The title of this blog belongs to the late Bedros Chilingirian the president “Ատենապետ” of AGBU of Toronto. He used the term during a small gathering at the newly built AGBU Center at 930 Progress Avenue in Scarborough. At the time the Prime Minister of Soviet Armenia Fadey Sarkissyan was visiting Montreal for a Scientific Conference and his schedule included a trip to Niagara Falls Hydro Power Plant.
Bedros had arranged a meeting for the representatives of the Armenian community organizations in Toronto, to meet with the Prime Minister at AGBU Center’s second-floor cafeteria/hall. There was a delay in the arrival and while waiting we were having casual conversations in the lobby on the ground floor.
The Armenian Community Center (ACC) representatives were Antranig Artinian, Maro Mardirossian, and yours truly. At one point of the conversation, Bedros said, he much appreciated the fact that every year ACC changes its president “Ատենապետ” while the previous “Ատենապետ” continues to work “like a dog” (Շան պես կաշխատի) and wondered if a second term was not permitted by the constitution. Needless to say, it was not a constitutional matter, and until that time, we did not even realize that such was the case. It was a great complement.
Like Antranig Artinian, Bedros was from Cairo Egypt and they both spoke, and acted, with similar manners. We have met Bedros during many inter-community meetings or community social events and enjoyed his company. He was a medium-built, mild-mannered person, with good humor.
On one celebratory occasion “Տօնակատարութիւն” at ACC on 18 Dupont street, Bedros was a guest as the president of the Parish Council of Holy Trinity Armenian Church on Woodlawn Avenue. Antranig welcoming and leading Bedros to his reserved seat was trying to go through a group of people and kept saying “Ճամբա բացեք ճամբա բացեք”. It sounded a bit overenthusiastic if I may say so. After that occasion, we often used to tease Antranig any time he tried to pass a group of people by quoting him “Ճամբա բացեք ճամբա բացեք” and enjoyed his pleasantly contagious smile, and laughter.
During the meeting, the Prime Minister talked like an academic rather than a politician. He mostly talked about the economic progress of Soviet Armenia. Among many major accomplishments, he also mentioned the importance of the Arpa/Sevan Tunnel to raise the water level of Lake Sevan.
At the time Arpa/Sevan Tunnel was a huge undertaking for a small country like Soviet Armenia. It was a project to dam the Arpa river and drill about fifty-kilometer tunnel through a mountain and divert part of the river water through the tunnel to Lake Sevan to raise the dangerously low level of the lake mainly due to the water flow to Hrazdan Hydro Electric Plant and irrigation system.
Sevan/Hrazdan Hydro Electric Power Plant has been the main source of electricity supply, and irrigation, for Soviet Armenia for the preceding years that helped industrialize the country. It happened at the expense of the Lake Sevan losing about eighteen meters from its height and thus in danger of becoming a “swamp”. Arpa/Sevan and Vorotan/Arpa projects were to replenish the waters of Lake Sevan and thus not only protect the lake but also save the viability of the Hydro-Electric Plant and the irrigation system as well.
I had first heard about the Sevan’s low water levels from one of my favored diaspora intellectuals and poet, Antranig Dzarougian in the early sixties. At the time in an article published in his newspaper “Nayiri”, Dzarougian described and criticized the dangerously low level of the lake. To further highlight the problem he “renamed” the historic Sevan Island as Sevan Peninsula “Թերակղզի” that it had turned into, and still is.
During the question period, I asked the Prime Minister whether he could elaborate more about the Arpa/Sevan project. As if he was waiting for such a question, and as a project manager, started a lengthy and detailed explanation that took most of the rest of the evening. It was very informative and educational.
Fadey Sarkissyan was one of the longest-serving prime ministers of Soviet Armenia and a good team member of the administration of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Armenia, Garen Demirchyan. His autobiography is a good source to understand how the Soviet system worked. He describes how through frequent and lengthy visits to Moscow, the leaders of Soviet Armenia tried to get their projects approved, and the budget allocated to realize those projects. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became the President of the National Academy of Sciences in the Republic of Armenia.
During my visit to the Republic of Armenia in 1991, I had a chance to see the Arpa river Dam in Jermug and met one of the ex-Communist party leaders of the Jermug region, who was involved in the construction of the Dam and the Tunnel. He took us to the outlet where the water was flowing into the tunnel. During the lunch with the mayor of the town, he talked in length about the many difficulties they had to overcome during the construction of the dam/tunnel and was very proud of it. He had every right to be a participant in that vital project.
On that trip, I also managed to see the Sevan Hrazdan Hydro Electric Plant in action. I was awe-stricken about the amount of water that was drained from Lake Sevan for electricity generation and irrigation. It was like a powerful and fast-running river. The operating manager said, at the time it was operating only at its medium-level capacity. It sure looked like much more water going out, than what I saw water coming in from Jermug dam.
Recent reports indicate that the lake level has not only stabilized but has also started to rise again. It is the only major body of water Armenia has, and due to its high altitude location, it is also the source of many and many other water brooks and springs that feed Armenia’s water system. It is like a mother feeding her children.
We Armenians love to over-glorify our past historic events, cities, waterways, etc, and dedicate poems and songs to them like “Mayr Araxy Aperov” Yerevan” “Sardarabad” Vartanants, etc. I have not read or heard one such poem or song for Lake Sevan. Maybe it will be appropriate to call it “Մայր Հայեաստանի”(Mother of Armenia). I think the word Մայր (Mother) will be a more appropriate name for Lake Sevan than the black statue in Yerevan called “Մայր Հայեաստան” (Mather Armenia). It has hardly any characteristics or representation of motherhood. That is how I felt the first time I saw it and still do.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian