The House of the Holy Spirits

The house next to old chapel on the territory of ancient graveyard in Yerevan still attracts pilgrims.
The 55-year-old Yerevan resident Vazgen Janazyan is frequently bothered by total strangers knocking at his door with most weird requests, which may range from asking a handful of human bones to 'measure fear' to a permission to light a candle inside.

The reason is the location of the house. The house, built by Vazgen's father Grisha Janazyan in 1940 is situated next to the half-ruined chapel on the territory of an old cemetery in the Kozern district of Yerevan. One of the bedrooms in the house shares a wall with the chapel, which once had the entrance opening to the worship place. Further still, the niche in the wall, which now serves as a wardrobe, used to be the upper part of the chapel door.

It is the graveyard chapel that attracts pilgrims to Janazyans.

"We are used to people knocking on our door now and then asking for a permission to touch the gravestone of the saint, despite the graves of the famous clergymen and Hovhannes Kozern himself are two meters beneath the basement. We have blocked the entrance to the basement with furniture, but have marked the place of Kozern's grave with a rectangular protrusion next to the bedroom door," Vazgen explains.
The House of the Holy Spirits
Audio slideshow: Anahit Minasyan
One of Yerevan's oldest cemeteries lies behind the Lover's Park, and can be reached through crooked narrow streets crossing the low-storied district up to the hill of Kond. The graveyard is where archimandrite Melikset Vzhanetsi, famouse catholicos Movses III Syunetsi, who was best known as Movses Tatevatsi, and many more churchmen rest. The chapel itself was built in 1630s by the grave of 11th century Armenian scholar and registrar Hovhannes Kozern (Taronatsi). The name of the location derives from here. And though the building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, its ruins were there up until 1930s.

"People come here touch the graves or ask for permission to light a candle, forgetting that this is my home," says Vazgen annoyed. His two daughters-in-law, Narine and Tatev, try to get used to the strange things in their everyday life having little time remaining for themselves.

"I feel like I am under someone's constant gaze… I remember I would avoid passing by the bedroom neighboring the chapel in the early days of my marriage. Now we are almost used to hearing someone knocking on the door or the door swinging with a squeak. Just recently we heard someone knocking on the door; we opened the door, and there was no one behind it: everybody was asleep at home," the women recalled.
Vazgen and Grisha Janazyan
"Several years ago we were told the Church plans to buy the houses on the territory of the chapel to reconstruct it. It has been some while ago, and we haven't had any news since then,"Grisha, one of Vazgen's sons, said.

Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin acknowledged the problem in response to the inquiry from Urbanista, but said there is still no clarity with regard to the program.

"We don't mind moving out of the house if we are offered proper money to be able to buy homes with enough room for all of us. Thanks, God, my three children and their families each have their rooms, and there is enough space for my mother, my wife and me, too. I am not sure we will be offered an equivalent for this house rather than a smaller one or a sum less than the price of even a two-room apartment. This house has space enough to room us all," says Vazgen.

But his son Grisha, 29, says he is not afraid of anything anymore. "We are used to things that might terrify others. Take the door that opens and closes by itself: my mother and I, we were sitting on the sofa when the door all of a sudden opened and then closed. We thought that was someone from our family who had tried to enter but had changed his mind last minute. So, we checked, but there was no one. It was equally normal for me to take skull to anatomy class when I was still in school to the great embarrassment of my classmates," Grisha recalls.
Vazgen Janazyan
Chapel of Kozern. Photo:
Last year Grisha happened to scratch the plaster on the wall of the bedroom revealing an inscription in Russian "Ереван, Кулаков, 1 VI 45 г гв (1)925" ("Yerevan, Kulakov, 1 VI 45, gv (1)925")

"My grandfather covered the door of the chapel with plaster and wallpaper. He probably did it so the kids wouldn't be afraid. We have hidden the destroyed part of the wall behind bed, but if you look at it attentively, you will see the carvings. Most probably it was left by the master who restored the chapel, before it was destroyed," says Grisha, adding the visitors to the graves of the churchmen beneath their house included envoys of the Mother See.

According to a Government 2004 decision, the Kozern hill was classified for development, although the program has not been implemented yet. Before the decision there were only 16 privatized houses in the area; following popular protests, the residents of the district have mostly privatized their properties.