By Gayane Danielian
About 250 employees of two state-run scientific institutions vowed on Friday to continue to fight against the controversial handover of their historically famous building in downtown Yerevan to the Armenian Apostolic Church demanded by the government late last year.
The staff of the two research centers of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences specializing in economics and linguistics decided at a joint meeting not to obey government orders to vacate the property. The meeting followed a May 24 letter from the Academy president, Fadey Sargsian, instructing them to move another, smaller building.
The angry employees, joined by prominent scholars and academics, condemned the government and the church. They were particularly furious with Sargsian whose consent, under Armenian law, is necessary for any transfer of Academy property. “No decisions are taken without his involvement. Why isn’t the president here?” asked Hovannes Barseghian, a well-known linguist.
“I have never seen a forced donation in my life,” said Gevorg Jahukian, the director of the Hrachya Acharian Linguistic Institute and a veteran member of the Academy.
The church, which has close ties with the government, wants to take over the building, tear it down and build an official residence for its head, Catholicos Garegin II, in its place. Armenian Catholicoses have for centuries been based in Echmiadzin, a town 25 kilometers southwest of Yerevan.
In a rare instance of public criticism of the Armenian spiritual leader, the scholars accused Garegin of extravagance and disrespect of the country’s scientific heritage. “Catholicoses always stood by and fought for our science, culture and language throughout the history of the Armenian people and the church,” said Levon Yezekian, a top linguistics professor from Yerevan State University. “I wouldn’t like this Catholicos to go down in church history for something different. This affair doesn’t bring him honor.”
The head of the Economics Institute, Vladimir Khojabekian, revealed that he and Jahukian had a two-hour audience with Garegin late last year, trying to persuade him to look for another location for his Yerevan residence. “He did not relent and insisted that the building be handed over to the Catholicosate,” Khojabekian said.
Khojabekian and Jahukian were among 42 members of the National Academy of Sciences who signed an open letter to President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian this spring, asking the government to reconsider the decision. They argued that the building in question has a historical value as it was the first headquarters of the Academy which it was set up by the government of Soviet Armenia in 1943.
The government is unlikely to back down, however. Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian has said that the Soviet-era building is in a seismically dangerous condition and will have to be torn down anyway.
Church officials, for their part, argue that the building was constructed in 1938 on the ashes of a medieval monastery destroyed by the Communist regime. Only one of its chapels was left to stand in what is now the building’s backyard. Garegin reportedly wants to incorporate the chapel into his future compound.