A recent op-ed republished in The Armenian Weekly by Garo Armenian has called attention to the considerable pressure on heritage in contemporary Armenia. Spurred by the recent sale of the Marzahamergayin Hamalir, an event complex on Tsitsernakaberd (adjacent to the Armenian Genocide Memorial), the author lists a series of development projects that threaten the integrity of historic Yerevan. A pizza parlor in Government House, a shopping complex on Aram Manougian's home site, the foreign ministry building privatized (mention could also have been made of concerns for the impact of the north-south highway on the archaeological remains of Karmir Blur).
The author is undoubtedly correct in diagnosing the forces of economic development as serious potential threats to the material fabric of memory. As an archaeologist, I can attest that the redevelopment of Yerevan's historic architectural heritage is just the tip of the iceberg. Across Armenia, a vast number of archaeological sites are under constant threat of destruction. The forces at work are not simply new building projects, pipelines, or highways, they are also the everyday destruction that comes from fields being cleared, wells dug, and village cemeteries expanded (to say nothing of the small-scale looting that brings artifacts to Vernisage every weekend).
While the picture the Armenian Weekly paints is bleak, there are reasons for hope. The Aragats Foundation sees heritage preservation and economic development not as opposed forces but rather as partners in the shared effort to improve lives. That includes sustaining and nurturing the material remains of collective memory. The Aragats Foundation offers a model for joining research and preservation to development and education. If research and preservation bring the past to life, it is education and development that make that life worth living.
A call to President Sarkisyan could entail not only a general plea to save the things of collective memory but also a call to bolster the work of the many organizations in Armenia that, like the Aragats Foundaiton, are working to bring heritage and development into productive partnerships, such as the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, the Armenian Monuments Awareness Project, and our sister organization, the Aragats Cultural Heritage Foundation. With the support of communities across Armenia and around the globe, these organizations can do great things to not only save Armenia's collective memory, but to open it to the world.