The “Kechut: Memory Under the Water'' project is a tribute to the old village of Kechut/Ghoushchi, submerged during the construction of the Kechut reservoir, and to the people of Kechut who were forced to leave their homes, facing the traumatic experience of displacement. This interdisciplinary project delves into the interconnected phenomena of identity, memory, cultural heritage preservation, and environmental transformations. It specifically explores and questions the Soviet Union's discourse on the environment, emphasizing the destruction of archaeological layers, architectural heritage, and urban environments during the construction of the reservoir. In addition, the project addresses the challenges of displacement and the problematic resettlement of locals.
The ideology of the Soviet Union, grounded in the narrative of demolishing the past to forge a new reality, gave rise to substantial transformations that posed a significant threat to the pre-Soviet identity of people, culture, and natural and urban landscapes. The vibrant manifestations of this environmental approach are evident across different scales, ranging from monuments, individual architectural structures, and urban spaces to the extensive transformations of natural landscapes and ecosystems. All of these issues converge in the context of the construction of reservoirs during the Soviet Union, many of which resulted in the submersion of hundreds of urban and rural settlements and the destruction of multiple layers of urban, architectural, and archaeological heritage. As a consequence, hundreds of thousands of people, deprived of the opportunity to engage in discussions about government decisions and to express their viewpoints, as well as the freedom to protest and resist, found themselves forcibly displaced. They had no other choice, but to leave their familiar environment and risk losing their own memory and identity.
In order to manage and distribute water resources, around 80 reservoirs were built in Soviet Armenia, the construction of which was marked by the submersion of settlements and the displacement of communities. The old village of Kechut is among the settlements that faced such a harsh fate; it was submerged due to the implementation of the "Arpa-Sevan" project, which aimed to maintain the water level of Lake Sevan and ensure the preservation of the lake. The people of Kechut were compelled to undergo forced displacement, demolish their own houses, and witness the destruction of their village and memories.
To underscore the complexities of the relationship between the environment and cultural landscape, redefine the discourse surrounding the colonisation and exploitation of nature, shed light on the submersion of settlements and displacement of communities in Soviet Armenia, the CSN Lab has undertaken the "Kechut: Memory Under the Water" research project. This interdisciplinary initiative brought together researchers and artists from diverse fields, encompassing architecture, urbanism, cultural studies, semiotics, and sound art. Integrating a diverse range of research methodologies and practices, the CSN Lab's team conducted a comprehensive study, which involved gathering oral (hi)stories through in-depth interviews, exploring family and state archives, conducting fieldwork, and mapping. The people of Kechut, who willingly shared their memories and entrusted us with their personal and emotional stories of the traumatic experience, played a crucial role in the implementation of this project.
“Kechut: Memory Under the Water” research addresses a variety of themes and issues;
The discourse of the Soviet Union regarding the natural environment and cultural landscape, as well as the challenges associated with its reinterpretation in the post-Soviet countries;
The issues arising from the submergence of settlements and the consequential impact on architectural, urbanistic, and archaeological layers in the context of reservoir construction in the Soviet Union;
The issues arising from the forced displacement of communities during reservoir constructions;
Settlements and historical-cultural heritage submerged during the construction of reservoirs in Armenia;
The problematic process of building the Kechut reservoir and the traumatic experience of the displaced community;
The urban environment, historical and cultural heritage, and archaeological layers of submerged old Kechut;
The challenges of resettling the residents of Kechut and the hardships of building a life in a new environment;
The submerged social memory connected to the old village, and its loss.
To ensure the longevity and accessibility of the research project's findings for the general public, those have been compiled and presented in the form of a website. The memory of Kechut has been digitised and summarised in six thematic chapters, accompanied by audio recordings, illustrations, photographs, and archival visuals.
The "Kechut: Memory Under the Water" project stands as a research endeavour on memory studies conducted by the Cultural and Social Narratives Laboratory, which explores the unique intersections of the natural environment, urbanism, architecture, anthropology, memory, and the complex past.
Addressing current issues of significant environmental transformations and ecomigration, our objective is to promote and mainstream a broader discussion, foster conversations about the decolonisation of nature, and encourage a reevaluation of the colonial ideology shaping perceptions and relationships with the environment.
Project Author: Tigran Amiryan
Project Curator: Arsen Abrahamyan
Editor: Mariam Yeghiazaryan
Illustrator: Harutyun Tumaghyan
Designer: Klim Grechka
Audio editor: Sona Nersesyan
This project is supported by the Danish Cultural Institute (DCI) in the framework of the “New Democracy Fund” (NDF) project.