During the 14th–19th centuries, Armenian émigrés to the Ukraine built significant sacred complexes, churches and small chapels in many towns in Galicia, Podolia, Volyn, Crimea and the city of Kyiv. In the inter-war period of the 20th century, the Soviet leadership, as a result of its anti-religious policy, gradually nationalized all Armenian religious churches throughout the territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Crimea. Along with nationalized Armenian church structures, the church property of religious communities was also expropriated. In 1945–1946, Armenian churches all over historic Galicia faced that miserable fate. After the Second World War, religious Armenians could not hope for the re-establishment of Christian churches closed under Soviet power and for the return of their church heritage which had been nationalized. It was only after the the independence of the Ukraine, apart from democratic changes, that there appeared this question of how to return the church property that had been nationalized by the Soviet power to its former owners – the Armenian religious communities of the Ukraine. At present, there are over 80 churches and other sacral structures in the Ukraine that had historically belonged to the national religious organizations of Armenians in Ukraine; forty-three out of them have been entered into the State Register of the National and Cultural Heritage of Ukraine. Some Armenian historical sites are included into the UNESCO World Heritage List and are part of prominent Ukrainian national historic and architectural conservation efforts. At the same time, a great quantity of Armenian monuments fail to be included onto any state protection register. Series Byzantina IX, pp. 00–00 The issue of returning nationalized church property to believers is closely connected with the history and contemporary life of Armenian religious national communities and is subject to the law of the Ukraine. Central state historic repositories in Kiev and Lviv, including the regional ones of the Ukraine, keep numerous documents that speak for the proprietary rights of Armenian national religious communities both for specific and for all churches that, for example, were part of the Archdiocese of Lviv.  Some documents also confirm the proprietary rights of Armenian religious communities over other buildings – public, educational, industrial and commercial structures , for example, an architectural complex on Virmenska Street in the city of Lviv and Zamość. However, a number of Armenian landmarks are not included in any state protection register. In ancient times, Armenian temples were most frequently erected as an integrated architectural ensemble that, apart from the church itself, included a priest’s residence, cells and bell-tower, and also comprised of a school or any educational facility, hospital, home for elderly, orphanage, service buildings, art and icon painting workshops, residential buildings, guesthouse, and sometimes a bank, wells, fountains, defence towers and other buildings. Small necropoles were always built near churches; and town Christian cemeteries included Armenian grave sites with canonical gravestones, family tombs or khachkar stone crosses with names carved with Armenian, Cyrillic or Latin letters and decorated with national plant-like ornaments. Armenian cemetery gravestones in some Ukrainian towns and villages remain the only reminder of the historic presence of Armenians in one place or another. This is, for example, typical for Mohyliv-Podilsky, wherein there used to be a majestic cathedral church and residence of an Armenian Catholic administrator during the time of the Russian Empire. Armenian believers set a high value on the appearance and indoor arrangement of churches. They denied themselves many things, but spared no expense to build and decorate their churches. So today, even several decades after the desolation and oblivion that has been seen in the region, West Ukrainian and Crimean Armenian churches look magnificent. Besides, one and the same church belonged, as a rule, to various Armenian Christian confessions in the course of several centuries. It often happened that members of the same Armenian family worshipped in churches of various religious confessions. That was, for example, in Feodosiya, Kamianets-Podilsky, Yevpatoriya, Bilohirsk and Izmail. Armenian temple structures were traditionally located in central or historical parts of Ukrainian towns, which speaks for a long-standing establishment of Armenians in the Ukraine. Such a favourable location of Armenian sacred structures arouses, it may be said, an unhealthy interest in Armenian church real estate by a number of commercial and public organizations that seek to privatize them for further use or re-selling. Unfortunately, this situation tends to aggravate. Until now, the Ukrainian state has transferred to Armenian religious communities only 5 of all of the former Armenian churches: in Lviv – the Armenian Cathedral church with a bell-tower, in Yevpatoriya – St. Nickoghajos church, in Yalta – St. Ripsime church, in Feodosiya – St. Sargis church, in Old Crimea– St. Cross Monastery. As we can see, nearly all sacred structures, except for the Lviv cathedral, are located in the Crimea and have been transferred to religious communities of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The Lviv Cathedral Church is the only religious structure of inland Ukraine that Armenian believers endeavoured to acquire from the Ukrainian state throughout the eighteen years of independence. This was made possible due to efforts made by deputies of the Lviv City Council and the Ukrainian Union of Armenians. The former issued a resolution approving the return of the national relic to the Armenian community of the Ukraine – the Lviv Cathedral Church of the Assumption of the Mother-of-God; and the latter built a relevant building and moved their Ukrainian national relics, that is, the ancient Galician icons that had been preserved there since 1946. In addition to this, on 18th December 2007, deputies of the Lviv City Council during a regular session unanimously resolved to transfer the Armenian Cathedral Church belltower to the Armenian community, which had been public property before that. It is clear that compromise and close co-operation between the bodies in power and the public organization of the national minority is essential for consolidating trust and friendship, which, in turn, give rise to restitution. This decision concerning the Lviv Cathedral can be considered to be an excellent example of the preservation of the cultural heritage of the two peoples and a successful solution of the restitution in Ukraine as a result of such efforts towards warm relations. However, the process of returning Ukrainian church property is still unsettled on a state, i.e. legislative, level. The legal status of nationalized movable assets and real estate of religious communities is not defined yet. This failure of determination generates conflicts and discrepancies when claiming for a title. The return process is often hindered as the church property is in use by several organizations or has changed its ownership several times. Given this situation, it’s not surprising that many religious communities of the Armenian Church commenced to build churches and chapels at new locations, without waiting up for the historical record to be put straight. This situation has occurred in Odessa and Kharkiv. Apart from the state, the church property that used to belong to Armenians is now used by individuals and legal entities, including the churches of other religious confessions. E.g., Armenian churches in Kuty, Ivano-Frankivsk, Feodosiya and Kamianets-Podilsky have been transferred to the Orthodox church; churches in Lysets, Zhvanets and Razkiv – to the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, some ancient Armenian churches are now used for educational purposes, as a lecture hall (e.g., the St. Cross Cathedral in Lviv) or as a philharmonic hall (in Chernivtsi ; some of them are used as storehouses (in Horodenets and Berezhany), a residential building (in Lutsk), a gymnasium (in Sniatyn), etc. This state of affairs is extremely frustrating for the traditional Ukrainian churches and national religious Ukrainian communities which fail to re-acquire their nationalized property. These groups expect the state to settle the problem as soon as possible, especially as the Ukraine undertook to “return the property of religious organizations as soon as practicable” prior to joining the European Council; this was irrespective of who owns the property at present. Unfortunately, the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukraine of the 5th convocation failed to approve the draft law on making alterations in the moratorium on the privatization of religious property owned by the state and the public. Instead, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved the Law of Ukraine “On the List of Cultural Landmarks Not Subject to Privatization”. Following this establishment of a new state register of cultural heritage landmarks, the quantity of Armenian landmarks protected by the state has been considerably reduced and consists of 16 items at present. The buildings that can be privatized now include even the House Museum of Aivazovksy, the great Armenian painter who, according to his well-known last will, bequeathed the building, including all his paintings and other property, to the city of Feodosiya. Many Armenian churches not included on the state and local property protection registers and, thus, can actually be privatized, are now temporarily used by various organizations that, together with religious Armenian communities may claim for ownership or privatization thereof. This circumstance leaves open the possibility of conflicts and court proceedings concerning specific religious structures. So, as for the future of the policy of returning church property nationalized under the USSR to Ukrainian Armenian religious communities, the dialogue with those in power should focus on the prospects for the return and restoration of sacred structures or immovable church property and the seized movable church property that remains in the Ukraine under state ownership. The activities of national religious and scientific cultural organizations such as the Committee for Armenian Studies in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Union of Armenians / President Hayk Pambukchyan/ active since 2008, should be first of all targeted towards the identification and systematization (entering into a special register) of lost (seized) church property, and the register should be consolidated with state research and that undertaken by the institutions for the protection of buildings. These activities will certainly require close cooperation with the state governmental organizations that are involved (or will be involved) in the restitution of lost church property.
Samvel Azizyan, architect, Kiev
This article published in Preservation Problems and Development Perspectives of the Intellectual Heritage of Architecture and Urban Construction, Internatioanl Conference reports Provisions, Yerevan, 2011
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