“In my opinion, In my view, heritage is all about one’s identity” – the word and deed of Ruben Vardanyan who restores and builds temples and monasteries
Pythagoras taught, ‘People run in every direction meeting sorrow after sorrow. Why? Because they’re disconnected from themselves’. W.B. Yeats’s famous line describes the humanity of today excellently, ‘Things fall apart, the center cannot hold’. Still, there must be something that can prevent the human civilization from collapsing. Wealth or power cannot, as everyone’s life is to sink into the Lethe. Then, how can we preserve our identity, the awareness of being part of a whole, and let our children inherit a world, not of material but true values? Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, a co-founder of the International Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, the initiator, a co-founder, and the first President of Moscow Skolkovo School Of Management discourses upon heritage for World Bridge in his column “Delivering Water of Life, Warming It Up In Your Hands“.
It is published here in a short version.
In my view, heritage is all about one’s identity. Losing it is a threat all nations of the world are facing today. We keep ours, among other things, by restoring historical and cultural monuments. The most well-known project of the kind, my business partners and I’ve been on, is reconstructing Tatev Monastery in Armenia. The Armenians have left a rich spiritual and cultural heritage all over the world. We take pride in the Armenian Quarter, one of the four – the other three being the Jewish, the Christian, and the Muslim Quarters – in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Armenian Quarter cannot survive by itself so we must maintain it if we want our children to be proud of it too, and if we are to retain our identity and let the Armenian heritage, created for centuries, be of use and bring joy not only to us but to the rest of mankind as well.
In Tbilisi, Georgia, we’ve restored St. George’s Church, the local cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the burial ground of Sayat-Nova, a famous Armenian ashugh – singer-poet & bard — who wrote his poetry in Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani. Count Mikhail Tarielovich Loris-Melikov’s tomb is there too. This outstanding Russian-Armenian statesman served as Minister of the Interior at the end of Russian Emperor Alexander II’s rule. He proposed a political reform suggesting steps towards a constitutional monarchy. On 1st March 1881 (Old Style, 13th — New Style), the Emperor told Loris-Melikov the Council of Ministers would discuss his project in four days. Two hours later, Alexander II was assassinated, and the reform, regretfully, was never implemented. For many years, Count Loris-Melikov’s tomb was abandoned, so we’ve seen to its restoration.
By the way, we’ve also had a unique collection of Sayat-Nova’s lyric poetry published in Armenian, Georgian, and Russian, and the Russian translations by Valery Bryusov, Mikhail Lozinsky, Arseny Tarkovsky, Sergey Shervinsky, and other masters were reissued for the first time since the 1980s. Publishing books on Armenian history and culture, the Armenian language, and the Armenian Genocide is also our input into keeping up and strengthening our heritage and identity.
In Venice, for example, we’ve helped restore the library of the Mekhitarists, the Armenian monastic order based on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, i.e., ‘Saint Lazarus of the Armenians.’ The monastery has existed for over 300 years, and its library’s one of the most famous archives of ancient manuscripts. In 2015, we supported the Republic of Armenia’s National Pavilion, participating in the 56th Venice Biennale. Saint Lazarus Island housed the Pavilion, which was awarded a Golden Lion. Our latest Aurora Prize Ceremony — the Prize was co-founded by Noubar Afeyan and the recently deceased Vartan Gregorian – took place on the island in October 2021. And another fact of San Lazzaro degli Armeni’s history is worth mentioning: Lord Byron spent six months there and learnt the Armenian language in the meantime. So, Saint Lazarus Island is, indeed, a unique place bridging times and cultures.
In Singapore, we’ve helped the local Armenian community maintain their church, the oldest in the area. Another similar project was restoring a cathedral in New Julfa, the Armenian Quarter of Isfahan, Iran, a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Few nations possess such a cultural and spiritual wealth as ours, so taking care of it is our great responsibility.
We try to preserve our history and create new symbols of our identity, eagerly sought-after by the Armenians and representatives of other cultures.
Not only do we support the existing heritage, but we also add to it. In 2013, the Armenian Temple Complex was built with philanthropists’ money in Moscow’s Olympiysky Prospect. The Complex features an educational facility, a guest house, and the Armenian Museum of Moscow and National Cultures. An educational and cultural center is to be established at St. George’s Church in Tbilisi. Thus, we try to preserve our history and create new symbols of our identity, eagerly sought-after by the Armenians and representatives of other cultures.
I am sure this bright childhood memory is a model of the world our children and their children’s children must have for life.
We take good care not only of our heritage but that of other nations as well, notably, not just Christian but also Muslim. For instance, a friend of mine and I’ve had an old mosque in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh, restored. Working on this project, I couldn’t help recalling visiting my maternal Granny and her relatives in Tbilisi. She lived in a large house with a big balcony and a sizable yard under it, inhabited by Kurds, Jews, Georgians, and Germans. And while ascending to her second floor, you would get kissed by everybody you met, and your pockets would be filled with gifts – a warm welcome into a large family. I am sure this bright childhood memory is a model of the world our children and their children’s children must have for life. So, to hand over what you’ve got to the coming generations, you must carefully and lovingly, warming it up in your hands, deliver to them the most important thing – a world of true values.
Photo by Sputnik Armenia