Shengavit museum project continues fundraising effort

Published: Saturday May 25, 2013

From left: Dr. Arshak Balayan, translator; Mr. Vladimir Tshagharyan, Shengavit Director; Dr. Mitchell Rothman, archaeologist, Widener University, PA; Dr. Susan Pattie, ALMA director.

Watertown, Mass. - Vladimir Tshagharyan, director of the Shengavit Historical and Archeological Preserve in Yerevan, gave an illustrated presentation on the Shengavit Preserve at the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) in Watertown on April 12.

The event was organized by the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) as part of its participation in the Cambridge Science Festival. CYSCA was joined in this effort by ALMA and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

Mr. Tshagharyan came to the Boston area at the invitation of CYSCA, which has established a project to help preserve and restore Shengavit. Tshagharyan's presentation and the following discussion were moderated by Dr. Susan Pattie, anthropologist and director of ALMA. Joining in the discussion was Dr. Mitchell Rothman, Professor of Anthropology at Widener University in Pennsylvania, who has spent several seasons excavating at Shengavit and intends to publish a monograph on the site. Rothman followed up Tshagharyan's presentation with a talk on the significance of Shengavit within the wider context of "Shengavit" or "Kura-Araxes" civilizations.

Shengavit was the first Stone Age settlement discovered in Armenia, located south-east of Lake Yerevan, across from the US Embassy. It was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium BCE, and continued to be occupied for over a thousand years. Among the remains recovered from the site are obsidian stone tools, weapons such as mace heads and bone knives, burnished clay pots, small statues, and even wheat flour which has stood the test of time.

The Shengavit site was first excavated in 1936 by Eugeni Bayburtian (1898-1938) and Joseph Orbelli (1887-1961). Bayburtian's work on Shengavit was regrettably cut short in 1938, when he was exiled to Siberia and subsequently executed as part of Stalin's Great Purge; his writings were forbidden, and were discovered again only a decade ago. Excavations of Shengavit were resumed in the 1950s under Sandro Sardaryan (1912-1995) and then again in recent years under Hakob Simonyan and Mitchell Rothman.

It is only in recent years that Shengavit has begun to receive much of the attention that it deserves, brought about largely through the tireless efforts of Tshagharyan and the continued support of CYSCA. As a result of Tshagharyan's persistence, two hospitals that had been built upon the preserve returned a portion their plots to Shengavit, which now enjoys an area of 5 ½ hectares. A fence has been built around a portion of the site and policemen are now on guard to protect the area. The Shengavit museum, made up of an old military barracks and closed for more than two decades, was reopened in 2010. In 2012, Shengavit was paid a visit by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and U.S. Ambassador John Heffern. Although Shengavit is still unknown to many of the citizens of Yerevan, and there are not yet many tourists due to a lack of visitor facilities, it is hoped that the situation will improve with the continued support of CYSCA.

CYSCA continued its involvement in the Cambridge Science Festival at the Cambridge Public Library on the afternoon of Saturday, April 13. CYSCA's presence at the Festival centered on the Armenia Tree Project (ATP), an environmental organization that has been instrumental in the reforestation of Armenia since 1994. ATP has planted and restored more than 4 million trees in Armenia, creating numerous jobs for impoverished Armenians through its tree-regeneration programs. Also featured at the Festival was ATP's Building Bridges Program, an environmental education program seeking to "build bridges" between Armenian students in the Diaspora and their peers in Armenia. As part of this effort to connect Armenian and American students with their environmental heritage, CYSCA's booth exhibited some of the activities of the Ohanyan School in Yerevan, including costumes and dolls woven from recycled garbage bags.

For more on these various projects, see www.cysca.org and www.armeniatree.org.

Shengavit director hosted by Knights and Daughters of Vartan in Worcester

On April 29 Mr. Tshagharyan was hosted at a joint dinner meeting of Knights Of Vartan Arshavir Lodge No.2 and the Daughters Of Vartan Santoukht Otyag No. 5. About 100 people attended the illustrated talk at the Armenian Church Of Our Saviour in Worcester. Dr. Tigran Dolukhanyan translated Tshagharyan's comments which were in Armenian.

Prior to the talk, Worcester's Mayor Joseph Petty presented the key to the city to Mr. Tshagharyan and praised Tshagharyan's effort at preserving Armenia's historical heritage and cultural legacy. In return, Mr. Tshagharyan presented the mayor with a book on Yerevan (in English) together with a desktop Armenian flag and a flag with Yerevan's insignia. He invited the mayor to visit Yerevan as his guest.

The oldest layer of the Shengavit archaeological site is a Neolithic settlement (late Stone Age) with remains of buildings and artifacts from the daily living of its inhabitants dating to 3500-4000 BC. Since that time the site has been continuously inhabited, later becoming part of the Urartun Empire, and then part of the early Armenian kingdoms. The site has revealed ancient homes of the inhabitants, tools, animal bones, grave sites, and flour which amazingly have been preserved to this date. Mr. Tshagharyan described the history of the site and its importance for the study of regional civilization as Shengavit had cultural and trade relations over a wide area.

 

Mr. Tshagharyan has been director of the site for about 3 years and has extensive experience in managing Armenia's ancient historic monuments. Shengavit was originally excavated in the 1930 but most recently has been largely ignored with zero funding by both the Armenia and Yerevan governments. During the last few years excavations have resumed there but with no funding for maintaining the site, including its small but interesting museum. About two years ago the Cambridge Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) initiated a plan to financially help with site preservation and renovation. Since that time much progress has been made but much more needs to be done to make the site visitor friendly.

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Aleppo citadel - site of the AGBU celebration in Oct. 2008 (pictured) - is now in ruins. AGBU

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The uncertain fate of Armenian communities in the Middle East and particularly in Aleppo will be discussed on Sept. 29 in LA and Oct. 9 in Boston; for details about these and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.