2013, Mr. Vladimir Tshagharyan served as the Shengavit
preserve’s director, having assumed that post in 2009. Mr.

Tshagharyan is a trained architect and has spent most of his career
involved in the protection and preservation of Armenia’s historic,
archaeological, and cultural monuments. Though Mr. Tshagharyan was the
director of the Shengavit site, overall directorship of Shengavit, the
Karmir Blur Urartian site in Yerevan, and the Erebuni Archaeological
site and museum is under Erebuni’s director Mr. Gagik Gyurjyan.

Upon Mr. Tshagharyan’s assumption of Shengavit’s directorship, he
discovered that about 40% of the remaining territory of the site
had been privatized shortly after Armenian independence. Armed with
extensive archival documentation and photographs, Tshagharyan fought
a year-long battle going to the Yerevan City Hall, the courts,
the public prosecutor’s office, and the regional city hall. The
documents transferring this land to individuals were signed by the
prime minister. People have indicated that it is likely that the
prime minister was presented with a stack of documents to sign by
advisors, and it is unlikely that he would have knowingly signed such
a document. The privatized land was received by two institutions:
Hospital Number 6 and a polyclinic (both of which are next to the
Shengavit preserve) and three individuals, including Vanush Babayan.

Mr. Babayan’s wife is the janitor at Shengavit though Mr. Babayan
serves in her place. He also was, until recently, hired by the
police department to serve as a day watchman at the site. The police
department later dismissed Babayan as Shengavit’s daytime watchman.

Until that time Mr. Tshagharyan paid him, out of his own pocket,
an additional stipend to help with maintenance and construction at
the site. All those who had acquired portions of Shengavit land have
verbally agreed to relinquish ownership of the land and return it
to the Shengavit preserve. However for the land to be officially
and legally returned to the Shengavit preserve Mr. Gyurjyan,
in his position as director of Erebuni, must ask the management
of Hospital Number 6 and the Polyclinic to formally and legally,
in writing, to renounce ownership of this land and return it to the
Shengavit preserve. Oddly, Mr. Gyurdjyan, as of the date information
for this report was compiled (late summer, 2013), has NOT requested
that the necessary documents be signed and recorded in the Yerevan
city archives, without which the land is not officially returned
to Shengavit. One can only be suspicious of this failure to act and
speculate that there may be an attempt to keep this land privatized
or transfer it to others.

Administration of the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture

The Shengavit site is under the control of Erebuni museum’s director,
Mr. Gyurjyan, and ultimately under the control of the Minister
of Culture, Mrs. Hasmik Poghosyan, and the city government of
Yerevan. The culture ministry is in charge of the antiquities. It
can allow or disallow excavations, and controls the disposition of
ancient artifacts from the site together with Erebuni’s director.

Shengavit’s land belongs to the city of Yerevan. Thus there appears
to be a divided responsibility regarding protection of the site and
its contents.


Shengavit museum building before renovations

The Yerevan city government funds the Erebuni archaeological site
and museum which, in turn, is responsible for funding the upkeep of
the Shengavit and Karmir Blur sites. But Shengavit has received no
funding for its upkeep from Erebuni.

The Erebuni site and its museum as well as Karmir Blur are Urartian
sites dating to the iron-age (roughly 1100 – 800 B.C.).  In contrast,
the Shengavit site and its culture predate the Urartian era by roughly
2500 years, and is some distance from Erebuni. It is difficult to
justify the Shengavit site being under the authority of Erebuni on
a geographic, cultural, or historic basis as there are completely
different issues involved in the study of these two disparate
historical eras and in preservation issues. In the opinion of many
the indifference, neglect, and mismanagement of the Shengavit site by
Erebuni’s director makes it imperative that Shengavit site should be
separated from Erebuni and Shengavit’s director should report directly
to the Cultural Ministry.


Shengavit museum building after Mr. Tshagharyan became director

Upon Tshagharyan’s assumption of Shengavit’s directorship, the site
had no water or rest room facilities, no air conditioning for its
museum, and no pavilion to shade visitors from the hot sun. There
was no outside lighting. There was only a short inadequate section of
fencing which provided no protection from intruders or trespassers, and
the museum building was in shambles. There was no bench for visitors
to sit on, and inadequate signage. There was no real entrance to the
site and often garbage was found dumped on the site.

Moreover though there originally was a staff of 3 inadequately paid
workers, including Tshagharyan, there was no funding whatsoever for
the operation and maintenance of the site. Tshagharyan renovated the
museum building, posted attractive signs on the site, and made other
improvements which were financed by small donations from friends and
from his own meager pay. No funding was dispensed to Shengavit by
Erebuni or its director.

CYSCA’s Shengavit Project

During a visit to Armenia in 2011 with my wife we purchased a small
amount ($200-300’s worth) of construction material which Mr.

Tshagharyan used to do some maintenance on the site.

In 2012 the Cambridge Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA), with
the support of concerned donors, purchased supplies to repair a broken
bench on the site, to install and repair fencing around about 30-40% of
the site, to repair leaking roofs on two small stone/cement buildings
which were planned to become a bathroom and an office, to install an
entrance and door to the site, and to make other improvements. The
transformation of the site was startling though there remained much
more to be done. This was all done without any funding from Erebuni or
from the Cultural Ministry which is responsible for the preservation
of Armenia’s antiquities. In early summer of 2012, in a conversation
with me as a representative of CYSCA, Mr. Gyurjyan indicated that
all assistance to Shengavit should go through him or through the
Yerevan city government. He was informed that CYSCA was a non-profit
organization and that funds were raised for the express purpose of
directly purchasing building supplies and making these supplies
available to Mr. Tshagharyan for renovating and maintaining the
Shengavit site. The proper use of this material would be monitored. I
emphasized that any use of funds for other than their intended purpose
would be illegal under U.S. law.

Mr. Gyurjyan then asked how much funding CYSCA had collected. When
told it was about $1,000 or a bit more, he replied “Jisht ek anoom”
(“You are doing the right thing”).


Newly constructed entrance for Shengavit preserve

In 2013 additional funds were raised by CYSCA, with the help of
generous donors, with funds again to be used directly to purchase
construction material for Shengavit’s maintenance and renovation
under Mr. Tshagharyan’s directorship. Priorities and renovation plans
were established by Mr. Tshagharyan, as Shengavit’s director, to
renovate the museum building, install water and rest room facilities,
and provide an outdoor pavilion for visitors as well as generally
cleaning up the site. In 2013 I, with Mr. Tshagharyan, visited the
U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Officer Mr. Sean O’Hara and other
embassy officials to discuss the Shengavit project. Mr.

O’Hara had previously accompanied U.S. Ambassador Heffern and Mrs.

Heffern on visits to Shengavit. Also Armenian president Serge Sargsyan
visited the site. There were good indications that assistance in
one form or another would be forthcoming through the U.S. embassy,
though no detailed plans had yet been worked out. The American
Research In the South Caucasus (ARISC), through a grant initiated
by archaeologist Dr. Mitchell Rothman of Widener University in PA,
allocated funds to help renovate Shengavit’s museum building using
architectural plans drawn up and donated by Mr. Tshagharyan.

In short, renovation of the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological
Preserve was on track. It was an evolving success story.

Part 2:

Problems Arise

During the summer of 2012 both American and Armenian archaeologists
excavated the site, though there was little effort to adequately
preserve these excavations. Permission to excavate Armenian
archaeological sites and the responsibility to oversee preservation
of these sites ultimately rests with the Minister of Culture and,
in the case of Shengavit, on Erebuni’s director. Mr. Tshagharyan,
Shengavit’s director, has no authority whatsoever to allow or disallow
excavations or to demand adequate preservation after excavations
are conducted. Additionally, artifacts recovered from excavations
at Shengavit are required by Armenian law to be placed either in
Shengavit’s museum or in Erebuni’s museum, as Erebuni has authority
over Shengavit. As of the date of the initial draft of this report,
few if any significant artifacts from Shengavit have been deposited
either at Erebuni or Shengvit, and instead remain in the personal
possession of one or more Armenian archaeologists who have excavated
at Shengavit. Artifacts currently on display in Shengavit’s museum
were recovered from Soviet era excavations and dealt with properly.

As work was to begin in the summer of 2013 with funds newly collected
by CYSCA, Shengavit’s director dismissed one of Shengavit’s employees,
Mr. Babayan , for eminently just causes. On the following morning
Erebuni’s director reinstated Babayan and told him not to cooperate
with Mr. Tshagharyan’s efforts to renovate the site. Mr.

Tshagharyan attempted to hire a recent graduate of the construction
institute to help with renovations. There was to be NO net increase
in the total salaries paid to Shengavit’s staff. Again, Erebuni’s
director overruled Tshagharyan and prohibited the hiring of this
young man. It was clear that the Shengavit renovation project was
being deliberately blocked and was not going to proceed. Tshagharyan
tendered his resignation as Shengavit’s director.

The Aftermath

Erebuni’s director, Mr. Gyurjyan, initiated a meaningless investigation
of Shengavit’s finances. He was sent a letter by CYSCA indicating that
financial records for CYSCA’s support are with CYSCA, and he should
notify CYSCA in writing if he has any issues or questions. In short,
there are no Shengavit finances! Shengavit received no operational
funding from Erebuni or the Armenian government. Neither did Shengavit
receive funding from CYSCA. CYSCA purchased construction material and
had it delivered to the Shengavit site for use by Mr. Tshagharyan. In
fact Mr. Gyurjyan has seldom expressed an interest in the renovation
of Shengavit to either Mr.

Tshagharyan or to CYSCA. His expressions of concern have been about
how much funding CYSCA and ARISC have allocated for Shengavit.


Damaged stone wall at Shengavit preserve

Mr. Gyurjyan threatened to reject Mr. Tshagharyan’s resignation.

Under Armenian law, an employer has a right to retain an employee
for up to 4 weeks following that employee’s resignation, and four
weeks had already expired. Mr. Tshagharyan was no longer Shengavit’s
director or subject to Mr. Gyurjyan’s authority.

It was mentioned to Mr. Tshagharyan and to CYSCA that renovations or
modifications to public property must be approved by the Yerevan City
government. Mr. Tshagharyan was appointed Shengvit’s director. His
responsibility was not to manage excavations, but to maintain and
operate the site – though he received no operational finances to
do so! In fulfilling his duties, he replaced or renovated fencing
surrounding about 40% of the site, installed new attractive signs,
repaired a ruined bench for visitors, painted the museum building,
fixed leaking roofs on two buildings, dug a trench to provide the
site with water and sewage connections, installed outside lighting,
and installed doors and locks on two auxiliary buildings and on
Shengavit’s entrance. These are precisely in line with the tasks that
the director of such a site is expected to be concerned with.

Erebuni’s director, Mr. Gyurjyan, is known to boast of his power and
influence through powerful friends in government. Indeed he does have
influential contacts. With his influential contacts he certainly,
in an instant, could get approval for any construction work needed
at Shengavit – if approval were actually necessary.

Evidence of Mr. Gyurjyan’s influence may be gleaned from a June 30,
2009 news article from

The article cites corruption within Armenia’s Ministry of Culture in
which $330,000 was misappropriated. Mr. Gyurjyan was deputy minister
of culture in charge of monument preservation projects at the time.

As a result, on June 24, 2009 Mr. Gyurjyan was removed from his
position.  Despite the taint of being associated with this scandal,
he was made director of the Erebuni preserve and museum later the
same year!

In a related issue, as reported on April 2, 2013 by the ARKA news
agency, the Armenian Monuments Awareness Project (AMAP) together
with the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds, is receiving
325,500 euros to promote tourism along the historic Silk Road, which
includes Armenia. Participating in this is the International Council
on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Mr. Gagik Gyurjyan is the head of
the Armenian branch of ICOMOS. For additional articles see the reports
by and the USAID Economic and Market Competitiveness Project.

On July 31 a new Shengavit director was appointed. On that same day the
new director protested the absence of water and rest room facilities
at the Shengavit preserve. He also noticed the partial destruction
of an attractive stone wall along part of Shengavit’s border with
Hospital Number 6’s parking lot. The partial destruction of the wall
was approved by Mr. Gyurjyan at the request of Mr. Zori Balayan,
one of the hospital’s owners, while Mr. Tshagharyan was visiting the
U.S. as a guest of CYSCA. Mr. Balayan wanted part of the wall torn
down to “get a better view of Mt. Aragats from the hospital’s parking
lot”! Mr. Gyurjian had no objection! The newly appointed director of
Shengavit resigned the following day.

After his resignation, Mr. Tshagharyan was criticized for not
installing water and rest room facilities at Shengavit. Mr.

Tshagharyan had no funding for rest rooms, water, or anything else for
that matter. Yet plans were made and work begun to install water and
sewage, and a building for rest rooms was partially renovated using
material purchased by CYSCA. It is likely that this fall water and a
bathroom would have been available had Mr. Tshagharyan been allowed
to continue unhindered.


View of the U.S. Embassy from the Shengavit preserve

A new temporary director was appointed. She is the lone employee
at Shengavit other than the woman who is the janitor, who never
shows up. The janitor’s husband, Mr. Babayan, who does show up, as
of the time this report was drafted, had not cut the tall dry grass
at Shengavit which poses a fire hazard should a carelessly discarded
cigarette ignite the grass. Also hospital waste was recently found
on the site.  The current operational budget for maintenance of the
site is still zero ($0.00).

Significant improvements have been made to the Shengavit preserve
thanks to CYSCA and individual donors. Thanks also go to Mr.

Tshagharyan’s dedication to the preservation of Armenia’s historical
and cultural heritage. But much more needs to be done to make
Shengavit visitor friendly and to preserve Shengavit’s archaeological
record. It’s unclear what the future holds for Shengavit. Will
the recently privatized land be reincorporated into the Shengavit
preserve? Will additional land be privatized? Will much needed
amenities be established for visitors and researchers?

It’s time for the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture
Preserve to be removed from the neglect and mismanagement of the
Erebuni museum’s director and be placed under honest and competent
upper level management with adequate funding.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS