Getar: Memory of a River

Getar river flows to Yerevan from Geghama Mountains, passing through the whole city, crossing Yerevan’s big and small centers. The river flows through parks, the university district, then reaches the industrial part of our city. Getar is the only river that enters our private and public life, places of work and rest, influences the lives of dwellers and collects their stories.

The river has had a significant impact on the urban development of the city and its architecture. Getar has become part of the identity of Yerevan and its dwellers. It has inspired many legends and stories, and residents have many memories connected to it. However, in the last 20 years, the river is considered by most as a covered river though only a part of it is capped.

Getar is also a forgotten river. Younger generations who started to familiarize and identify with Yerevan after the partial closure of Getar are not even aware of its existence. Apart from the capping of the river, the direction of the stream has also changed throughout the years. Made-up or distorted urban memories that we came across during our research work are all related to this history.

With the aim of researching the importance of the river in the development of the city and how it reflects in the collective memory and oblivion of its dwellers, our laboratory team is launching a new project, “Getar: Memory of a River” which will become a part of our “Research on Memories” series.

The importance of rivers in cities

Throughout centuries, civilizations emerged and developed next to water resources, usually rivers. Ancient Egyptians established settlements along both banks of the Nile. Indians developed a whole civilization near the Ganges river and consider it a sacred river. London, Paris and other contemporary cities that were established much later, were also dependent on rivers flowing through them.

The presence of rivers shapes contemporary city planning as well. In many countries, governments are making decisions to reopen closed rivers. For example, the Han river, which was closed in the 1960s, was reopened in Seoul, South Korea. Le Lez in Montpellier, France, a small coastal river, well‐known for its spectacular flash floods, was the spine of a new urban growth. An ecodistrict with a distinctive architecture started to grow along it, transforming the area into a vibrant destination.

Rivers have a significant role in the development of cities in our region too, such as in Tbilisi. In Armenia, rivers have contributed to the economic growth of cities, such as Kapan, Goris built on the banks of rivers. Aragatsotn and Lori provinces have also flourished thanks to rivers that flow through them.

Ecological value of Getar

Getar has had a crucial role in the shaping and development of the environment and ecology of Yerevan. Rivers clean the air, maintain air humidity, and contribute to balancing the temperature. Getar was no exception, dampening the dry air in Yerevan, contributing to the biodiversity and irrigation of the greenlands. However, the ecological value of Getar was never studied, and that research is one of the goals of our project.

Urban value of Getar

Rivers are a crucial infrastructure and a hydrological asset around which cities emerge and develop. Besides irrigation possibilities, rivers also collect and remove water after snowmelt and rains. Initially, the streets of Yerevan were planned to have an exit to Getar, thus using it as a natural system for managing surface water.

There is also a residential district on the bank of Getar, a Venetian quarter in Yerevan, where people live along the river stream, a few meters away from each other. In fact, one of the streets in this district is named after the river. The existence of this part of the city to date is a testimony to the tactile, visual and auditory importance of the river.

Cultural value

Getar has had an immense influence in the development of the cultural life of Yerevan. Many legends, stories, as well as songs and texts were created about it. Getar was the source around which dwellings emerged, followed by cafes and parks. It became the favorite hang out place for citizens. People used to walk, rest and simply enjoy their time on the river banks. Yerevan’s cafes built along Getar became an essential part of the cultural life of the city.

The flooding of Getar

There are also dramatic memories related to Getar. The river has flooded many times and disrupted city life, damaging buildings, and sometimes even causing destruction. The main reason behind the destruction seems to be residential houses with no proper reinforcement built at the same level as Getar. Any water level increase would result in disastrous consequences.

The biggest flood happened on May 25th, 1946, right after the end of World War II. Besides the destruction, the event contributed to the creation of legends and urban myths that are still narrated today. From oral stories, we have been told that the water had entered the archives of KGB, and had “erased and washed away many works and files, saved destinies”. Furious agents of the KGB were keen on closing the river but the commission committee who was in charge of solving the issue decided to build embankments along it. While embankments were built to protect the city and its dwellers, they also contributed to the deterioration of the quality and water flow of Getar. According to another legend, those embankments were built by German prisoners of war.

Although this major flood happened in the middle of the 20th century, government officials of the 2000s used it as an excuse for major urban infrastructure works around it. Instead of launching a rehabilitation and preservation project for this unique water source, the government made the decision to close the part of the river that flows through the city center. With no public discussion, the river was closed giving its way to a main road and thousands of cars.

Getar was closed in 2007, buried under the asphalt along with its sounds and memories. This affected the ecological and cultural environment of Yerevan. The air in certain parts of the city became too dry. The ecosystem and biodiversity of Yerevan were further impacted, and the circular park was left without a river. The center of the city lost one of its most important ecological elements, and younger generations were deprived of this perfect subject of ecological education.

Our project

Within the framework of this project, we are collecting the memories of Getar, oral stories about the river:

— If you have lived in parts of the city where Getar is/was open and are interested to share your memories with us, please contact us through our Facebook page or email.

We are also researching the ecological damages that were caused due to the closing of the river in order to better understand the full potential Getar had/has.

If you are an ecologist, working with water resources or urban ecology, and want to share your expertise with us, please contact us through Facebook or email.
We are creating the spatial and visual character of Getar to illustrate the urban value and potential of Getar for our city.

If you are an architect, or urbanist interested in visualizing the city environment, and want to have your contribution in our project, please contact us through Facebook or email.

In January 2022, we will conclude our project and share the results of our research in the form of an illustrated collective monograph.