With a population of 149,000 people Gyumri is the second biggest city in Armenia but also famously suffered from a terrible earthquake that took place in 1988. In order to help those who had been made homeless, the Soviet Government decided to build a new residential area called Mush. It is fairly large area next to the city. Construction was started in 1989 but was never finished. Eighteen years have gone by and a lot of money has been spent but still this residential area is totally empty and totally deserted - a real ghost town.

A ghost town is traditionally a town that has been abandoned, usually because the economic activity that was its main- stay has failed or because of natural or manmade disasters. There are many examples of Ghost Cities dotted throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union; one such example is Pripyat, which lies right next to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the government didn’t have sufficient funds to support some of the smaller cities that had grown up around strategically important ob- jects. The populations of these cities were left to fend for themselves. Nobody could support them because all communica- tions with these places were cut off when the state decided that it didn’t have the necessary funds to support these places.

The area around Mush could be called a ghost town but it differs from most other well known ghost towns, which even have some guided tours going to them. Therefore most ghost towns were abandoned, but there are also areas, like Mush, that were only half built when Soviet Union collapsed. There aren’t many places like this now because people somehow find a use for them whenever this is possible. The interesting thing about Mush is that it is very near the city centre. You only have to travel ten minutes from the centre and you find your- self in this dreadful “wilderness” of dead buildings. On the way you can still see people living in temporary shelters that were built in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

Every ghost town has its own apparitions roaming around it, but the problem with apparitions is that you’re never quiet sure if they’re there or not. In Mush the ghostly spectre of Modernism is ever present. It is a spectre because the modern- ist construction was never finished. In Armenia Modernism will never completely go away, because it never fully arrived. There are hundreds of unfinished apartment buildings, office blocks and architectural monuments dotted all over Armenia. They have remained unfinished for many reasons. Residential housing was not a priority for Armenian architects and urban planners in the Soviet period. They were more interested in economizing on residential buildings in order to build large architectural statements, which were supposed to glorify the leading ideology of the time. Large architectural statements gained a new significance in post Soviet Armenia, this time in the context of a new national ideology to glorify and demon- strate the new country’s strength. It mattered little that these buildings might, at best, function for only a few years or at worst remain unfinished as well.


Residential buildings and areas were increasingly pushed out to the suburbs and outskirts of cities and forgotten. To this day they are paid little or no attention. Perhaps these build- ings will never be finished. They have been left at mercy of time and weather and some day they will fade away. But before they do so, they stand as a silent reminder of certain truths. When one stands in the centre of Mush and observes the build- ings that have failed to fulfill their function one can’t stop thinking of the bright future that was intended for them and the utopian aura that these buildings carry within themselves.

Vahram Aghasyan
April 2007

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS OF THE WORK

2010 Neither From, Nor Towards... - Umjetnicki paviljon / Art Pavilion Zagreb, Zagreb
2010 Formerly Exit Five: College Art Galleries, Saska- toon, Canada
2009 ALL & NOW - CSW Centrum Sztuki Wspolczesnej / Cen- tre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
2009 “Great expectations” Casino Luxemburg, Luxemburg
2007 Not Only Possible But Also Necessary: Opti- mism In The Age Of Global War, 10th International Istanbul Biennial
2007 “Heterotopias” First Contemporary Art Bien- nale Of Thessaloniki
2007 “Grand Bleu: rêves de la mer entre Erevan, Gyumri et Paris”, Artcore gallery, Paris

The work exists in public and private collections such as the collection of the museum at the seam. Jerusalem,