Cultural Tragedy

Aravot, Armenia

We often think, that human tragedy is an abstraction, that it is something we read in the books, see on television or in the movies.  It appears to be a phenomenon that is unlikely to happen to us. But, unfortunately, the contrary is true.  It happens all the time, even at this very moment, while you are reading this – whether you realize it or not.

“Human tragedy”, as I define it, is the degradation of values ​​and impoverishment of societal principles and ideals. This is being perpetrated not only by our enemies, but mostly by our own bretheren (knowingly or otherwise). This degradetion, like cancer, quietly and slowly, spreads, cell-by-cell, and destroys us.  It consequently destroys the fabric of our people and our nation. It often does not destroy our bodies, but instead our “inner” world. This process then gradually corrodes both our individual and our collective “taste“.

In order to better understand this, we must define “taste”.  It is the reflection and the totality of our wisdom, knowledge, experiences and understanding, accumulated in our individual lives. You then can extrapolate how it becomes the mirror of a given society and a given nation. Each member of a society creates according to his or her “taste”. The society judges, accepts or reject this work according to its “collective taste”. As a result, one sees the “taste” and the “essence” of that society by its art, architecture and lifestyle.

Approximately 37 years ago, the community of Montebello, California, in an attempt to revitalize its Armenian community, commissioned a young architect – Ashot Dorian, to design and build a church and a multifunctional hall complex on approximately a 4-acre plot of land. It is evident by any account that this architect poured his heart and soul and created an unprecedented monument – the Holy Cross Cathedral. With the same fervor, he designed an architecturally pure, hall complex with Sunday school and related offices. The entire design project signified not only the Armenian man’s soaring “taste”, but also his ever-soaring spirit. In this work, he condensed, in my opinion, the Armenian architectural achievements of the centuries, especially in Armenian church design.  With it he also was able to emancipate from “impure” architectural elements and cultural weed. I firmly believe, that his work, specifically the design of the church, represents the physical and metaphysical locus of our time.

Unfortunately during these 37 years, I, as an unaffiliated, unbiased Armenian architect who live in Southern California, have witnessed a series of self-serving and adverse changes to this sacrid structure. During all of these modifications neither the Church nor its appointed committees showed the least bit of basic courtesy to consult or even inform the architect regarding any of the alterations.

Today, we are witnessing the culmination of these spiritual and intelectual miststeps. Those in charge have completely disregarded the existing conditions of the site, the structures and most importantly, the architectural spirit of the complex.  It is so abhorrent that it gives the impression that it has been done deliberately, to destroy and denigrate what once was.  They have attached a “cartoon-like” structure that is incompatible with the architecture and the intent of the complex.

It is an act, that even our worst enemies would not have done.

The pitiful author of this “new appendix”, likely believes, that by only copying some arches and/or by placing a cross on the elevation of a building, the structure becomes “Armenian”.  He does not realize, that this rudimentary addition has absolutely nothing to do with “Armenian Architecture” nor with architecture in general.

Dear Reader,

Please consider the following questions.

  • How can a civilized nation allow such mutilation (consciously or otherwise)?
  • How can any descent individual “modify” a work of art without the author’s permission?
  • How can a committee, that has vowed to defend and protect the spiritual and cultural integrity of our Armenian community, mercilessly and without remorse denigrate one of its community’s treasures?
  • How can our church instruct its appointed commissions to mutilate a work which belongs to that community, be it directly or indirectly?
  • How can a member of that community tolerate this type of spiritual, cultural and architectural genocide, and remain silent or indifferent to it all?

The “human tragedy” is not an abstract phenomenon.

Today, we are witnessing it in Montebello, California.

If the Armenian Church, which is supposed to be our spiritual guide, allows itself or its committees to conduct the denigration of the community’s collective “taste” by maligning the cultural environment, it becomes extremely difficult for us, the mere mortals to have and maintain “valuable” cultural examples. A society may somehow endure and even fight against bodily mutilation and destruction. However, would any society withstand the mutilation of the soul and the denegration and dispersion of its culture ?

That is why we should not keep silent.


Edward Hagopyan


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