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Vernacular districts of Yerevan: Kond, place of erased history

20:25, June 11

Kond, an area that literally translates as “hill,” rises high in the heart of Yerevan.

It is difficult to find a person who, living in Armenia, has not heard anything about Kond. There is a lot of controversy around it. Some call it a slum area where poverty and, as a result, crime reigns, while others praise its historical significance as the oldest area of the Armenian capital city. Of course, these are not Italian favelas, but Kond still has its own flavor.

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This was once an area in the city center with a unique history; but today all that remains of it are slums with private houses behind high fences. Only a few buildings are of architectural value; the rest are temporary buildings and dilapidated houses—sometimes even without heating or water supply.

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For many years there has been a discussion about the reconstruction of Kond and its liquidation. While people are arguing on the matter, one-third of the area is already surrounded by construction sites and bulldozers systematically clearing everything in their path.

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Founded around the 17th century, tiny Kond, covering less than a square kilometer, today has only historical value. The last time construction was organized in Kond was in the 1680s, and now its modern appearance is made up of buildings built on the foundations of the previous ones.

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Some of the most ancient echoes of the past in Kond are the Church of St. Hovhannes Mkrtich, built in the 7th century and restored, as well as the ruins of the Taba Pasha Mosque, built in 1687.

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Labyrinths of roads constantly force us to wind and choose a direction, standing at a crossroads. Kond itself is that crossroads: stay in the past or move on? Is it time to scatter or collect stones?

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Numerous graffiti on the dilapidated walls of houses attract attention to them that was not there before. During our walk, we met with two tour groups: the enthusiastic faces of foreigners were interrupted by the drowned faces of locals. The first turn their heads to the sides like owls, whereas the second look disapprovingly at strangers—which we happen to be.

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Only the noisy children rejoice at the guests of the area, as this is an opportunity to say something in Russian. A boy of about 7 confidently runs up to us and says with anticipation:

-Say three!

-Three.

The boy takes a deep breath and answers, completely happy:

-Wipe your snot!

He instantly bursts into a loud cackle and runs away, proudly telling his friends about his courage. The street is filled with a symphony of children’s laughter; it reaches and infects us because God knows how long this little boy has been preparing for such an important moment in his life.

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Many Yerevan residents consider Kond to be a separate and unfriendly area. At the same time, however, the Kond residents themselves are also hiding from the whole world behind the high fences of their houses, looking disapprovingly at the guests of the area. The two worlds intersect and conflict with each other in everything: in architecture, in culture, in worldview—and even in attitude towards themselves.

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The most eloquent words are those that are not spoken. The attitude of locals to history and their area is reflected by two facts: the restored Church of St. Hovhannes Mkrtich is surrounded by a lush garden of plants and flowers, in the shade of trees you can take a break from the summer heat by picking an apple from a branch, and on the walls of the ancient ruins of a Persian mosque among archival historical photographs of its former beauty. The building proudly displays a sign saying “freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.”

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After many hours of walking under the watchful gaze of a guard, we return to the Yerevan of the present, but the question does not leave my mind: is it worth fighting to preserve in Kond what is not recognized and not valued by its residents themselves?

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So, is it time to scatter the stones, or try to collect them again? Say three.

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Regina Melikyan

Photos by Nastya Shevchenko


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