Why are there no old cities in Yerevan
by Faud Akhundov, head of the sector for political studies of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration
A month ago, Yerevan announced the launch of a mass project to restore its old city. Yerevani officials say that the project was prepared back in 2005. Architect Marianna Gasparyan said that the plan was developed by the Main Architecture and Project Department back in the 1970s. Other sources say that the initiative to rebuild old Yerevan was announced by artist Grigor Khanjyan in 1983. The project was passed but an earthquake in 1988 hindered its realization. Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor, believes that there is a reason for the lack of common approach to the origin of the idea. Fuad Akhundov, head of the sector for political studies of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, expressed his point of view to the problem in a conversation with VK:
Baku marked the 500th anniversary of the Erivan Fortress on March 23, 2011, and presented a portal www.erevangala500.com, describing the history of Medieval Yerevan. The website says that the Erivan Fortress was built in 1504-1511 by the Safavid Shah Ismail I. One of the main ideas at the ceremony, which dominated after, was the accusation that Yerevan has no old city, such as the ones in Baku and Tbilisi.
The portal was presented a week before the New Year holidays. Yerevani administration announced the project three weeks after. The response to Azerbaijan was probably being prepared with haste right after the New Year holidays. Armenian authorities try to convince the public that the project was under a secret for decades, its announcement right after accusations of destruction of the Erivan Fortress and lack of the old city in Yerevan are a mere coincidence.
The project was most likely a response to accusations from Azerbaijan and this is why the Yerevan administration is concerned over the fate of the old center, due to well-argued facts. Armenia gives rather exotic formulations. The Yerevani authorities say that they will restore “dismantled” buildings, although they were destroyed. Maybe Armenia will try to disorient publicity about the real history of Yerevan, destruction of the Erivan Fortress and all buildings of Azerbaijan’s Muslim architecture, hiding behind the term “dismantle”. The buildings usually dismantled are plants, factories, equipment or other industrial facilities in order to assemble them at another area. Buildings are either destroyed or knocked down, such as it happened in Yerevan. Medieval cities are not rebuilt in any states, they are preserved and cared of, as a site for tourists, local inhabitants, historians, they are not “dismantled” to be assembled back in 100 years. There are obviously exceptions, for example, Warsaw. The city was totally destroyed by bombing during WWII, but no one bombed Yerevan. Besides, Warsaw was restored right after the war, not after 100 years.
Architects and the Yerevan administration say that the Erivani Fortress is not the center of Yerevan and was only a small part of the city. But it is natural for any civilized old city, where the historic center always covers a minor part, because cities have sustainable tendency of developing and expanding and the population growing. For example, the Kremlin in Moscow takes very small space, but it still remains the heart of Russia. The fortress and the historic center are always under protection and no one destroys them because they are the beginning of beginnings, the inner sanctum for all civilized cities of the world. Modern Yerevan started from the Erivan Fortress. The Erivan Fortress was remaining the center of growing Yerevan, but then it was razed to the ground by Armenian vandals. Yerevan lost its heart as a result. What kind of a city is it without a historic center? Yerevan is the only walled city without a fortress.
Curiously, the Yerevan administration will only restore buildings of the early 19th and 20th centuries, not Medieval architecture, but buildings constructed during by the Russian Empire. It will be realized at a territory of 300 x 68 meters. In this case it would be some sort of an exhibition complex where 20 buildings will assembled from dismantled buildings will be the exhibits. But the most interesting fact is that the old part of Yerevan, its fortress, had no threats in the late 19th century and, as we see in Frants Rubo’s painting of 1893 (the late 19th century), the fortress stood and was shining. The painting depicts the Erivan Fortress together with its interior buildings. Russian forces used the fortress for own purposes, noting how formidable it was. Only a few of the fortress’ buildings were used for the garrison and arsenal. The fortress was destroyed, or dismantled as Armenian architects say, in the 1960s with use of advanced machinery and mechanisms. Until then, Armenians could not destroy the fortress, so strong were its walls. We hope that Armenian authorities will take out the numerated rocks and bricks of the dismantled fortress and put it back together.