Kumayri Historical Center Development Plan

Kumayri Historical Center Development Plan

The opinion of the architect Sashur Kalashyan

The Kumayri museum-reserve was created by the decision of Armenian government in 1980 to preserve the original historical and architectural heritage (about 1200 buildings) of Gyumri. In the late seventies of the last century city was using its last free lands for new developments within its administrative borders. To continue development program, it was necessary to demolish historical one-story buildings in the center of the city. But demolishing them meant depriving the Gyumri people of historical memory. Each of these buildings was talking about whole era, a stone witness of the past.
The earthquake in 1988 and the following years left their destructive trail on these buildings: abandoned, cracked, with some weird additions, they resembled those that had lost the former glitter of beauties. In 2017, the program for the development of the historical center “Kumayri” was developed and implemented, and work began on the restoration of some buildings. Will Gyumri find its former spirit and brilliance? We represent the opinion of the honored architect of Armenia, the chief architect of Gyumri in 1976-1994, Sashur Kalashyan.

At the behest of fate, I was one of the authors of the establishment of Kumayri museum-reserve. In 1976, I was appointed the chief architect of Leninakan (the former Soviet time name of Gyumri). In accordance with the five-year urban development plan, it was necessary to determine the locations of new developments for factories, residential and administrative buildings.

The number of land plots, free of buildings, was limited in Leninakan. We would have completed their development in the next two or three years. But for the continuation of the development plan, we would have to demolish the old buildings in the central part of the city. I, as an architect, could not allow the demolition of buildings of cultural and historical value. True, cultural tourism was not developed in those years, but in some cities of Russia, Georgia, the Baltic republics, steps were taken at the legislative level to preserve the historical and architectural environment. I and a group of like-minded colleagues decided to study their experience and legislatively consolidate the preservation of old buildings in Leninakan. I visited these cities (Nizhny Novgorod, Tbilisi, Tallinn), got acquainted with the contents of the relevant legislative packages, understood what they were aimed at. Then we decided to take an unprecedented step to give the whole administrative district the status of the museum-reserve, prepared a large legislative package and submitted it for approval to the Armenian government. In 1980, the government approved the establishment of Kumayri museum-reserve. Large-scale restoration and improvement works began. The wide media coverage of this work led to the fact that in two or three years groups of specialists from Yerevan, Tbilisi, even from Russia and the Baltic republics began to come to see and understand how we do it. And it is quite natural that the result of the work done in 1985 was marked by a high state award of Armenia.

Unfortunately, the earthquake of 1988 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union interrupted our noble mission. The museum-reserve for obvious reasons was abandoned: the staff of the administrative staff was reduced, the buildings-monuments handed over to the directorate, some were privatized, many damaged buildings were demolished. However, the collective concept of the museum-reserve, to the credit of Gyumri people, retained its cultural appeal.

In 2017, the business program for the development of the historical center Kumayri, developed by a local project team, was launched. To implement this program an investment fund was established for capital repair and modernization of the street network, as well as large-scale works on the restoration of some major historic buildings. However, the whole trouble is that none of the people involved in this work are fully aware of the legally established rules of ownership and, especially, of the restoration and use of cultural and historical monuments. Although the initiative group has developed a project for the functional use of the territory of the experimental block, it does not refer to the requirements of the current legislation for historical buildings and therefore there is no guarantee that new owners of monuments will fully preserve the architectural appearance of the buildings.

I confess, it's not at all pleasant to me to speak loudly about this. Maybe we can somehow get out of this deadlock? In the meantime, we still have to hope and support the honorable citizen of Gyumri, the Italian Antonio Montalto, whose efforts and modest investments have been used for several years to acquire, restore and exemplarily use of some historical and architectural monuments in the same historical part of Gyumri.