The Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, has a rich and multifaceted history. As a main focal point in the city, it has been a witness to Yerevan’s transformation from a small provincial town at the turn of the 20th century to the bustling metropolis it is today.
A remarkable photograph from the 1930s offers a captivating view of Amiryan Street, an important artery leading into Republic Square. The Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, a striking feature of the cityscape, is clearly visible. This church was constructed from 1869 to 1900, entirely funded by Yerevan’s residents, demonstrating their dedication and commitment to their faith and community.
St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of Armenia, is a pivotal figure in Armenian history, credited with converting Armenia to Christianity in the 4th century AD. Hence, a church bearing his name held significant importance to the local populace, serving as a spiritual haven and a communal hub.
However, the church’s fate was dramatically altered in the 20th century. In the 1920s, in a departure from its original purpose, it was converted into a cinema called Anastomu and later into a puppet theatre. These changes mirrored the broader shifts occurring in Armenian society under Soviet rule, where religious institutions often faced repurposing or even destruction.
Indeed, the church’s story took a tragic turn in 1949 when it was demolished, its site used for the construction of a school named after Yeghishe Charents, a famous Armenian poet. This episode marks a painful chapter in Armenia’s history, symbolizing the religious and cultural upheavals experienced under the Stalinist regime.
These historical developments are meticulously documented by St. Stepanyants in his work “Armenian Apostolic Church under the Stalinist Dictatorship,” published in Yerevan in 1994. His writings shed light on the socio-political dynamics that led to the demolition of this church and many other religious institutions.
The image of Republic Square from the 1930s serves as a vivid reminder of Yerevan’s past. It allows us to journey back to a time when the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, funded by the community’s collective effort, stood as a symbol of faith and resilience. Even though the church no longer graces the city’s skyline, its memory continues to resonate, a poignant symbol of a transformative era in Armenia’s history.