Tbilisi has been home for Armenians for centuries. Regular city dwellers, intellectuals, and businessmen have invested in the cultural and economic development of the city especially in the 19th century. However, nowadays the acknowledgement of their legacy remains mostly in the memory of the local Armenians. The residential buildings as well as the schools, churches and other cultural monuments built by the Armenians of Tbilisi are being forgotten, destroyed, or rebuilt in a manner depriving them of their authentic look and the spirit of old Tbilisi – so well known as the locus of peaceful coexistence between different groups. In this piece, we have explored the stories of Mayor of Tbilisi around the 1880s Aleksander Stepanyan Matinyants, the oil magnates of the late 19th century and early 20th century Alexander Mantashev (Mantashyan) and Mikael Aramyants, and the family of Tamamshevs. We have also visited the Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theatre, which has been closed for 7 years.

The Forgotten Legacy of Prominent Tbilisi Armenians

Some of the buildings in the old parts of today’s Tbilisi are connected to prominent Tbilisi Armenians of different periods. Among them is Aleksander Stepanyan Matinyants. Matinyants was elected for the post of Tbilisi Mayor for four consecutive terms in 1879-1891. While he was a Mayor, new infrastructures were built in the city among them a waterway, an abattoir, phone connection, bridges such the bridge that is today named after Galaktion Tabidze, and perhaps most importantly the building of the City Hall. Alexander Matinayants’s wealth, estimated at more than 200,000 rubles, was donated to the city budget of Tbilisi in accordance with his will[1]. Unfortunately, the institutional memory of the city, that he so much cared about, did little justice to his legacy. The National Cemetery of the Armenian Monastery, where the former mayor was buried, was destroyed in 1938 by the order of the then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, Lavrenti Beria. Again in the 1930s, the street named after him and located in the Vera district of Tbilisi was renamed[2].

Another important building in Tbilisi, the current premises of the Caucasus University, was also built by a prominent Tbilisi Armenian. Alexander Mantashev was an oil magnate and a philanthropist of the early 20th century. Mantashev has contributed to the development of not only Tbilisi but also Baku. He funded the construction of the Nersisyan Seminary in Tbilisi and laid the foundation for the oil industry in Baku, also funding the construction of an oil pipeline from Baku to Batumi in 1907[3]. His company was seized by the Bolsheviks after his death. The Van Cathedral in Tbilisi, that was renovated through his donation, and the cemetery next to it where he and his wife were buried were destroyed in the1930s.

Nersisyan Seminary in Tbilisi

Nersisyan Seminary in Tbilisi

Nersisyan Seminary in Tbilisi

Nersisyan Seminary in Tbilisi

The richest man who died in poverty: these words describe the life story of another oil magnate – Mikael Aramyants. His life was full of victories and failures, luck and betrayal. He first came to Tbilisi from one of the villages of Karabakh in pursuit of his dreams and then became one of the oil magnates of Baku. However, as the Bolsheviks seized all his property, Mikael Aramyants died in full poverty in 1922 in the basement of his own building. One of the most famous buildings that keep his name alive in the memory of people is the former Aramyants Hospital that is nowadays officially called First Clinical Hospital of Tbilisi.

First Clinical Hospital or Aramyants Hospital in Tbilisi

First Clinical Hospital or Aramyants Hospital in Tbilisi

We talked to Alexander Ohanyan from the NGO “Armenian Community of Georgia” about the Armenian Heritage in Tbilisi.

Unlike the others, the heritage of the family of Tamamshevs is preserved in a museum. However, the museum is not called by their name. Instead, it is called the Museum of Smirnovs.

The family of Tamamshevs was a wealthy merchant family in Tbilisi. One of the family members Gavriil Tamamshev, for example, funded the construction of the building of the first opera house in Tbilisi in 1847 as the Russian Tsar’s Treasury refused to do so. The arch of Tbilisi was also built by the family, which functioned as the Eastern Gate of the city. Gavriil Tamamshev donated his library of about 41,000 books as a gift to the city, contributing to the creation of the National Library of Georgia[4]. The Tamamshevs also engaged in charity and helped the poor artists and teachers of the city.

In 1850s, the Tamamshevs built a new house in Tbilisi. In 1876, One of the Tamamshevs, Elizaveta Tamamsheva received the house as dowry when she married Mikhail Smirnov. The house then became an intellectual hub until the Soviet period. During the Soviet period, it was given to the Municipality. Today, the house is called the Museum of Smirnovs. In Tbilisi, the memory of the Tamamshevs was wiped out.

We talked to the head of the NGO “Agora Georgia” Viktoria Maksoeva about the heritage of the Tamamshevs in Tbilisi.

The Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theatre: Hopes After 7 Years of Dust

Starting from 1824, the performances of the Armenian theatre of Tbilisi were staged at the Nersisyan Seminary. In 1856, the theater moved into a building constructed through the efforts of the Georgian-Armenian community. In the 1880s, actor, writer, and public figure Petros Adamian played a great role in the theater’s development, and the theater was later named after him. However, since the 1950s, no renovations had been made in the building, and it closed down 7 years ago due to its dangerous condition. The theatre building was seriously damaged after an earthquake. Moreover, the building has problems of accumulation of water. A special commission concluded that it is dangerous to work inside the building.

Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theater

Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theater

Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theater

During these 7 years, 30 performances were staged. Rehearsals were held secretly because of the risks. The audience has not seen 20 out of these 30 performances. However, the theatre has staged 30-40 performances in the regions of Georgia, France, and Armenia where they were awarded the “Artavazd” prize for best performance[5].

We talked to Artistic Director of the Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theater Armen Bayanduryan about the history and present condition of the theater.

Many promises were given during the last 7 years and finally “Cartu Group”, a charity construction organization, founded by former Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili, undertook the responsibility to renovate the building. The Ministry of Culture of Armenia is also providing the theater with a funding of 15 million Armenian dram annually.

It seems that the Petros Adamian Tbilisi State Armenian Drama Theatre will be saved from its tragic condition. It is not possible to say the same for many other forgotten Armenian heritage sites of Tbilisi. Tbilisi Armenians played an important part for the city to flourish, but the city has largely forgotten them and their legacy.

Footnotes

[1] Karapetyan, Samvel. 2003. Mayors of Tiflis (Թիֆլիսի քաղաքագլուխները). Yerevan: “Gitutyun” Publishing Hourse of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.

[2] Karapetyan, Samvel. 2003. Mayors of Tiflis (Թիֆլիսի քաղաքագլուխները). Yerevan: “Gitutyun” Publishing Hourse of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.

[3] n.d. “Aleksander Matashev (Matashyan). Businessman, Patron of Arts (Ալեքսանդր Մանթաշև (Մանթաշյան). Գործարար, Մեկենաս).” Auroraprize.com. Accessed March 23, 2018. https://auroraprize.com/en/armenia/detail/8239/ալեքսանդր-մանթաշեւ-մանթաշյան-գործարար-մեկենաս.

[4] n.d. “Gavriil Tamamshev (გავრილ თამამშევი).” National Parliamentary Library of Georgia. Accessed March 23, 2018. http://www.nplg.gov.ge/bios/en/00006857/.

[5] Pechenevskaya, Anna. 2016. “The Armenian Theater of Tbilisi has Received the “Artavazd” Prize (Թբիլիսիի հայկական թատրոնը «Արտավազդ» մրցանակ է ստացել).” Aliq.ge. March 30. Accessed March 23, 2018. http://www.aliq.ge/թբիլիսիի-հայկական-թատրոնը-արտավազդ/.

* This story has been produced with support from the US Embassies in the South Caucasus. The opinions expressed in the publication reflect the point of the view of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the US Embassies.

** All photos and videos of this story were made by Karen Gasparyan.

Leave a Comment

What are your thoughts on the subject?