Monuments Opposite Khachatur Abovian House-Museum

Author / Authors: 
Davit Stepanyan, Architect

Opposite the House-Museum of Khachatur Abovian, in the part of the street where some open space slightly falls behind the private houses of the neighbourhood, two almost identical silhouettes of walls stand, reflecting each other like a mirror. They look like two stone curtains which have severed from each other to show a performance lauding the natural world of Armenia.

The air space separating these walls, a distance of 3.5 metres, seems to be a peculiar “monitor” presenting an episode from the stormy world of nature.

This air space used to boast deep artistic expressiveness: the branches of the trees shaking in the wind, the birds twittering on them, the open sky and Mount Ararat were placed within a so-called frame formed by the walls. Water once flowing from a lateral stone protruding from the facet of each of the walls created a small canal in the narrow and extended stone part uniting the walls at their bottom. Now that years have passed since the erection of the monument, this “frame” continues serving the same purpose, emphasising the peculiarities of those times.
At present the trees are taller and richer in foliage, but the artistic view once offered by the so-called monitor has lost its aesthetic beauty to some extent due to the scenes of everyday life and an insignificant house, which now occupies a considerable part of the scene. The dried up canal has grown with grass. The “curtains” of stone are always open to passers-by as a truthful reflection of the reality.

Specific Features: 

Each of these walls, rising at a height of 4.3 metres, has a slanting facet, and thanks to their arrangement opposite each other, the “curtains” are perceived as bodies aiming at each other and not keeping away from one another.
If we get a mirror copy of each of the walls, with the slanting facets opposite each other, and examine only their silhouette, we shall have bodies repelling each other (photo 1).

In this case, the acute angles near the base widening at the bottom of the walls will express tension against each other, whereas the vertical facets will be able to easily touch each other (photo 3).
In the architecture of Old Greece, the proportions of the forms of buildings were in a corresponding relation with human figure: if viewed in this context, the walls would look like two insulted figures whose faces look in opposite directions, as if they are attempting to get away from each other (photo 1).

It should be noted that the bodies of the monument simply aim at each other: they do not hug each other and do not merge into one another. This would be the case if the facets placed opposite each other had a composition completing one another (photo 2), whereas in fact, they lack space enabling this (photo 3).

The selection of this very type of construction and body arrangement by architect Raphael Israelian is
fully substantiated.

In order to find out its reason, we should first and foremost analyse the contents of the monument, which are revealed through its details.

The upper part of the lateral facade of the wall on the left is adormed with a bas relief of a simple geometrical form, which is not an Armenian one: it comes from another region, its roots going into mythology.

Pagan Slavonians worshiped fire. In their myths, a witch named Zhizhal walked under the ground and erupted fire: if it was moderate, it warmed up the soil and created favourable conditions for a good harvest, but if it was fierce, it burnt away forests and gardens.

Like Hephaestus, the old Greek God of Fire, Zhizhal was the patron of crafts, and particularly, blacksmithing.

Fire was identified with hearth and associated with the concepts of a home and family. The symbol of fire, which was widely used especially on the national costume of various peoples, was also perceived as that of motherhood. Its central element is an octagonal star with stylised plant ornaments symbolising the essential role of mothers in the continuance of life and fertility.

The upper part of the lateral facade of the wall on the right is enriched with a relief of intertwined bunches of grapes and pomegranates hanging from branches, a purely Armenian decoration similarly symbolising fruitfulness.

These ornaments which have their origins in different cultures comprise the pivotal elements completing the general composition, which expresses a dialogue.

The upper part of the lateral facade of the wall on the left is also enriched with reliefs of waves carved beneath the Slavonian symbol: like a curling band, they continue on the principal facade of the wall, which is also adorned with a female figure in profile. The waves which create horizontal rhythms like lines seem to be rays emitted from her fluttering hair. A bird with a tail shaped like scissors, passes over the waves. A flying eagle is carved above the Armenian symbol on the wall on the right, while the band is blank. The Armenian woman embellishing the facade of this wall seems to be walking to meet the woman opposite her.

These reliefs vividly express the concept of friendship through female figures symbolising two nations. Unlike other similar monuments, in which the sister figures are depicted almost identically to avoid any bias and subjectivity, in this monument they are clearly different, each with her own accentuated peculiarities which are distinctly depicted through even the slightest means of expression.

The foreign woman has eyes of a light colour typical of the inhabitants of the north. This impression is created by two small elements in the conventional cut of the eye: the pupil which is carved in such a way as to leave little shady space for the eye-socket and look lighter, and the brow which isvery gently drawn, without any accentuation.

The Armenian woman is engraved without any eye pupils: her eyes are completely shaded and her thick brows are highly accentuated to strengthen the Oriental features of her face.

A closer view of the image of the Armenian woman reveals another delicate element: her dress is adorned with flowers which can hardly be discerned as they are not deeply carved, but simply gently drawn, in a free and naive mood of execution, like crosses often left on the walls of Armenian churches and monasteries by builders or pilgrims.

The image of the Armenian woman is made more cheerful and vigorous thanks to the bowl in her hand, which is adorned with a bunch of grapes and symbolises hospitality. It is evident that she is depicted as a hostess, as one who receives guests in her own homeland. She also has a psychological advantage over the northern woman as she is depicted in full face, the profile of the other woman acquiring somewhat a dramatic mood. Her face is not fully revealed, as if its other half is left beyond the sea waves. Instead, her two hands are clearly shown, with a flower of 12 petals carved near them and symbolisnig a gift brought by a guest. Balance between the left and right wings of the monument is achieved through the folds of the foreign woman’s dress and the thick band of sea waves.

Like other works designed by Israelian, this monument reflects the architect’s skill in meaningfully and harmoniously associating and connecting different themes and images.

In the Arch of Charents, Mount Ararat, in complete harmony with the lines quoted from the renowned poem Yes Im Anush Hayastani (lauding the blessings of the Armenian land and even the sufferings of the Armenian nation), creates a spiritual tie with the image of the prominent poet. In the monument opposite Khachatur Abovian House-Museum, the sacred Armenian mountain tells us about another of its celebrated sons, Khachatur Abovian, who is thought to have remained in its bosom, as he is traditionally believed not to have returned from his ascent of Ararat. The location of the monument opposite the House-Museum of Abovian is not by chance; nor are accidental the following lines engraved on its upper part: «ԱՅՍ ԱՂԲՅՈՒՐԻ ՊԵՍ ԵՎ ԱՐԱՐԱՏԻ ՆՄԱՆ ԹՈՂ ՀԱՎԵՐԺ ԼԻՆԻ ԷՍՏՈՆ ԵՎ ՀԱՅ ԺՈՂՈՎՈՒՐԴՆԵՐԻ ԲԱՐԵԿԱՄՈՒԹՅՈՒՆԸ, ՈՐԻ ՍԿԶԲՆԱՎՈՐՈՂՆ Է ԵՂԵԼ ԱԲՈՎՅԱՆՆ ԱՆՄԱՀ» [transl.: MAY THE FRIENDSHIP OF ESTONIAN AND ARMENIAN PEOPLES BE ETERNAL LIKE THIS SPRING AND ARARAT, FRIENDSHIP ESTABLISHED BY ABOVIAN, WHO IS IMMORTAL].

The dynamic composition of the monument and these lines, which sound quite clear and concise, skillfully reflect the transition from the “spring” (canal), connecting the walls and symbolising a bridge, to Ararat, from Ararat to Abovian, and from him to the friendship of the two nations.

The architect’s choice of the body arrangement of the monument becomes absolutely clear: the table-shaped walls standing opposite each other and aiming at one another express the concept of friendship between two countries, each of which sacredly keeps its identity with dignity, without assimilating into the other.

The information that follows below uncloses further details relating to the symbolic meaning of the monument.

Armeno-Estonian relations go back to the early 19th century, when Armenian students Khachatur Abovian, Stepanos Nazarian, Raphael and Kerovbe Patkanians, Gevorg Dodokhian, Gevorg Mirimanian and others received education at the University of Dorpat (nowadays: Tartu) in Estonia. It is noteworthy that such popular Armenian songs as Swallow (Dodokhian) and Girls of Armenia (Mirimanian) were composed at this university, one of the present-day auditoriums of which is named after Abovian.

The aforementioned bird flying over the waves, which decorates the Estonian Wall of the monument, is surely a swallow.

The village swallow, which is an Estonian national symbol, is a peculiar guest in Estonians’ homes, its twitter being heard from almost every cornice and barn. The bird can weave its cup-shaped nest even inside houses. The symbol of wisdom and cleanliness, it can even forecast weather. The selection of the village swallow as a national bird is the result of the propaganda unfolded by ornithologists in the early 60՛s. The bird is black and white, the colours of the Estonian flag.

Estonians also have another, floral, national symbol, a cornflower which is blue, the third colour of the Estonian flag. It has been growing in Estonia for more than 10,000 years, since the times of the first arrivals of humans in North Europe. The plant generally grows in fields of rye, this strongly associating it with daily bread in Estonians’ minds. The blue cornflower is also used in festive garlands borne by young Estonian ladies.

Most presumably, the flower of 12 petals carved close to the Estonian woman’s hand is a cornflower.

To complete the architectural analysis of the monument, let us dwell on the lateral stones jutting out of the wall facets, as their composition is especially noteworthy. As mentioned above, some years ago, water running from these stones formed a canal which served as a so-called bridge connecting the walls. Their forms, borrowed from classical architecture, are localised, organically blending with the new body formed through Armenian ornamental patterns. This witty trick is a perfect reflection of the principles Israelian, a follower of Tamanian School, generally applied in his works. Through this, his ideas and observations of the peculiarities of national Armenian architecture are re-interpreted and gain a new meaning:

Design and forms were presented in a new interpretation, however, always remaining purely Armenian. Moreover, architects of earlier days borrowed a lot of elements from the neighbouring peoples, but they re-elaborated and Armenianised all of them. [4]

Israelian wrote these lines with reference to Armenian architects of earlier days, but the same is also true of his principles and approaches, the monument dedicated to the friendship of Armenian and Estonian nations being a vivid manifestation of this.

Related Images