Anton Merkurov:

Anton Merkurov:

“It’s a cool city, let’s work and develop it”

Regional Post talked to the Moscow based IT specialist Anton Merkurov, who is the great-grandson of prominent Soviet sculptor-monumentalist Sergey Merkurov. For several years Anton has been engaged in the promotion of The Merkurov House Museum located in Gyumri. Anton is sure that Gyumri can fully compete with Yerevan as the country’s touristic center.

Text : Artavazd Yeghiazaryan / Photos : Arshak Manukian


Anton, tell us about your personal relationship with Gyumri. When did you visit Gyumri for the first time and what was the reason?

I went to Gyumri in the summer of 2012. I combined my personal and professional issues. I met with museum workers and told them about the possibilities of using the Internet during their everyday work. This was the professional issue. The personal issue was that one of the seminars was held in the house where my great-grandfather Sergey Merkurov was born, which eventually became the museum. Since then, I have been trying to visit Gyumri more frequently.

What did you expect to see there? What was your impression of the city?

I did not have any expectations and my impressions were mostly emotional. My expectations are not so important. The most important thing is my desire to act and develop.

Considering your engagement in the activities of Merkurov’s House Museum, in fact, you come to Gyumri both as a ‘son of the nation’ and on business. In this regard, what are the most important issues in both Gyumri and Armenia that need to change and improvemen?

I do not want to recount and repeat the obvious issues about the city and the region again. There are a number of economic, infrastructural and social issues. In some cases we see the solution. For instance, I have some personal concerns about the museum. This is mainly a local issue. There are a number of such stories, everyone minds their own business. There are some global issues within the country and many individuals and organizations do important things that contribute to the further improvement. But there is a city in between the country and our house and some issues are being solved. A few years ago, when nothing happened in Russia, I was thinking about bringing an affordable airline to Gyumri. Something went wrong, but currently we expect ‘Pobeda’ to fly to Shirak Airport. This will expose the country to another point of view.

What is the exact potential of Gyumri? Can it actually compete with Yerevan in terms of tourism and economy? And where should we start?

A year ago, together with bloggers from Moscow we visited the United World College, where the founders of Dilijan Development Foundation presented the country’s development plan. The development plan was first implemented in Yerevan and continued to Tatev and Dilijan. On the map where Gyumri was placed it was written “Planned for the Development”. It just struck me because according to its parameters, Gyumri possesses a great potential. Tourism is the most immediate point for further development. There are many places in Gyumri to stay and see. Gyumri can and must compete with Yerevan. There is an airport where a number of different types of aircrafts can land. It has two wonderful routes to Yerevan and Vanadzor. The cultural potential of the city is huge.
I like the idea that “Gyumri is the cultural capital of Armenia”. Maybe it does not fully meet the ‘Leninakanian’ type, but there are a few schools, many sculptors and craftsmen in Gyumri. Taking into consideration that Gyumri is a city with a difficult history, I think that only art and creativity can break the stereotype. Industry does not have so many positive connotations.
So, answering your question regarding starting, I realize that everyone considers the issues according to his or her professional perspective. I deal with media and communications, these are my tools. There are a number of groups on social media, uniting people, telling citizens and foreigners about the life of the city. The process has already begun without my presence or participation. For me, the most important things are the start and the progression, the discussions and the involvement of more people. Sooner or later it will find the right course. I have already noticed the progress and maybe the process is slower than I would like it to be, but that is fine.

Your plan is quite ambitious and it needs the cooperation of the authorities (urban redevelopment, redevelopment of infrastructure etc). Have you already had contact with them? Do you have so-called ‘inside’ support?

My mission is to involve different people and spread the word. Look, here is Gyumri, a cool city, let`s work and develop it. It is interesting for the experts of the field and for the Diaspora to be involved in an ambitious project despite their occupation. Each professional can become useful. Conscientious expertise is very important for urban administration. Residents need clear solutions that will make their lives easier. Business needs transparent investment projects. I can assure you that everyone supports us. When we encounter disputes, we will discuss, persuade and find compromises. I see no problems; each of us wants Gyumri to become a steadily developing city.

Are there any similiar examples of city revival in the world?

There are examples of cities that have been built up from a zero base. Of course, it is easier to build from a zero base than to restore the existing city. In our case there is a city, we have to understand its visualization and implement our plans. And we can do it!