Mosque resident Garush walking

Kond: An Ancient District of Yerevan Tries to Modernize

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YEREVAN — Armenia has been in a constant tug of war between tradition and modernity, and a district that fully embodies this struggle is Kond. Kond, which means long hill in Armenian, is one of the three original districts of Yerevan, and was formerly known as Tepebashi during the 17th-century Persian rule. Today, it is known for its vibrant street art which stands in contrast to its history.

One of the historical relics in Kond is the 17th-century Tepebashi Mosque, which was used as a place of refuge for Armenians after the Armenian Genocide. After the genocide, 17 families were housed in the mosque. Today, with generations moving in and out of the district, four families remain. Each has their own “apartment” or section of the building.

Garush
Clara

Two current residents are Clara, 6, and Garush, 82. The two are neighbors, with drastically different worldviews of the space they occupy.

When walking through the Kond, one might miss the mosque at first glance. However, if one pays attention to the buildings, one can see the characteristic arches of the mosque at its entrance.

Upon entering the mosque through its creaky wooden door, one will find a large well with a faucet that the residents use for drinking and washing. It was there that Clara first introduced herself. The 6-year-old seemingly knew what she was doing in front of the camera, because journalists have visited the mosque quite often and she has done several interviews, according to her mother, Silva.

Young children play fight in Kond.

Since Clara is so young, she sees her surroundings as a playground. During this interview, she spoke about her late grandmother, who was one of the older residents of the mosque, along with Garush, before her death.

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“I remember my grandma was carrying me and she showed me the flowers,” Clara said. “We took pictures next to the flowers over there.”

Clara described how her grandmother used to tell her fairytales before putting her to bed, with her favorite being “Little Red Riding Hood.”

She went on to describe every corner of the mosque and its functions — of course from her perspective, like how the well is used, how some of the plants in their yard are poisonous, and how her grandmother hated cats.

Clara eventually wandered off to a corner of the mosque where an arch was crumbling. She does not see the space around her as a mosque, but a place where she can relive the memories of her grandmother and play with the neighbor’s children.

Garush, a resident of Kond since 1964, understands the historic nature of his home and has a more pessimistic worldview. “The Persians built this mosque. When have the Turks built anything? They’ve robbed our people blind, stolen everything from us, and now it is continuing that way,” Garush said.

Graffiti

Garush’s ancestors fled the 1915 genocide from Mush to Aparan. He eventually moved to Kond with his late wife. His gruff voice expressed the uncertainty of the future, all while reflecting on his past.

Garush commented on the structural integrity of the mosque, and how construction workers come and go without any progress being made. He noted that sometimes when it rains, parts of the mosque crumble.

Other residents of Kond also commented on the condition of the district but wanted to remain anonymous. An older man and his mother, who have lived in Kond for about 50 years, said some people do not even have proper running water, while others are promoting Kond as Yerevan’s new art district.

Garush noted that he hopes his grandchild has the opportunity to see change, even as he had little hope.

“What future? There is no future. Who can you rely on to speak about the future? Leaders come and go, architects come and go… and they do nothing. They sit with their titles and that is it,” he said.

Silva specified that the mosque as a historical site belongs to the state but the residents have documents attesting to possession of their homes. They pay property tax and utility costs, but no rent. However, if the state or Iran want to reclaim the building, the residents would have to sell their apartments back to the state, receiving a sum based on the size and value of the property, and leave.

Graffiti

She said that many Iranians come to visit the mosque and Iran wanted to rebuild it as a place of worship, but that so far has not happened, while the Armenian state does not have the financial resources to rebuild it. She added that the government needs to speed the process of repair, or of buying back the property, before someone dies due to the building collapsing on them, as it is in poor condition.

Silva, like Garush, thinks the future of Armenia is unforeseeable. “We’re surprised when we see Armenians from the diaspora repatriating,” Silva said. “I cannot tell you how much we want to go to America.”

Silva’s son, Gorik, is a veteran of last year’s Karabakh war. She said his mental health has been negatively impacted and he has a hard time sleeping because of the stress of the war.

Clara knows her brother is a soldier but does not know what that entails. “Gorik is a soldier and goes to the army, but I’m not sure what they do in the army,” Clara said.

The story of Kond can be seen as a microcosm of Armenia: the tug of war between tradition and modernity, the uncertainty expressed by older generations, and the push for younger generations to grow up fast despite their naivety.

 

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