Please watch this video before reading the analysis.
On April 13, 1991 Lenin’s huge statue was dismantled in the Republic Square (known as Lenin Square at that time). For many people this event was one more symbolic act of throwing off the Soviet Union tyranny. But this was even more, this was the termination of the totalitarian process in Armenia, the victory of justice against the system built on violence and lie.
First of all let us try to understand who Vladimir Ilyichwas in reality and who he was for Soviet peoples.
Russian revolutionary figure and Bolshevik, leader of the October Revolution, the head of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic and the actual head of the USSR since 1922, a figure who strove for world revolution and propagated its impending arrival, and as the history showedto make his dreams and unrealistic goals to come true, he worked out and applied completely false, fictitious and nonviable system, which became the reason of death for millions of innocent people and of aimless mutation of socio-political system throughout the continent.
That revolutionary doctrine was called “marxism-leninism” because of the changes in theMarxist philosophy made by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s historical performance along with the influence on Armenia and Armenians can be summarized with the following two points:
- as a result of criminal agreement with Kemalist Turkey the extradition of Surmalu and Kars provinces to the latter which werean integral part of Eastern Armenia (Russian Empire),
- the destruction of the first Republic of Armenia.
The perception of Lenin’s image was totally different both in the USSR and in the ASSR. If we try to leave current political classifications aside and give a little bit philosophical description to the USSR, we will find some common features between USSR and ancient Eastern theocratic monarchies (British economist J. Keynes noticed similarities between Leninism/communism and religious sects, and you can read his article on this here).
Here Lenin’s image was the main deity, Lenin’sstatues were everywhere and were decorating especially central squares and streets of all cities (which were also named after him), and thecommunist party was priest’s class which was considered to be infallible and more powerful institution than the executive one.
The leaders of the latter i.e. the members of the Politburo were basically high priests, decrepit old men who were considered to be the followers of God’s i.e. Lenin’s mission on earth. They were more powerful than courts and government sectors enjoying totalitarian power.
An ordinary man had no rights, s/he had to be constantlyafraid of the system and had to become the main participant of the totalitarian process, play his/her role in that social self-deception process (to take part in absurd meetings, ceremonies and scan “proletariats of all the countries, come together” expression, the meaning and the aim of the expressions were not clear and interesting for them).
In essence, human dignity and self-perception were reduced to the bestial level and ordinary citizensweredeprived of all kinds of potential in socio-political processes: s/he had to have only an orientation appropriate to the party.
Like any religion, this one also promised bright and qualitatively different future i.e. communism, which had its rituals and intentions (party conferences, self-criticism, professional councils, congresses, meetings, etc.).
Lenin’s image was idolized due to this kind of mentality, his actions were irreproachable and his superhuman abilities were presented with the highest level (stories about Lenin’s unusual great brain or the exceptional abilities of his brain) his (and antecedent communist theorists) written heritage reached the level of scripture, everything e.g. art, culture and science were adapted and took place in his writings[i].
The author shows the similarities between communism and religious sects being fully aware that the theory of communism entirely denies the existence of supernaturality, but it does not hinder our approach to call communism as a religious sect, as for the theorist religion first of all is a control system full of specific ontological approaches (usually totalitarian system).
In ASSR all these reached with the weakest and provincial distinctions[ii]. The reasons were the nationalism which was spread in Armenia, vividly established organic bond with its own history, strained relations with neighbors, national psychological trauma, the underdevelopment of local political culture, pragmatism. As a result the hero never acquired such characteristics in Armenia as in other soviet states. Here Lenin had become the symbol of regime, communism and country, a symbol which seemed to be eternal, inviolable and omnipotent.For this reason we again deal with a certain kind of sacralization.
Let us return to the statue which was placed in the central square of Yerevan. The decision of erecting the statue of people’s leader was made back in 1924 during the ceremonies related to Lenin’s death. However, it was erected in the square named after him only on November 24, 1940 on the 20th anniversary of sovietization of Armenia. It was made of bronze and granite. The statue was 7.5 meters in height, the sculptor was Sergey Merkurov and the architect was LevonVardanyan.
According to Mark Grigoryan during negotiations Merkurov suggested to make molded copper statue. The proposal was approved by the academician Joseph Orbeli who was in Yerevan during that period. In the summer of 1939 Paremuzova and Vartanov started to work on the drawings of pedestal. The architects made the required drawings in a very short period of time. The drawings of separate parts proved their detailed work, for example, according to Paremuzova’s drawing two outer copper doors which led to governmental platforms. The very typical Armenian decoration of the doors was taken from Gosh’skhachkars (cross stones). Thus, we can state that all the solutions and details of the statue were Armenian, besides the statue itself and the ideological symbol of it.
It seemed that Yerevan statue of Lenin should stand for centuries, but the situation has changed overtime. Turbulent times connected with the monument began at the end of the80s and at the beginning of the 90s of the previous century. In February 1991 the participants of the rally who were supporters of independence poured paint on the statue. One night they put an explosive near the back door and destroyed the metal door.
The decision of removing the statue was made on March 28 during the meeting of Yerevan city council. Almost all the democratic deputies voted unanimously in favor of dismantling the statue and ordered the city council executive committee “to finish the works of dismantling till April 22, 1991”.
A piece of memories of national gallery employee KimaMkrtchyan: “It was initially announced that Lenin’s statue would be dismantled at 17:00 pm. The weather was warm. A large number of people gathered in the square. It seemed that the statue should be removed completely and when only the head was removed from the statue, laughter was heard in the square. Then the body of the statue was dismantled from the pedestal. At that moment sounds of opening the bottles of champagne were heard in the air. People celebrated “Lenin’s collapse”… “Lenin crossed the square which once was named after him, in order to find an inglorious place in the yard of the Museum”.
Actually people watched a unique scene: the death of God. What once was considered to be immortal was being destroyed, the symbol of everything in which they were taught to believe was also being destroyed,fetish of ideas sowed during their whole life was being destroyedtoo.
All this thickened those excited, confused and embarrassed looks, which we could see in the video. Even from those black and white scenes it is obvious how tensethe atmosphere was, what kind of great change it was for contemporaries. Lenin’s statue was beheaded because of technical problems and did not have a symbolic value for the dismantlement of the statue, but as the reaction of crowd showed, it was perceived in that way.
What happened on April 13 in Yerevan was more than just dismantling of a statue. It was unique crown of the memories of the past and the signal of building something new. One can only guess how many times “Immortal Lenin” expression has been sounded in that square, how many times his “eternal” vivid remembrance has been honored.Nevertheless, it was his Armenian death.
Artists can argue and speak about the high artistic value and significance of the statue in the Armenian sculpture, criticize especially the dismantling of the pedestal and it may even seem to them that they are right, but the mistake is more global.
The primary goal of erecting such kind of statue is not artistic, but pure ideological and its dismantling has an ideological value too. In our opinion it was not convenient for the pedestal to stand there because it would not be suitable for the new statue neither in technical, nor inideological purposes and we do not consider it appropriatefor theempty pedestal to stand there too. It is interesting that A. Tamanian had noticed and tried to weaken the above mentioned totalitarian ideological context.
The square was constructed in such a way that there were two main points: Lenin’s statue and the building of theHistory Museum of Armenia. But the high drum of Museum had an obvious dominant role on the whole composition of the square, subordinating the Soviet-Lenin legend to the Armenian history and the idea of Armenia. Later on developing in culture, this discourse should obtain its economic and political branches.
In the ASSR almost all the prominent figures from about all areas were Armenian-centered for whom the trait of Armenia and not the party trait was primary (although the trait of Armenia was often reduced to the level of ethnic nationalism). Thus, it should be stated that cultural way of thinking of the ASSR was basically contrary to the soviet one, preferring the Armenian one. The final victory of this mentality over the soviet one can be considered HambardzumGalstyan’sactivity, who was the mayor of Yerevan. One can see him in the video from 0.22 seconds (wearing white coat). He was the head of dismantling operation that day.
In the memoires[iii] of ethnographer LevonAbrahamyan, we can find a piece of conversation between Galstyan and him, from which it becomes clear that the mayor was intended to establish a park of terror in Yerevan (later the idea was accomplished in Budapest in the form of house of terror). However, these plans were not accomplished because of HambardzumGalstyan’s resignation, then because of his murder, and according to author the discourse lasting for several decades was left unfinished.
The history of the soviet period should not be left out of margin, it should not be forgotten, but should geta proper historical appraisal. In other words, the place of Lenin’s statue is not the yard of History Museumbut a separate park where all the monuments and material memories of soviet terror and totalitarianism will be placed.
And what happened next? The statue -the head and the body are in the yard of History Museum.In 1996 the pedestal was dismantled too. The remainders are kept now in the storage of Municipality in Charbakh. In 2001 when Armenia celebrated the 1700thanniversary of adoption of Christianity with great solemnity, a huge cross was raised in the place of the statue. Some years later it was replaced by an advertising screen.Besides, during the last years a number of competitions were held on reconstruction of the Republic Square. One of those main preconditions was to occupy the free place after overthrow of the statue.
The Ukrainian events of the recent years are also quite remarkable withinour discussion. Parallel to political and economic twists and turbulences the symbolic field has been shaken as well.Forming groups, the Ukrainian common citizens overturned and destroyed Lenin’s statues and memorials of other soviet political figures within the country. Ukraine paid such a barbarian price because of thecarelessness of its founders.The problem is that the transitional historical periods are extremely strained, explosive and emotional, that is why the possible shortening of those things is driven by everyone’s interest. The change of symbolism is also one of the components of the transitional period. The historical phase cannot be considered complete as long as its symbolism is alive and viable. But in Ukraine, unlike Armenia, symbolic monuments of Lenin and soviet symbolism were not taken away from the central square of cities on time, as a result of which overexcited people furious towards the past, unceasingly appearing on the crossroad of the reencounter between the present political discourse criticizing the past and the cultural impact esteeming the past, gathered in the squares at nights, destroyed and disfigured monuments.
In Armenia the dismantlement of Lenin’s statue took place just on time and with right method of approaches, Armenian state figures were realistic and they correctly predicted the future.
However, in our opinion that place of the square must not remain empty.
As it was already mentioned, afterthe dismantlement of Lenin’s statue many suggestions were made to build something in its place. The author offers to raise new and huge statue of HaykNahapet here, bringing as far as possible brief argumentations.
- Armenians’ self-naming which has a long history and consequently the basis of national self-consciousness are connected with HaykNahapet’s name. He is Armenians’creator ancestor. Moreover the Republic of Armenia is named after him (Hayk – Hayastan)(Arm. – Հայկ՝ Հայաստան).
- Regardless of the thing whether HaykNahapet is a legendary character or not (as the history shows, this kind of ancient characters are always embellished with legendary motives), nevertheless, he is the leader and the ancestor of the Armenian nation.
- HaykNahapet is the symbol of the Indo-European basis, the collective image of the Armenian nation, realization of legends of the nation and history, due to which both pagan and Christian mythology has a key importance for Armenians.
- HaykNahapet is both an image fighting in the name of independence and a symbol of Armenian cultural identity.
- HaykNahapet is the Armenian first victorious military leader.
- Most of Armenian settlements and names of people are after the names ofHayk’s grandchildren and children.
So, the statue of HaykNahapet in the central square of the Republic of Armenia will be an ideal solution. The placement of thestatue will be a new crystallizing stimulus for the Armenian nation. It will become an innovation regulating the semantic field of symbolism and forming the thickened illustration of motherland in social consciousness, which will probablycause a new stage of social-political mobilization.
The author decided to write this analysis after watching the aforementioned video. The author not only gives importance to the role of symbols and their fate in the paradigm of social processes, but also to their accurate historical assessment. The dismantlement of Lenin’s statue from the beginning up to the end has been a correct plan, which was incomparably greater and more significant, than it could seem at first sight, as it was the next step to the destruction of totalitarian bonds and establishment of independent society. The totalitarian track has not been completely eliminated from the Armenian social consciousness yet, but in this case Armenians gained incomparably greater achievements than most republics of the former USSR, and it is necessary to continue this work, simultaneously giving it great importance and appreciating the existing achievements.
[i]While writing Spartak ballet, Aram Khachaturian had a sound fear that the party would obtain it negatively, but one of his friends, academician ArkadyArakelian dispersed his doubts, pointing out positive expressions about Spartak in one of the volumes of Karl Marx, which could be a full justification of writing a work on this theme.
[ii]One of those examples is indifference towards dominating ideas, liberalism that often reaches to light-mindedness, widely spread jocks and anecdotes about dominating regime. The sphere of horror which existed in USSR, never penetrated to ASSR, moreover local Armenian leadership tried to ease the movement at any price and protect “Armenians” from danger.
[iii]Левон Абрамян, Борьба с памятниками и памятью в постсоветском пространстве, (Acta Slavica Iaponica, Tomus XX, 2003, c.25-49).
Author: Areg Kochinyan.©All rights are reserved. Translator: Lusine Barkhoyan.
Author: Areg Kochinyan.©All rights are reserved.
Translator: Lusine Barkhoyan.