TATEV, Republic of Armenia – Hundreds of visionaries, philanthropists, government and church officials, and community leaders will gather at the ancient Tatev Monastery in Southern Armenia on Saturday, October 16, 2010, for the launch of the innovative and forward-thinking Tatev Revival Project.
“Tatev is one of our historic landmarks. It’s a crown jewel in our cultural heritage and was for centuries a major focal point and religious center for our people. It was also where we studied theology, humanities, the sciences, and created art and literature,” said Zarmine Zeitountsian, Fundraising Coordinator of the Tatev Revival Project. “Tatev is a 9th century landmark that, due to natural causes and centuries of neglect, is now in serious need of conservation and restoration.”
The Tatev monastic complex underwent a flawed and unfinished renovation attempt in the 1980s under Soviet rule. Rain and snow continue to threaten the stability of the ancient structures and seep through to interiors causing more damage.
“There’s still a massive construction crane from the renovation attempt, and it’s been standing in the middle of the courtyard for the last 30 years,” said Zeitountsian. “The work that was attempted in the 80s is historically inaccurate and unbefitting. It is important not only to conserve the structures of the Monastery, protecting them from deterioration, but also to undo some of the inappropriate interventions such as the hotel lobby-like marble floors in the holy St. Paul and Peter Church, and to restore some collapsed components such as the ancient monk cells.”
Spearheading the massive $50-million Tatev Revival Project on behalf of a group of stakeholders, including the Armenian Government and Church, benefactors and the Armenian people is the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia. This public-private partnership tackles breakthrough, strategic projects that act as catalysts for long-term development. Competitiveness Foundation projects trigger both government and private investments in sectors like tourism, education, and healthcare. Economists have identified these sectors as ones that will make Armenia globally competitive.
“Our challenge was not just to renovate the monastery, but to ensure that it will live, become active and self-sustaining,” said Competitiveness Foundation CEO, Pegor Papazian. “Tatev is part of our Southern Armenia Tourism Corridor, where we have designed and are developing projects that are designed to create excitement and inspire confidence, so that our intervention will trigger further development. We are zoning and creating a master plan for the region, so that we can direct development and mobilize investments while protecting nature and the rural environment.”
The far-sighted Tatev Revival Project will launch in October with the grand opening of the $13 million aerial tramway. Already under construction since last fall, this 5.7-kilometer (3.5-mile) aerial tramway – the world’s longest teleferic – will allow visitors to bypass a 90-minute drive in and out of the rocky Vorotan River Gorge to reach the monastery. It will link Armenia’s main regional highway to the village of Tatev.
“We have a very diverse group of donors, including quite a few non-Armenians and people of different faiths – Christian, Jewish and Muslim. As a result of their contributions, the 9th century Tatev complex may be reached by taking a 10-minute ride,” said Zeitountsian. “This tramway will take visitors over picturesque green hills, steep cliffs, and the rushing white waters of the Vorotan River. In itself, it will be an impressive tourist attraction.”
The Ruben and Veronica Vardanian and Friends Foundation is the main benefactor of the Halidzor-Tatev tramway construction. Several sponsors have also committed to covering the maintenance and operating costs of the Swiss-built ropeway. It will operate year-round, to allow tourists from around the globe to experience Tatev during all seasons, even during snow-covered winters.
“With our investors committed to the project, we also have Armenia’s taxpayers and government stepping up to reconstruct and repave the roads leading to Halidzor and Tatev and to strengthen the area’s infrastructure,” said Zara Amatuni, Competitiveness Foundation Outreach Manager. “There are other investors looking into developing community-based tourism activities, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and eateries.”
Among the many innovative breakthrough development programs in the Tatev Revival Project are the renewal of Tatev’s monastic traditions, an arts and crafts revival, and culinary tourism. These sophisticated, multi-faceted projects are ambitious and reflect a long-term perspective.
“People value food, especially authentic ethnic food, and we want to make the region’s cuisine more accessible. We want to revive old and forgotten recipes, use local ingredients to create new dishes, and offer tourists and global markets a new take on Armenian cuisine,” said Papazian. “The same ideology will be applied to arts and craft revival, which will help make Armenia more competitive as a tourism destination. Projects such as these will result in economic growth that will naturally lead to more jobs, reduced migration, and a sustainable economy.”
The monastic revival component of the Tatev Revival Project will bring back to life a time when Tatev was home to more than 500 monks and a thriving university that excelled in scientific, literary, and religious studies. In its heyday, Tatev was at the leading edge of education. Today, plans are in the works to make the monastery attractive for students, artists, academics and even pilgrims. The monastery has the potential to become a center for academic conferences, research projects, workshops, summer camps, science fairs, musical concerts, lectures, retreats, and sabbaticals.
“We are attracting financing and plugging Armenia into global networks and markets,” said Papazian. “We want people to choose Armenia over another country they might be considering next time they plan their vacation. We want to be competitive across sectors, and especially in tourism, healthcare, and education which have great unrealized potential.”