The construction of the 33-meter-tall statue on Mount Hatis is sponsored by Gagik Tsarukyan, one of Armenia’s richest people. The proposal has raised concerns among many about the risks the statue could pose to natural and cultural monuments on the mountain.
In an article published on July 11, Hetqa major Armenian investigative media outlet, revealed that Gagik Tsakuryan’s foundation received ownership of more than 140 hectares around the top of the mountain in exchange for ֏13 million ($31,600).
The allocation was approved by the local governments of a few villages in Kotayk province, where Tsarukyan is from.
Mount Hatis, with its peak at 2,500 meters above sea level, is considered one of the most important natural monuments in Armenia.
Tsarukyan, a former lawmaker from the Prosperous Armenia party, offered to sponsor the construction of the statue in early spring to help the Armenian people “emerge from despair”.
The statue was designed by Armen Samvelyan, the winner of the Tsarukyan design competition for the statue.
It should be 33 meters high, without its pedestal, which should be two or three times higher than the statue itself. Tsarukyan said he wanted the statute to be visible from any part of the country “as it is in Rio de Janeiro”.
In comparison, Christ the Redeemer, the statue of Jesus overlooking the Brazilian city, rises to 30 meters high on an 8-meter base.
In early July, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rented the idea and said the statue would attract more tourists to Armenia.
“I hope our relevant bodies will discuss the matter in due time,” Pashinyan said during a July 7 cabinet meeting. “There is a need for a number of administrative decisions, they will make those decisions, and the project will move forward.”
Armenia’s Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan also expressed support for the idea.
The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports has published a statement tentatively approving the proposal, however, with some major caveats. He noted that the construction of the statue could damage or disrupt the Bronze Age archaeological sites discovered at the top of the mountain. He also called on Tsarukyan to refrain from any illegal activity in the state-preserved areas.
Further discussions on the subject by the government are expected to take place in the near future, despite the fact that construction has already begun. Tsarukyan said that after the statue is completed, he expects further construction of hotels and restaurants near the mountain.
Environmental activists in Armenia have also raised concerns about the mountain’s ecosystem and the lack of public discussion ahead of construction approval.
Yasha Solomonyan, president of the Armenian Association of Professional Guides, Told Media Lab that the statue of Jesus has nothing to do with “Armenian culture” and that the “tourist importance” of it “will not be great”.
“It is unacceptable that we bring this monument, which is not authentic, [and] doesn’t suit us,” Solomonyan said, adding that the mountain also has a major hiking trail.
It was with enthusiasm that I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the installation of the statue of Christ in Armenia 🇦🇲. It’s a historic day!
Thank you, Armenia’s Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan and businessman and philanthropist Gagik Tsarukyan, for inviting us! pic.twitter.com/g0CkM4XVfY
— Zurab Pololikashvili (@pololikashvili) July 9, 2022
The Armenian Apostolic Church has also spoken against Tsarukyan’s offer in March, when the former politician announced his initial plans. At the time, the church said it would only approve the design of reliefs depicting Jesus in the style of traditional Armenian Khachkars – carved memorial stones bearing Christian motifs.
The Supreme Spiritual Council urged the “authors and participants of the initiative to refrain from projects that contradict the tradition” of the Armenian Apostolic Church and “to be guided by approaches consistent with our national-ecclesiastical culture, our ecclesiological and theological principles”.
Despite political disagreements, the Armenian government has decided to waive $4.2 billion ($10 million) in taxes on a casino owned by Tsarukyan, alongside talks held over the statue.
Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia Party was one of the most prominent opposition groups demanding Pashinyan’s resignation after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
In a recent interview with local media about the future statue, Tsarukyan said “nothing has changed” in his stance since then.