Neglect, Mismanagement at Historic Yerevan Site
By Joseph (Hovsep) Dagdigian, Harvard, MA, 18 September 2013
*Joseph (Hovsep) Dagdigian of Harvard, MA is a computer engineer with keen
interest in Armenian archeology and architecture. In the past few years he
was a representative of the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association in
Yerevan for the Shengavit Museum project. Every year he spends extensive
period of time in Yerevan where he has a house.*
*Photos of the Shengavit Museum (before renovations) were taken by then
Shengavit Director Volodya Tshagharyan.*
A Neolithic (Stone Age) settlement, measuring 15 hectares (37 acres), was
discovered in 1925, on land above Yerevan’s Hrazdan River. The 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 examined the site, off and on, since its discovery.
*Shengavit museum building after Tshagharyan became director*
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 `30s-era
building which serves as its museum.
Until mid-summer 2013, Vladimir Tshagharyan served as Shengavit preserve’s
director, having assumed the post in 2009. Tshagharyan is an architect and
has spent most of his career in the protection and preservation of
Armenia’s historic, archaeological, and cultural monuments. Though
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 are under Erebuni’s director Gagik Gyurjyan.
Upon his appointment as Shengavit director, Tshagharyan discovered that
about 40% of the remaining land site had been privatized shortly after
Armenia’s independence. Armed with extensive archival documentation and
photographs, Tshagharyan fought a year-long battle– going to the city
hall, the courts, the public prosecutor’s office, and the regional city
hall. The documents transferring the land to individuals were signed by the
prime minister. People have indicated that while it’s likely that the prime
minister was presented with a stack of documents to sign by advisors, it is
unlikely that he would have had knowingly signed such a document.
The privatized land was received by two institutions: Hospital Number 6 and
a polyclinic*(*both next to the Shengavit preserve) and three individuals,
including Vanush Babayan. Babayan’s wife is the janitor at Shengavit,
although her husband serves instead. 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
then Tshagharyan had paid him, out of his pocket, an additional stipend to
help with the maintenance and construction of 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, to officially and legally return the land to the
Shengavit preserve, 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, renounce ownership of the land and return it to the
Shengavit preserve. *Oddly, Gyurdjyan, as of the date this report was
compiled (late summer, 2013), has NOT requested that the necessary
documents be signed and recorded in the city archives. Without these
documents the land cannot officially be returned to Shengavit. One can only
be suspicious of the failure to act and speculate that there may be an
attempt to keep the land privatized or transferred to others.*
*Administration of the Shengavit Site*
The Shengavit site is under the control of Erebuni museum’s director,
Gyurjyan, and ultimately under the control of the Minister of Culture
Hasmik Poghosyan and the city. 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. Thus there appears to be
a divided responsibility regarding the protection of the site and its
The 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
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 2,500
years, and is at some distance from Erebuni. It is difficult to justify, on
geographic, cultural, or historic grounds the authority of Erebuni over
Shengavit site 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 director makes it imperative that Shengavit site
be separated from Erebuni and Shengavit director report directly to the
ministry of culture.
When *Tshagharyan* was appointed director to Shengavit, the site had no
water or rest room facilities, air conditioning for its museum, *or *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. The museum building was in
shambles. There was no bench for visitors and signage was inadequate. There
was no real entrance to the site and often garbage was found dumped on the
site. Though there originally was a staff of three– inadequately paid
workers–including Tshagharyan, there was no funding 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, *my wife and I* purchased a small amount
($200 to $300) of construction materials which 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% to 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 Ministry of Culture which
is responsible for the preservation of Armenia’s antiquities.
In early summer of 2012, during a conversation with me as a representative
of CYSCA, Gyurjyan indicated that all assistance to Shengavit should go
through him or through the 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 them available
to Tshagharyan to renovate and maintain the Shengavit *site*. The proper
use of the material would be monitored. I emphasized that any use of funds
for purposes other than their intended *use *would be illegal under U.S.
law. 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’).
In 2013, with the help of generous donors, additional funds were raised by
CYSCA. The funds were again to be used directly to purchase construction
materials for Shengavit’s maintenance and renovation under Tshagharyan’s
directorship. Priorities and renovation plans were established by
Tshagharyan 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, with Tshagharyan, I visited the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs
Officer 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 to Shengavit. President Serge Sargsyan had also 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 Tshagharyan.
In short, renovation of the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological
Preserve was on track. It was an evolving success story.
During the summer of 2012 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 the preservation of these sites ultimately rests
with the Minister of Culture and, in the case of Shengavit, on Erebuni’s
Director. Shengavit’s director had no authority to allow or disallow
excavations or to demand adequate preservation after excavations are
conducted. Additionally, artifacts recovered from excavations at Shengavit
are required, by law, to be placed either in Shengavit museum or in
Erebuni’s museum, as Erebuni has authority over Shengavit.
As of the date of the initial writing of this report, few if any
significant artifacts from Shengavit have been deposited either at Erebuni
or Shengvit, and instead remain in the possession of one or more Armenian
archaeologists who have excavated Shengavit. Artifacts currently on display
in Shengavit museum were recovered from Soviet-era excavations and dealt
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 just cause. The following morning, Erebuni’s director
reinstated Babayan and told him not to cooperate with Tshagharyan’s
efforts to renovate the site. 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 the young man. It was clear that the Shengavit renovation project was
being deliberately blocked. Tshagharyan tendered his resignation as
Erebuni’s director, 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
Shengavit for use by Tshagharyan. In fact, Gyurjyan had seldom expressed
interest in the renovation of Shengavit to either Tshagharyan or to CYSCA.
His expressions of concern have been about how much funding CYSCA and ARISC
had allocated for Shengavit.
Gyurjyan threatened to reject Tshagharyan’s resignation. Under *Armenian* law,
an employer has a right to retain an employee for up to four weeks
following that employee’s resignation, and four weeks had already expired.
Tshagharyan was no longer Shengavit’s director or subject to Gyurjyan’s
*View of American Embassy (in the background) From Shengavit*
It was mentioned to Tshagharyan and to CYSCA that renovations or
modifications to public property must be approved by the city. As director,
Tshagharyan’s responsibility was not to manage excavations, but to maintain
and operate the site – *though he received no operational finances to do
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
line with the tasks that the director of such a site is expected to be
Erebuni’s director, Gyurjyan, is known to boast of his power and influence
through powerful friends in the government. 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
Evidence of Gyurjyan’s influence may be gleaned from a June 30, 2009 news
article in `Armenia
website. The article cites corruption within Armenia’s Ministry of Culture
where $330,000 had been misappropriated. Gyurjyan was deputy-minister of
culture in charge of monument preservation projects at the time. As a
result, on June 24, 2009 Gyurjyan was removed from office. *Despite being
tainted through his association with the scandal, he was made director of
the Erebuni preserve and museum later in the year.*
In a related issue (ARKA news agency, April 2, 2013), it was reported that
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).
Gyurjyan is the head of the Armenian branch of ICOMOS. See
related articles in Hetq and
On July 31 a new Shengavit director was appointed. That same day the new
director protested the absence of water and rest room facilities at the
preserve. He also noticed the partial destruction of an attractive stone
wall along part of Shengavit’s border with Hospital Number 6’s parking
The partial destruction of the wall was approved by Gyurjyan at the request
of Zori Balayan, one of the hospital’s owners, while Tshagharyan was
visiting the U.S. as guest of CYSCA. Balayan wanted part of the wall torn
down to `*get a better view of Mt. Aragats from the hospital’s parking
lot.’ Gyurjian had no objection.* The newly-appointed director of Shengavit
resigned the following day.
*Ancient artifacts on display in the Shengavit museum*
After his resignation, Tshagharyan was criticized for not installing water
and rest room facilities at Shengavit. 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 rest rooms building was
partially renovated using material purchased by CYSCA. It is likely that
this fall water and a bathroom would have been available had Tshagharyan
been allowed to continue his work unhindered.
A new temporary director was appointed. She is the lone employee at
Shengavit, other than the janitor. The latter never shows up. The janitor’s
husband, Babayan, who does show up, as of the time this report’s writing,
had not cut the tall dry grass at Shengavit which poses a fire hazard
should a discarded cigarette ignite the grass. Also hospital waste was
recently found on the site. The current operational budget for the
maintenance of the site is still zero.
Significant improvements have been made to the Shengavit preserve, thanks
to CYSCA and individual donors. Thanks also to 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 necessary
amenities be established for visitors and researchers?
It’s time for the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve
be removed from the neglect and mismanagement of the Erebuni museum’s
director and be placed under honest and competent upper-level management
and be provided with adequate funding.
*Figure 1A: *Shengavit museum building before renovations.
*Figure 1B: *Shengavit museum building after Tshagharyan became director.
*Figure 2: *Newly-constructed entrance to the Shengavit preserve.
*Figure 3:* Damaged stone wall at the Shengavit preserve.
*Figure 4:* View of US Embassy from the Shengavit preserve.
*Figure 5:* Ancient artifacts on display in the Shengavit museum