By Hasmik Gyozalyan
Photos by Harutyun Tsatryan
07-05-2017
Meruzhan Minasian: “This small piece of land is fully mine…I feel it with my whole soul”
Co-founder and president of “Comma” (Storaket) Architectural Studio Meruzhan Minasian, who is an engineer by profession and moved from Iran to Armenia back in 1997, was recognized as the winner in the Young Repatriate category at the 2016 Youth Awards held by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of the Republic of Armenia.

Throughout the past ten years of its existence, “Comma” has carried out quite a lot of activities, conveying a new word, a new breath and new shades to the Armenian reality. Today, it unquestionably has its special place in the Armenian market. Among the architectural studio’s numerous projects are the architectural projects at Ayb High School, The Green Bean Café, the Library of the American University of Armenia, the Dzithan at Tatev Monastery and the art gallery in Shushi.

Meruzhan Minasian talked about the homeland of his dreams and the real Armenia, his family, repatriating and growing in Armenia, the activities of “Comma” and other topics in an interview with Eritasard.am.

In my dreams, Armenia was the world’s biggest country…

I was born in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. My mother’s parents are from Gharaghan and Ghazvin, and my father’s family moved from the Chaharmahal region to Tehran.

We were living in an Armenian district where we were quite isolated from the locals, would only communicate in Armenian and lived with the morals and customs of an Armenian. I thought the whole world spoke in Armenian. One could feel the breath of Armenia in our home. In my dreams, Armenia was the world’s biggest country…

I was certain that I would see the Homeland someday. My grandfather would instill in us the faith in seeing Armenia someday.

…Due to my father’s job, we would travel to Germany almost every year. In 1993, we finally managed to visit Armenia. I was 13 and was going to see the Armenia of my dreams for the first time ever.

When our plane landed, Zvartnots Airport was completely dark, and there was only one orange lamp lit at the passport checkpoint. In general, the whole city was in darkness, and the only place that had lights was the U.S. Embassy.

I experienced interesting feelings (when you see something bright in a dream, but you become convinced that it doesn’t exist…but you have lived in that dream so much that you don’t want to believe in the reality). Armenia was warm and was completely mine, but it was not the Armenia of my dreams. Despite all the hardships, my relatives did the possible and impossible to make sure our visit was a visit to remember. I remember their warmth to this day.

Artsakh changed my life…

In 1997, I took my father’s advice and moved to Armenia. Frankly, it was quite a difficult period for me. I faced serious problems in Armenia since I was the bearer of morals that people had a hard time understanding. For instance, my hair was long, and I would wear jeans, which was not

too acceptable. I had hard feelings for about a year. There came a moment when I wanted to go back to Iran. That was when one of my relatives suggested that we go to Artsakh together. I had never been to Artsakh. I left, but I had decided that I would go back to Iran upon my return. However, the trip to Artsakh was crucial and changed my life. We were carrying out a resettlement project in one of the villages of the Zangelan region. I met a person who had lost his three sons during the war, but continued to stay clung to the land. I realized that there are more important values in life. Leaving everything behind is the easiest route. I stayed and got accepted to the State Engineering University of Armenia the following year.

“If you want to become an architect, you have to work hard…”

My late professor had a great impact on me as an architect. He was different from other professors and was devoted to his job, and I learned a lot from him. On one occasion, he told me the following: “If you want to become an architect, you have to work hard.”

When the Cafesjian Center for the Arts was being designed, I was in my fourth year of studies, and my professor engaged me in the efforts. This can be considered the start of my professional career.

Later, my friend, Narbeh Petrosian and I participated in the “Home for a Star” contest organized by Salon magazine. In spite the numerous difficulties, out of the 90 participants, we won third place, and this was quite a serious achievement.

A year after that, we participated in a bigger contest along with 300 participants and won third place again. These successes made us feel self-confident, and we started thinking about creating a studio.

In 2007, we created “Comma” (Storaket) Architectural Studio. We immediately participated in the contest declared for designing the boarding school in Dilijan and won, but for some reason, the works were interrupted a year later. Later, we received an order to design Ayb High School.

In the beginning, the name of the architectural studio was misunderstood and many would ask us why we named the studio “comma”. Our goal was to place a comma, add something new and change the mindset towards many phenomena. One of our main principles is to hold joint discussions, make decisions together and engage in dialogue with the client. We try to “impose” freedom and get rid of patterns.

We were young when we started and many people underestimated us, but today, I am pleased to say that “Comma” is recognized and has its place in the market.

…Designing Ayb High School was one of our major projects. The parents of the children often tell us that their children don’t want to come home from school. This is the best appreciation.

Out of the special projects, I would set aside one of the cottages in Dzoraghbyur. I don’t want to sound pompous, but we have tried to show that a cottage can have a different look. It might be strange for some, but it is a special house that has inspired many.

We always have a special attitude towards projects that we have carried out in Artsakh. We have designed a small chapel and the TUMO Center in Artsakh. There is a special connection between us and particularly the projects carried out in Artsakh.

Greatest achievement…

Our greatest achievement is our studio, which I consider my home. After overcoming numerous difficulties over the past ten years, today we have 17 jobs.

…To be honest, I have never attached importance to awards. Constructing a building is like raising a child, and it gives you spiritual satisfaction…When the building is exploited, that is already an appreciation of the work.

…During the 2016 Youth Awards, I experienced interesting feelings. I was competing in the Young Repatriate with Ara Kedekian from Iraq and Antranig Safar from Syria. I would have been very happy, if they had won.

The winners had to be determined through an online vote, but due to technical difficulties, the voting was conducted by a show of hands. I wasn’t expecting to see so many people recognize and appreciate me. This is also binding. In general, being Armenian and being in Armenia is binding. It was a beautiful event held in a positive atmosphere. I hope it is ongoing.

This small piece of land is fully mine…I feel it with my whole soul…

Before leaving for the USA, I had seen Arpine a couple of times and had a crush on her, but I had never talked to her about it. When I returned, singer Arthur Ispiryan introduced me to my future wife.

We have two sons, Areg and Mher, and we are proud of them. As a repatriate, my last name is written with the “ian” at the end, but my sons’ last names are written with “yan”. They are full-fledged citizens of Armenia and will never have to be forced to be in two realities.

…I was born in Iran and have warm feelings about that country, but I have always realized that it is not mine. This small piece of land where I live is fully mine…I feel it with my whole soul.