“Public Addresses” research project by Karin Grigoryan

The question of public spaces is day by day becoming more acute in the major cities of Armenia. Official maps, plans and projects show another perspective, while in reality the public and green areas of the cities are subject to crude privatization. The research project Public Addresses focuses on the parks of Gyumri which were created in the 80s during the Soviet period and, as a result of the Spitak earthquake, have been turned into townships with tin houses, changing their significance not only out of necessity, but also ideologically.

The deep political and economical crisis in Armenia, which originated in the post soviet 90’s, today contributes to the awakening of civic consciousness and results in mass emigration. While the civic majority consists of those, who neither protest nor leave and for whom the notions of state and public seem profitable. This was not an unfamiliar phenomenon for the post soviet societies. It is well known that we inherited the bribe-demanding generations of Kreml and we replicate them as the creators of the new public order in Armenia. Today, it is difficult to find a political agenda in which the issue of Gyumri’s inhabited public spaces would be actual.

Yet,  is it worth questioning the present status and the future perspective of these huge and formerly green areas? It is hard to respond to this question or find someone responsible. It seems like the 90′s have remained in these areas with their disastrous agenda. Changes in public order, cultural production structures, technological values and political targets are almost non-visible in these areas, which appear out of time and space. But on the background of the ruins, it is impossible to overlook the new architecture of the city, created by oligarch authorities. Gyumri, being more miserable than ever because of its current situation, months  ago was proclaimed the cultural capital of the Republic of Armenia by a number of artists- for the sake of motherland glory and to the horror of the enemies.

Opposing to frozen social problems, the majestic building of the City Hall, its flags and crosses, several restaurants and hotels (which belong to the authorities), numerous sculptures of mythical heroes are able to create among the citizens a mood to either adapt or to emigrate. Those who live in domiks (tin houses) without having any other place to go and those who have added stone structures to their domiks over time, would like to privatize the living space together with the adjacent garden.

The Public addresses project examines two formerly public parks of Gyumri: Komeritmiutian Aygi (Komsomol, Young Communist League Park, about 200,000 sq. m.) and Eritasardakan Aygi (Youth Park, about 100.000 sq.m.). These parks are devided by Vazgen Sargsyan (formerly Leningradyan) street and end on Danielyan street. On Gyumri’s general plan, approved in 2005, these areas are marked in green/grey color, that is- they are not earmarked for construction or privatization. As the general plan underlines the city’s long-term development, all former parks are marked here in green, which means that any construction in these areas is forbidden by law.

As of 2012, there are numerous domiks in these parks (though some have been removed). No scavenging or cleaning is carried out in the surroundings, and previously green areas have been turned into scattered shrubberies. There is a layer of construction and household waste. The statue of a komsomol girl (aunt Zoya –as the locals call it) is preserved in the Komeritmiutyan park (Leningradyan- as  the locals call it). And the famous fountain (architect Arthur Tarkhanyan) is preserved in the Eritasardakan park (Fantanner- as the locals call it) together with traces of a fence and a pavement. Close to Vazgen Sargsyan street, in the Eritasardakan park, there is an ongoing construction of a water-storage basin; on the city’s general plan this area (about 2 hectare) is marked in red (energy, transport, communications, utility infrastructure facilities). In the same park, there are several enclosed areas that are either given up for temporary use or are privatized.

A lyrical digression: one could dream of constructing sidewalks for the settlers of these places, flowerpots and benches which invite people to sit down and have a rest.

According to the standards of urban planning, each man should be provided with 19 sq. m. of green area. The city’s population today is 100-105.000, according to the data provided by the Shirak center NGO, Gyumri. The number of voters for the local elections held on September 9, 2012 was about 126.500. Roughly calculating, the municipality should provide 2. 402.000 sq. m. green space for its voters alone. As architect Sashur Kalashyan argues, each citizen in Gyumri is provided with 2-3 sq.m. public green space. Unfortunately, no professional calculations with regard to Gyumri’s green spaces have so far been made accessible.

About 6200 homeless families are registered in Gyumri; the state provided houses for 3200 families. According to the news circulated among the residents, many people who get an apartment in the new district of Mush, put them up for sale to obtain the necessary sum to leave.

How do the people of Gyumri perceive the disaster and what kind of disaster do they see?  The truth is that the city is still half-destroyed. Unemployment prevails. In domik townships,  established in former public parks, alleys are transformed into paths that take home. For settlers who live on dusty roads and in garbage, life itself is a disaster, driven by a reproductive instinct.  Everything possible has been done to make the “life-as-a-disaster” rule over people so that the political system is able to gain from its inability to govern.

2012, Gyumri

See also the Public Addresses video

 

This project is funded by the European Union through the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme and
is realized in the frame of the EU project SPACES
www.spacesproject.net