Big and Small Town of Gyumri: the Character of the Town
When describing Gyumri, they say it has its own flavor and taste. There is no second town in Armenia like it. Throughout the ages, the town had been exposing its unique local flavor, which was affected by the 1988 earthquake, but did not disappear at all. Its flavor is as sustainable as the character of the people of Gyumri, who continue to pass their believes from generation to generation for more than hundred years.
Kumayri, Gyumri, Alexandropol, Leninakan and again Gyumri – each of these names reflects complex, but rich historical moments of the town , which really flourished when escaped from the Turkish- Persian yoke and together with Western Armenia became part of Russian empire.
In the second half of the 19th century, Gyumri- Alexandropol was already the most Armenian-populated town of Transcaucasia and to the late 19th century it was the most populated town of Erivan Governorate. The population of Gyumri generally consisted of descendants of refugees from such Western Armenian regions as Mush, Karin (Erzrum), Bayazet, Kars.
Gyumri was unique as it was initially formed from districts which made it look compact. The people were living in accordance with their specialty, religion, ethnicity. If you compare the population of Gymri now and then , you will notice that it has drastically changed: it seems the town has emptied, there are no so many national minorities living there as it was before. However, the former street names have remained the same up to now: for instance, “Slobodka” – the district of Russian military guard; “Turkish neighborhood” – the district of Turks; “Greek neighborhood” and others. As the town elders mention, before the 1988 earthquake the houses of neighbors were connected with each other through beautiful wooden balconies. Even now, if you visit Gyumri, you will still feel and enjoy the warm atmosphere of the town as well as the hospitality and honorable attitude of its people.
The compactness of the town was not only thanks to its districts, but also its craftsmen and farriers. Their groups were located along the streets and squares forming handicraft guilds and each group had its own flag. The fame of woodmasters, masters of tin, and masons was spread throughout Caucasus.
The streets of Alexandropol-Gyumri were narrow, crooked and surrounded by walls made from black tuff. Masters were building small houses without windows by that stone. The three main roads which were leading to Gyumri were passing through Kars, Tiflis and Yerevan. After the reconstruction of the town you could see straight, long and lit streets and the mastered Alexandropoli masons were creating buildings paying attention to the details. Each of those buildings was a piece of art. The main building material was and remains black and red tuff. That combination of the stones has become one of the visiting cards of the town.
Gyumretsis and others compare Gyumri with an ancient Armenian town Kars which was passed to Turkey because of short-sighted diplomats and after some political and military actions ( the last agreement on passing Kars was signed here in 1920 hence it is called a Treaty of Alexandropol).
Gyumri has a lot of similarities with the “city of 1001 churches” Ani: holy Saviour’s Church, for instance, is the prototype version of the Cathedral of Ani. They say, the constructor of the church Tadevos Antitents, was taking phaeton every day and was going to Ani (the city is close to Gyumri), examining the Cathedral, coming back and only then was continuing the construction.
Ancient craft traditions pass from one generation to the next and you still can find skillful craftsmen who continue the traditions of their ancestors even today. One of the examples demonstrating that careful continuity of traditions in Gyumri is the barbershop which has remained the same since 1940s. You will see the same masters, instruments and atmosphere of immediacy and hospitality where you will be told the latest news, local jokes and you will be treated to a cup of coffee. Most of the tourists visit this antique salon to talk to the masters and to make a new haircut as well.
Few people know that mushurba – a unique copper jug which not only has a special shape, but also makes a certain sound when they fill it up with water- is considered to be one of the symbols of the town . People like mushurba especially because of its convenience: the temperature of water or any other liquid in it remains unchangeable for a long time. The only master in the town and in Armenia who can make mushurba is master Edik, from the family of Jhamkochyans who have brought the serest of mushurba making from Karin (Erzrum). As Edik mentions, he will pass the secrets to his son. In one of the streets of Gyumri you will see a monument dedicated to the mushurba.
Theatre has always had its special role and importance in life of Gyumri, and the special flavor of the town was used by the Soviet cinematography many times. It is impossible to imagine the favorite Armenian films without those narrow streets and balconies. “Erankyun”, “A piece of sky”, “The song of the old days”, The tango of our childhood”… The majority of the films, made in Gyumri, are the best screen versions of the life in Gyumri. One of the museums, which should be undoubtedly visited, is the museum of Frunzik Mkrtchyan – a Man with a tragic fate but with wonderful sense of humor who represents the soul of the town.
If it was necessary to determine the genre of the history of Kumayri-Gyumri-Alexandropol- Leninakan, it would surely be a tragicomedy. The following episode from the life of actress Anahit Qocharyan proves that:
“They were playing the spectacle “Where is the road leading to the town?” which was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the earthquake. I was supposed to appear on the stage from above, the audience could not see me standing above. The spectacle is starting, the music is playing… After that scene I should have screamed as scream the people who wake up because of nightmare. The music stops, there is absolute silence in the auditorium and I scream. There was somebody among the audience who got very scared turned to me and said: ”Grooooogh” (an expression which is similar to the English expression “for God’s sake”.) And then somebody sitting beside her is calming her and says: “Vaay, It was the actress, it was her”. And the whole audience bursts of laughter”.
The philosophy of life of the people of Lennagan (the local people call it in this way) is their humorous and lenient attitude towards misfortunes of life and that is the secret for they do not give up, rise and rise from the ashes and piece together the mosaic of their lovely Gyumri, a town which is a real representation of Armenian cultural heritage.