the geography of memory
Kond is located in the very heart of Yerevan, and memories of Kond occupy one of the central parts of the city’s collective memory. Remembering the past, the dwellers sometimes joke: ‘‘Kond has always been the capital city of Yerevan.’’ When recalling the past of their family, home, street, and district, the people of Kond, or the Kondetsis, always stress that their daily life, their routine, their memories are inextricably intertwined with the life of the city center. Although Kond is situated in the epicenter of the hustle and bustle of urban reconstruction typical to downtown, it has managed to keep the vernacular architecture of the past century, the social life peculiarities which emerged decades ago. It seems like the rhythm of the life of Kond engulfs the entire city.
At the same time, the memory of Kond is essentially the memory of a compact, often closed community with clear-cut mental and physical boundaries distinguishing it from other districts. The Kondetsis constantly mention how the district has shrunk in the last decades. And this physical shrinkage has also resulted in the reduction of the space of the locals’ private and collective memory. When listening to stories of this or that daily practice or a past memorable event, it may often appear like the storyteller wandering in the memory mazes is also walking along the streets of Kond; then all of a sudden the story will abruptly stop, followed by a pause, because the events continued at a point from which the district has already shrunk, at a place which is already cut off from Kond and no longer constitutes Kond. This district is apparently one of the city’s rare districts where the influence of both the district position and the border changes on the local memory is so tangible. ‘‘What has actually remained? They’ve left only a shadow of Kond. It used to be much larger, and now only this small part remains from the real Kond.’’
Thus, the obliteration of architectural and urbanistic memory triggers the personal and social memory. The opposite process takes place: the Kondetsis who can no longer be found in their homes are recalled figuratively by their neighbors, whose stories trace them back to their homes, roofs and yards. The space of the memory of Kond is characterized by this kind of eternal motion and reparations: one is substituted by the other, oblivion evokes memories, and vice versa. And despite all the wounds the district has sustained in the last decades, it continues to live, preserving its unique memory, hence, its identity. And Kond’s identity is uphill, in the center of our city, always over our heads.
the architectonics of memory
Therefore, the memory of Kond is subjected to the relief of the place. Kond is not only a center, but also a highland, a mountain. That is why the local memory is also built upon this relief correlation of ups and downs, highs and lows. As regards the Kondetsis’ unique rythm of remembering and forgetting, stories about the past always go down the mosque and the church – to Rustaveli Street or towards the gorge. It shapes a certain urbanistic density: the higher you go, the denser the buildings, the family stories, the collective past.
At the same time, it is the relief of Kond that determines the disposition of the houses. Stories about the past of a house can often transform into stories about the yard, and since the yard of one house is hanging on the roof of the neighboring house just one level below, we can subtly slide from the memory of one house to another. In addition, the oral stories we have collected show how the density of the space of the memory of the district is diffused in the dwellers’ memory. One of them, for instance, says: ‘‘Our part is the European section of Kond,’’ and thus focuses on its proximity to the other part of the city. The Kondetsis’ memories get closer and intersect, ascending from the bottom to the top, and in that ascent, family stories stand as tight together as the coalesced walls of the neighboring houses.
There is hardly any family story where the Kondetsis do not transition from the story of their own family to the past of their neighbors. In this respect, the memory of Kond is open in much the same way as the doors of Kondetsis’ houses used to be; they would not be locked even at night. It is noteworthy that one of the daily practices mentioned in almost all the stories is the Kondetsis’ habit to sleep out during the hot summer nights: ‘’It was not only us who slept in the yard, the neighbors’ children would come to sleep in our yard at night.’’ The elements of the memory of Kond stem from this kind of common-to-all practices, which are preserved in the family story.
The Kondetsis recall the so-called ‘‘Kond Cinema’’ launched during the years when TV-sets were not widespread yet. It was a ‘film-screening wall’ next to the ‘electrohome’1 by which everybody gathered every evening to watch movies. As it often happens, oral history shows that local memories are brooks of narratives about childhood. Kond’s childhood was, first and foremost, the games all the children of the district knew.
the elements of memory
The common place of childhood for all the Kondetsis is the spring Jangyulum2, football, hockey and skiing, stories about which show how the place shaped the daily life and how the memory was ‘tied from the ski and went down the slopes.’
The church and the mosque have become one of the most vital elements of the memory concentration. The mosque is a unique part of the narrative of the local memory: there is hardly anybody among the current dwellers who was present at the time when the mosque was functioning, but everybody attaches quiet a great significance to it in their recollections. Yet, the church suddenly evokes a different kind of memories, the kind where you can spot an idealization of the district’s past: ‘‘In the past, there were only weddings, there was happiness here, while now funerals take place.’’ The transformation of the significance of Kond’s church is evident in the memories of both the middle-aged and senior generations.
The elements of the memory of Kond line up in the walls of the houses and stretch along the narrow streets of the district. They have a vibrant architectural manifestation, an utmost physical expression. And that architecture is popular, hand-carved by the locals the way they envisioned it; it belongs to the local dwellers in much the same way as their local memory belongs to that architecture.
1 ‘Electrohome’ is the name used by the locals to refer to the electric enclosure.
2 Jangyulum is the Feast of the Ascension and a lottery game forms part of the celebration.
illustration: Armine Shahbazyan