Restoring a building its past dignity

24-10-2011 15:21:01   | Armenia  |  Interviews
Interview with the Honorary Consul Antonio Montalto on occasion of the opening of the International Center for Peace and Development in Gyumri. - You’re a well known person in Armenia. You’ve been here for over twenty years, as you arrived immediately after the 1988’s earthquake. Therefore Armenia has become for you, if not your second home, the country where you carry out public duties. Let me sum up: Subsequent to the earthquake, you’ve dedicated many years on restructuring maternity hospitals, treatment centers and children’s homes. Firstly with an Italian organization, then by establishing an Armenian organization, Family Care, with which you are still developing maternity and childcare health projects. In the recent years you’ve decided to renounce to donations and to finance your projects with your own enterprises, such as with a Bed and Breakfast in Yerevan and the pottery production. Furthermore, you have organised language courses, the founding of a library, various other activities and now the Center. Why have you decided to found this Center and why in Gyumri? - I think it isn’t appropriate to say that “I’ve decided”. It is certainly a way of living up to something, until, at one stage, this something becomes bigger than a single decision and circumstances prevail on individual orientations. Japanese painters used to say: it’s the painting that creates the artist. This statement, even if apparently paradoxical, bears much truth, which can be extended to activities of all kind. My collaborators and I wished to give our contribution to regenerate this town, and to do so you first need to give value and beauty back to things around you. Our goals, now partially realized, were seeing an historical building healing its wounds and being restored respecting local traditions, or gaining square meters of abandoned areas to provide dignified community facilities. The Center foundation is part of this larger project. It was about giving life back to one of the town’s most beautiful building and we would like it to be used mostly by Gyumri’s young people as well as students from other towns. However, there’s a part of it which is less evident and which doesn’t specifically concern the Center’s purpose, yet it is as important. I’m talking about the building restructuration process in respect of all those who worked for it. Construction site and office workers bonded and got passionate about the project. It’s this kind of human interaction which is behind and inside the stone walls that may be represents for me the most important outcome. As for your second question, Gyumri has a great cultural patrimony, a very fine architecture and an extraordinary human potential. Unfortunately it is a devastated town, but slowly it is rebirthing and I believe its rebirth will be able to be driving all Armenia. And it is when you see people putting their heart in what they’re working for that you can say a town is coming alive again. - Why have you chosen this building that you have completely reconstructed? Is there a specific purpose in the edifice’s choice? - First of all it’s because it’s beautiful. All the buildings here, built between the second half of 1,800 and the first years of the 1,900, are of remarkable beauty. This one in particular is special because it is a rare example of Art Deco. The Liberty Style gives a touch of grace and lightness to the heaviness of the black tuff stones. Furthermore, we saw that the interior was giving us the opportunity to divide and organize the space to serve several functions. There’s also a nice courtyard that could become a little agora. Actually, let me add that it’s not correct to say that we’re completely rebuilding it. Our bigger effort is salvaging as much as possible its original aspect and sometimes this means having to demolish changes that the various owners made in the time. - “Peace an Development” are very beautiful designations, yet they have a quite broad significance. Everyone can have his own concept and view of peace and development. What is yours? - I would say the two terms go together, there’s not one without the other. Peace stands for tolerance and comprehension which accordingly represents the opportunity for other cultures to exchange. One of today’s plagues is the idea that the identity can be created in conflict and exclusion of other identities. There’s nothing more wrong and ill-fated then such a state of mind which, on the contrary, indicates uncertain and lost identities. The nation’s identity forms and grows through the dialogue with other cultures, and that means to start with the will to know the other rather than rejecting him. I wish that in this Center we shall be able to discuss freely of these issues and subsequently be able to realize something in practical terms. That’s why the word International coming after Center is no less important. One issue I’m particularly interested in it’s the opportunity of opening a cultural bridge between Armenia and Turkey and this is why, among other activities, I’d like the Center to welcome Turkish university students as well. - What may the Center bring to Gyumri and Armenian people? - Knowledge, trainings and wider opening to the rest of the world. Accordingly, it is important, for example, to promote tourism. I’m not talking about the packaged and rapid tourism whose only aim is bringing home some exotic images, but about the more significant one of those who have a real interest toward different cultures and traditions. This is why, together with other activities, we’re organizing local craft workshops (pottery and carpet manufacture) in which the tourists, if they wish, will be able to take part during their visit. Therefore, your question could be returned: What may Gyumri and Armenian people bring to the Center? - And to you personally? - A lot, just like everything this country gave me so far. As far as I am concerned, in Armenia I found a strong meaning in my life. All I do for the country is a gratitude token for what it gave and keeps giving me. - What are your next projects or ambitions? - Life throws at you unexpected surprises. You just have to know how to welcome coming opportunities which often are better and more exciting than what we dreamed and wished about. We’ll see… The opening of the International Center for Peace and Development will be held at Abovyan Str. 182 (Gyumri) on October 25th at 12 am.
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