The ‘Afrikyants’ mansion is being demolished

Vigen Galstyan

In the last few days the social networking site Facebook as well as various online news outlets are heralding about the destruction of one of the most important secular architectural structures in Yerevan – the mansion of Afrikyan family built in the 1900s on what is now known as Teryan Street.

The house had survived many attempts by city officials and now by real-estate developers to demolish it: these that date back to the 1970s. Known for its impressive and unique facade with striking bas-reliefs decorating the entire span of its second floor, the Afrikyan mansion is perhaps one of the most successful of Art Nouveau buildings in the entire republic, very few examples of which have reached our days.

Only a few years ago, the building was included in the register of Historical Monuments of Yerevan and has a ‘National’ significance, which gives it special previlages according to which its preservation is guaranteed by the state. The architectural historian Marietta Gasparian described this building in her study of pre-Soviet architectural monuments of Yerevan, ‘Old Yerevan’ calling it ‘a wonderful example of painterly modernism’, citing in particular the expressiveness of its facade which contain – uniquely for architecture of Yerevan – figurative bas-reliefs.

The house was comissinioned by brothers Tigran, Yervand, Karapet and Harutyun Afrikyants in the early 1900s when the family opened a large number of businesses and factories in Yerevan, becoming one of the richest and most influential in the region. It was accordingly sub-divided into four apartments spread across two floors. Behind the facade is an open gallery that looks out onto a yard. Decorated with a finely designed wooden ballustrate and coloumns, it is one of the most ornate of its kind. At the back of the house were a number of other structures of small-industrial character and a well, none of which exist today. Also architecturaly interesting is the large basement floor spanning the entire length of the house. None of the original interior elements have been preserved. However, the elegantly curved, handcrafted wooden windowframes, doorways and other small architectural details indicate the extent of the once-lavish design. Also impressive is the metal ballustrate running along the stairs, which has been severly damaged over the years. While the name of the architect is unknown, it is most likely that it was designed by Vasiliy Mirzoyan (1863-1925) who was responsible for another Afrikyan mansion nearby. Another likely candidate is Boris Mehrabian (1870-19??) a number of whose known buildings in Yerevan include typical elements of Art Nouveau.

The fate of the house is as rich as is its decor. According to the local mythology and some of the residents, the house, after being nationalised by the newly-formed Soviet government was turned into KGB quarters and its large basement served as a dungeon. One can still see grafitti left by prisoners along its walls. At some point it also became a notorious bordello until it was settled by ten or so families who crammed into the tightly subdivided rooms. Nobody knows when the house was last renovated and by the early 2000s its sad state was obvious for everyone to see and despite its striking architectural qualities the building was not included on the register of historic monuments until recently.

Despite outliving the sad fate of its neighbours – all interesting houses from 19th century, all of which were demolished in the past ten years – the Afrikyan house seems destined to finally come down regardless of its status as a monument of national importance. The area has been overgrown by 10-12 storey bleak apartment blocks that have completely destroyed the historical environment and a new block, similar to the one opposite the mansion now is meant to go up in its place. When we turned to the city administration (via the mere’s official Facebook page) to find out whether any measures are being taken by the city council to preserve the building, the mere’s spokesperson Shushan Sardaryan confirmed that the “developer was given instructions to number and deconstruct the building with the aim of reconstructing it somewhere else”. Just where this ‘somewhere else’ is going to be nobody knows. The fact remains that the house is currently being quickly demolished and the facade has not been numbered and there are no known plans for its reconstruction elsewhere. The history of the real-estate development that is to take place on the site is tangled and murky. Initially permission was granted to ‘Dving Holding Ltd’ to develop the site and since 2006 this company has been involved in court cases with the residents who were offered ridiculously low ammounts of money for their property. This company had gone bunkrupt and the rights passed to a different organisation called ‘Millenium Construction’, which according to some sources has ties with the owners of ‘Dvin Holding Ltd’.

If in the best case, the facade is preserved, the likelyhood that it will be inserted into the body of the new building – just as we have seen recently in a number of newly constructed highrise apartment blocks on Pushkin and Arami streets – is very high. In this case, the original grandeur, charm and value of the building will be completely lost as its architectural distinction lay in its clever mixture of local and European traditions which can only be evident when seeing the entirety of the complex.

The demolition of this extraordinary structure without even a false attempt at its preservation (as was done with dozens of other monuments during the construction of Norther Avenue and other large development project nearby – almost none of which have been reconstructed since their deconstruction in the last decade) is not only a blatant violation of the law, but a severe blow to any hope for the future of all the historic monuments in the country. With the destruction (since anything but a full preservation and reconstruction of the building will be tantamount to a destruction) of the Afrikyan mansion a tragic precedent will be set for the few still existing remnants of 19th century secular architecture in Yerevan.

Currently a group of Facebook activists is trying to raise awareness within the public and the media, but so far the silence from either the Ministry of Culture or the Comitee of Historic Monuments is deafening since no official statement has been released

This entry was posted in REARK Archives. Bookmark the permalink.