Tuesday, 22 October

Yerevan: A City of Disappearing Public Art

Police Unable to Halt Brazen Thefts

The linguist Hrachya Ajarian is one of our Armenian nobles whose resting place has already been vandalized twice in the past three years.

In the spring of 2008, a bronze likeness of Ajarian was stolen from its memorial plaque.

Hrachya Ajarian junior, the linguist’s grandson, says that he say the bronze sculpture the evening before it was stolen. The next morning the plaque had been stripped bare.

The police launched a criminal investigation, but to no avail. Ajarian’s grandson also contacted the Cultural Monuments Protection Agency at the Ministry of Culture. The last time he wrote them was seven months ago. They replied that they had never received any information on the theft from the police since 2008.

Artashes Hovsepyan, the plaque’s artist, told Ajarian that it would cost $9,000 to restore. The Ministry has said that it could partially assist in the financing.

Ajarian’s plaque remains without sculpture

At the end of the day, however, the plaque dedicated to Armenia’s noted linguist remains without a sculpture.

The younger Ajarian confessed that when he walks along Mashtots Avenue in the company of friends he crosses over to the other sidewalk, embarrassed to point out the defaced memorial plaque.

The second act of defilement regarding Ajarian’s memorial took place recently.

Two days after the September 12 religious holiday of Khachverats (Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross), the younger Ajarian noticed that his grandfather’s grave at the Central (Tokhmakh) Cemetery’s Municipal Pantheon, had been vandalized. This time, robbers had taken the 8 kilo bronze bust from the stone pedestal. He notified the police and a criminal investigation was launched. Ajarian even offered testimony, but it appears the case has ground to a halt. Ajarian’s grandson says he expects nothing from the police and that he simply went through the formalities just to fulfil his “spiritual responsibility” to his granddad.

Levon Nersisyan’s memorial also vandalized

In February, 2008, robbers also made away with the bronze sculpture from the memorial plaque dedicated to the literature specialist Levon Nersisyan. It too is located at the same Mashtots-Isahakyan intersection. This plaque, unlike the Ajarian one, is registered with the Yerevan Municipality.

This theft, like so many others, remains unsolved. The criminal investigation has come up empty-handed.

Nersisyan’s daughter, Mrs. Maria, says that many had attempted to detach the bronze from the bar it was attached to. They finally succeeded.

A year later, thanks to the efforts of Ara Shiraz, the original artist, the memorial was restored. The sculptor had kept a gypsum mold and a new bronze was created in the summer of 2009.

New bronze cemented into wall

“They wedged the new copy right into the wall. My father resembles a political prisoner. It doesn’t have the same majestic look as before. It’s evidently not bronze either; it doesn’t have the same luster,” notes Maria Nersisyan, adding that according to Ara Shiraz the stolen bust wasn’t even worth $100.

The artist says that the new is theft-proof since it’s bolted to the wall.

“The spiritual climate of our city has reached the point where without even knowing the artist’s work you can plunder it. This is the last stage in our ultimate demise. And there are no foreign hands at work here; it’s of our own making. It would be truly tragic if such acts become commonplace; when the same sculpture had to be replaced two or three times,” Ara Shiraz said at the rededication ceremony.

Republic Square’s “Seven Fountains” hit while police napped

A similar occurrence took place at the “Seven Drinking Fountains” site at Republic Square. Sometime during the night of April 17, 2010, vandals made off with three of the bronze bowls adorning this popular watering spot. They were the work of the designer and jeweler Nur (Arman Davtyan) and were part of the restoration of the site in 2008. A criminal investigation was never launched by the police who stated that they never received a theft report. Furthermore, according to news reports, the police patrolling the Square said they had been asleep in their car and saw nothing.

“Why were the cops asleep? It’s the Republic Square after all, not some small garden. The place is well lit. How can somebody just walk up and remove fixtures from the Square and not be noticed by the police? And the robbers had to have been working on removing the bowls for quite a while. They came prepared with all the necessary tools,” Nur stated to the press at the time. He added that such barbarism was usually characteristic of barbaric, not civilized, races, and that Armenians are keen to pass themselves off as a civilized people with a long and rich cultural heritage.

Nur crafted three new bowls but he won’t go so far as ruling out the prospect that they too might be “privatized”. It’s part of an ever increasing trend in Yerevan during the past 2-3 years for bronze and copper sculptures and statuettes to go missing; usually sold off at scrap metal prices.

Legendary Hayk Nahapet also a target

Another such headline grabbing incident took place in the wee hours of June 2. The Nor Nork Police Precint received a call that something suspicious was taking place at the Hayk Nahapet statute located at the intersection of Gai Avenue and Moldovakan Street. (Hayk Nahapet is the legendary patriarch and founder of the first Armenian nation).

Police arrived on the scene and detained the fleeing malefactor. The lonesome thief turned out to be 20 year-old Sandro Manoukyan, a neighborhood resident. Police reported that the young man had succeeded in removing the copper plating from the statue’s left foot and was about to escape into the night with his booty.

Statue of Armenian deity Tork Angegh damaged

It turned out that Sandro was also responsible for removing sections of the copper statute of Tork Angegh (an ancient Armenian masculine deity of strength, courage, of manufacturing and the arts) during the months of April and May. 2.8 million AMD was the estimated value of the damage inflicted.

The artist of both these two statues is Karlen Nurijanyan. Both are made from hammered copper welded to an underlying metallic skeleton. They are hollow inside and quite vulnerable to thieves with the proper tools.

The statute dedicated to Hayk Nahapet was unveiled in 1972 and that of Tork Angegh in 1982.

Gagik Ghazaryan, Chairman of the Union of Artists, and a painter and sculptor in his own right, says that hammered copper works are in need of periodic repair and reinforcement due to the ravages of the weather and stress.

He says that such factors make the job of statue robbers that much easier.

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