The vineyard on the hill

The vineyard on the hill

During the last century, both Soviet Armenia and later the newly established Republic of Armenia went through many hardships whose witness and direct participant became the building built in the place of a vineyard on a hill far from the city center, which we all know today as the National Assembly building of Armenia. Journalist Mark Grigoryan, the grandson of the author of the building and the former chief architect of Yerevan, Mark Grigoryan, sat down with YEREVAN to speak about the past and current history of the building.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : Armenpress, Mark Grigoryan's family archive 

 

Mark Grigoryan


Far from the Republic Square

One summer day in 1847, Yerevan’s chief architect at the time Mark Grigoryan received a phone call. CPCC Secretary Grigory Arutinov’s assistant was on the other end of the line. He told Mark Grigoryan that the governor was inviting him to a walk.

As they were walking, they bypassed the summer houses and approached a bare hill with a vineyard on one side. Arutinov had envisioned the future building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party erected on the place of the vineyard and told Grigoryan about his idea.

The architect was surprised. First, in the place of today’s Baghramyan avenue there was just a narrow street then with summer houses on both sides; second, it was far from the city center; and finally, the Republic square was not even seen from that point. How was it possible to govern the whole republic from that part? But Arutinov wanted to prove that the Communist Party could govern the country from any point.

Mark Grigoryan started designing the building. In just three years, the building was erected and the staff of the Central Committee moved in.

Mark Grigoryan’s sketches of the future building

 

The charm of light color

The National Assembly building is the embodiment of the best solutions of classical architecture of those years reminding of the architecture and style of the Italian Renaissance period. “This building has the charm of the light color stone, and though Yerevan is called rose city, it can be successfully called also a terracotta city,” says Mark Grigoryan Jr., “Just imagine the extent of skillfulness of the architect to have created a monumental building in traditional Greek style which is entirely Armenian. It’s beyond doubt for everyone that the building is national. This is the mastery.”

Years later, the National Assembly building got renovated. Decades after its construction, they found that the building no longer met the growing bureaucratic requirements, and in the early 80s reconstruction was initiated by Karen Demirchyan; the session hall and the canteen were added, the number of offices was increased, and a separate entrance was created to lead to the first secretary’s office. The reconstruction was completed in 1985.

NA’s building was built on the place of the old vineyard on the hill 

 

Three years later, in 1988, Sumgait massacres, and the first Artsakh war started. “This building has gone through several critical events, periods and social cataclysms,” Mark Grigoryan recalls, “Every black cloud passing over the country has definitely poured down on the roof of this building."

The already weakened Central Committee continued to operate in the building, while the seat of the Supreme Council became Baghramyan 26.

 

From CC to NA

When a decision was made to reduce the influence of the Central Committee, a question had risen as to what to do with the building which had all the facilities for the activities of the Supreme Council. However, the Communist Party was not willing to give up its seat, and the Supreme Council was offered to occupy another building – the current building of the American University (which, by the way, is also designed by Mark Grigoryan). The Supreme Council moved to the building of the Central Committee (CC), where, a few years later, it was renamed National Assembly.

During the following years, the building witnessed tragic events again: in 1996, a group of citizens dissatisfied with the presidential elections broke into the building; on October 27, 1999 – one of the most painful days in the modern history of Armenia – a group of gunmen assassinated several high-ranking members of the governing body.

Years later, the assembly hall, where these events had taken place, changed its looks completely as if trying to forget the past. It became more convenient, the rectangular edges turned round, and the journalists moved to the other end of the glass windows. The hall was reopened in 2010. The designer of the new Assembly Hall is Anahit Tarkhanyan.

“From an architectural point of view, as long as the overall appearance of the building is not distorted, and all the additions are made from behind the main doors, I don’t see any problem,” says Mark Grigoryan Jr.

The pond in front of the NA building, 1960’s

 

Transfigurations

During those years, however, some changes were made which Mark Grigoryan never accepted; e.g. the exterior of the pond in front of the National Assembly building went through some changes, which he considers simply an expression of bad taste. According to Mr. Grigoryan, the change that was made in just half a day, isn’t the least congruous with the image of the National Assembly building. Initially, the pond was constructed to provide fire-fighting system. Until the 1940s, a fire water pond used to be installed next to every house or even on its roof to be used in case of fire.

The pond in front of the National Assembly building, a clear ground-level water mirror, was designed for the same purpose. But in 2020, it was tiled, the borders were decorated with carved ornaments, and a crown-like metal decoration was installed in the center. The complaints of the architect’s grandson were of no use, and the exterior remained as such.

Today, it’s obvious that the building needs renovation; the wooden windows need to be changed, and a number of other works needs to be carried out. In addition, over the years, the interior of personal offices has changed and become different, expressing the taste of each person staying there, and is, in some cases, anti-aesthetic.

Mark Grigoryan junior

 

By the way, still during his grandfather's lifetime, Grigoryan Jr., too, had had his contribution in completing the exterior of the building, or rather, not the building itself, but the police station next to the gate, which is still operating and is used as an entrance. “I was at school then, one day my grandfather came home and put some drawings of police station lobbies on the table in front of me and asked which one I’d choose. I said I didn’t like any of them and that I’d prefer the combination of both options. Then, I drew on a piece of paper what I meant and gave it to him. Guess what? He turned it into a professional drawing, and the police station got constructed according to that option,” recalls Mr. Grigoryan.

 

A symbol of trust in the authorities

A large part of the charm of the National Assembly building belongs to its surrounding park. There used to be a greenhouse in the area, where the most beautiful carnations used to grow. This solution had an economical purpose: there was no need to spend state money on buying flowers for the guests.

After the Independence, when the Supreme Council moved to that building, the chairman of the Council, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, decided to open the park to the citizens. However, weeks later, the situation got a little out of control. One day, the employees came and saw a coffin placed in front of the main entrance. It turned out that a murder had taken place in the city, and the relatives of the victim had brought the coffin and placed it in front of the building as a demand for justice. On another occasion, sheets appeared there; people were protesting again. As a result, the park was closed.

Mark Grigoryan (on the right) on the construction site

 

The park reopened in 2018, but today it’s closed again. “I am a great supporter of opening the park so the people can enjoy it, because, eventually, it’s not created only for a group of deputies. The park belongs to everyone,” says Mark Grigoryan, “But something else must be considered here. Whether the park is open or closed has become an indicator for the level of people’s trust in the government. As long as the attitude is fine, the garden is open, when the attitude deteriorates, the garden closes its doors again.”

One can only hope that in the near future the park will become a public place again, and the NA building won’t be that far.

 

Mark Grigoryan (1900-1978)

Mark Grigoryan was born in New Nakhichevan, Russian Empire. In 1928 he graduated from the Department of Architecture of Yerevan State University. In 1937-1951 he was the chief architect of Yerevan, in 1951-1978 he was the director of the Hayardnakhagits Institute. In 1951 he supervised the design of the general plan of Yerevan, made the general plan of Hrazdan city for 1961-1963. Besides the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, among other significant works are the building of the Hotel Armenia on Republic Square (co-author: E. Sarapyan), the Union Building, the Matenadaran building, the Presidential residence (26 Baghramyan), the Margaryan maternity hospital, and the Actors’ residential building on Mashtots Avenue.