Revival of Agarak and the anniversary of Ararat, the football team, on a cosmic scale

Just before grand events to celebrate the 2800th anniversary of the foundation of the capital – Erebuni-Yerevan – that will be held in the Republic of Armenia at the end of October, a small Armenian village celebrated the 10th anniversary of its revival equally impressively. The Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan himself came there to participate in the celebration.
A visit of top public officials is significant and very important for any city, not to mention a provincial village. Such an event is almost a miracle for it. That miracle was created by Grachya Pogosyan, the philanthropist, the former resident of that village, the present citizen of Saint-Petersburg.
Everything started with a simple idea. A year ago Grachya Pogosyan was in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, on a charitable mission and he visited The National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. There he was shown the national flag that had travelled into space and had been on board of ISS. The philanthropist liked the story and came up with an idea to make a similar present to his Republic – to send the flags of Armenia and Yerevan into space so that on their return he could give them to the leaders of the country when celebrating the 2800th anniversary of Yerevan and the 100th anniversary of the first Republic of Armenia.

Having voiced that idea to Oleg Mukhin, Vice-President of the Federation of Cosmonautics of Russia, Grachya Pogosyan got his approval, and then the cosmonaut Seregey Krikalev, Hero of the Russian Federation and Hero of the Soviet Union, and Roscosmos agreed as well. Before the flags began their long journey, Grachya Pogosyan received the blessing of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. After that the Ambassador of Armenia to Russia Vardan Toghanyan and the philanthropist Grachya Pogosyan with the support of Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in Saint Petersburg Hrayr Karapetyan gave the flags to Oleg Artemyev, the cosmonaut, Hero of the Russian Federation, who then delivered them to ISS.

It was decided to present the flags to the top public officials on the day of the 10th anniversary of the revival of Agarak, the native village of Grachya Pogosyan, right before the main state celebrations. An extensive programme had been prepared for that day.

It should be noted that Agarak is a village in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia with a long history, but as well as in other provincial settlements, the life wasn’t notable there anyway. It hadn’t been till its native and the present citizen of St. Petersburg Grachya Pogosyan having become a high achiever started to support Agarak. The turning point in the life of the village came 10 years ago when in 2008 a new church of Saint Mother of God built by Grachya Pogosayn was consecrated by the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. The old residents of Agarak called that moment the day of the revival of the village. Since then a lot have been done under the support of Grachya Pogosyan: a new children’s playground has been made, a bell tower has been constructed, the spring has been opened near the new church, the memorial to Warriors from Agarak who died during World War II has been erected and great support has been provided to the local school. Five years ago a monument to the legendary football team Ararat was unveiled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their double victory in 1973. Its opening took place in front of a lot of guests both from Armenia and Russia, the footballers of Ararat who came from all over the world and the residents of the village as well.

Five years had passed since that event and Grachya Pogosyan decided to gather the guests in his native Agarak.

For the 10th anniversary of the revival of Agarak one classroom of the school was repaired, and it was decided to make it a class of robotics and name it after the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Elena Gagrina, the daughter of the famous cosmonaut and the head of the Moscow Kremlin Museums gave her permission. Grachya Pogosyan also ordered to create a mosaic icon to Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide to install it next to the church of Saint Mother of God.  The specialists of the mosaic workshop “Tavr” made it with the blessing of the bishop Mkrtych Proshyan. The icon was delivered from the Northern capital and erected on the pedestal created by the sculptor Ashot Davayan. The square neighbouring the monument Ararat-73 was reorganized and it was decided to name it after the famous team. One of the main events for Agarak became the creation of the apparel production which would give the residents the opportunity to earn money. Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, suggested an idea at the meeting of the members of the Armenian Diaspora which was held in St. Petersburg in June 2018. Pashinyan addressed the Armenian businessmen to create working places for their fellow countrymen in Armenia.

Everything was ready for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the revival of Agarak and the people were anxious about the main event – the delivery of the “cosmic” flags.


The airport in Yerevan was crowded on 6 October: hundreds of people came there with placards and flowers to meet an important guest with an equally important weight. And there was something to worry about. The Russian crew of ISS landed only on 4 October and there was little confidence that the long-awaited flags would be delivered to Yerevan in time. And there he was, the cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Hero of the Russian Federation coming out of the central arrival hall. The initiator of this event Grachya Pogosyan introduced the important guest to the people and the journalists. The hall resounded with the applause and camera flashes. The guest was welcomed “with bread and salt”. Everyone was interested if he had brought the flags of the Republic. Anton Shkaplerov demonstrated everybody a carefully wrapped flag of Armenia. When asked to unwrap it, the cosmonaut said:

- Now the flag is hermetically sealed. It was sealed in space and if we open it, we’ll let the smell of space out. So we’ve decided to do it tomorrow. I’ll give the flag to the top public officials so that the cosmic aura spread around in the solemn atmosphere.

The cosmonaut said that it was his first time in Yerevan but he flew around the Earth more than 8 thousand times and he saw Armenia, Lake Sevan and the capital of Armenia from space. According to his words, the flags of only some countries had been into space and for a small country like Armenia it was a remarkable event.
He also said that the flag of Yerevan was still on Baikonur but it would be delivered to Armenia right before the day of the city. He mentioned that the cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev who had taken the flags to ISS would come and give it himself.

When asked to wish something to the Armenians and the citizens of Yerevan, he answered:
- On a cosmic scale 2800 years are just a moment. Yerevan has still a lot ahead, I wish to reach new cosmic heights, new orbits and achievements.


The next day, on 7 October, Agarak welcomed the guests with happy faces of the residents, national music, dances and brightly decorated streets. Special guests from all over Armenia, Russia and from abroad came there on that day. Among them there was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin with some members of the staff of the Embassy, representatives of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, the acting governor of the Aragatsotn Province Anait Sarkisyan, representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS, clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a number of military officers, sculptors, artists, journalists and residents of the village. A lot of special guests from St. Petersburg and Moscow had been invited by Grachya Pogosyan personally. Among them there was the cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Hero of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant-General Anatoly Zaytsev, an honorary citizen of St. Petersburg, an Honoured Teacher of Russia Larisa Listova, the CEO of the Information Agency “Veteran news” Vyacheslav Kalinin, the chief editor of the independent newspaper “Noev Kovcheg” Grigory Anisonyan, the general director of the mosaic workshop “Tavr” Oleg Kostenko. And, of course, the legendary footballers of Ararat arrived there as well.  So Agarak was welcoming thousands of people altogether.

Ladies in the national costumes were greeting the guests “with bread and salt”, and the dance ensemble “Maratuk” gave positive energy of the national dance to everybody.
The celebrations started with laying floral tributes to the memorial to Warriors from Agarak who died during World War II. Those tributes were from the Embassy of Russia in Armenia, the Ministry of Diaspora of RA, the Armenian Apostolic Church, Hero cosmonauts of Russia, the Governor of Aragatsotn Province, the guests from St. Petersburg and the family of the Pogosyans. Each guest and resident of the village put white carnations to the pedestal. Then everybody gathered near the church of Saint Mother of God. Here, next to it, a pedestal made of tufa was set with an icon to Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. Grachya Pogosyan and the bishop Gevorg Saroyan were honored to unveil it presenting a drop-dead gorgeous icon to the public. What everybody saw impressed them evoking sighs of admiration. The ceremony of the blessing of such a great gift was held by the Head of the Aragatsotn Diocese, Bishop Mkrtycha Proshyan in concelebration with Bishop Gevorg Saroyan, the main inspector of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and some clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church.  
At the end of the ceremony the author of that mosaic, the Head of the mosaic workshop “Tavr”, Oleg Kostenko thanked the residents of Agarak from the bottom of his heart for their warm welcoming and the trust that Grachya Pogosyan had given him when placing such an important and difficult order.
Then the guests went to visit the school of Agarak. There were some kids vividly discussing something in a new classroom at new desks with modern computers. That classroom named after Yuri Gagarin was created to develop the potential of the youth of Agarak in the field of robotics, technology and space studies.
The classroom was opened by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin, Hero of the Russian Federation Anton Shkaplerov and Lieutenant-General Anatoly Zaytsev. There was a portrait bust of Yuri Gagarin made by Grachya Pogosyan’s request specially for the school. Anton Shkaplerov and Grachya Pogosyan were honored to unveil it. It goes without saying that learning robotics together with space studies will definitely broaden children’s outlook as well as give an opportunity to choose among a variety of careers including space. All participants of the ceremony underlined that. Ambassador of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin made his contribution to the education process having presented a new computer.
By the way, the students of Agarak school have become the winners of different academic competitions and contests at the national level several times recently that proves the rising level of life in the village once again.
Nikol Pashinyan had already come by that time. The people watching in disbelief were greeting him as if he was a miracle. Everyone wanted to see the Head of the State and when he got out of the car, thousands of people expressed their delight. Nikol Pashinyan welcomed the guests heartily, shook hands with Ambassador of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin, greeted the host party and the initiator of the celebrations Grachya Pogosyan.
First of all, the Prime Minister went into the building of the new production, examined the conditions of work, thanked Grachya Pogosyan for his contribution to the development of the village. Now only 20 people can work in the sewing room but further the number of working places will be increased. Today there are some orders for uniforms and workwear, in the future clothing manufacturers would like to work not only at the national level but get foreign orders as well. New premises are being built nearby that will allow to provide more than 100 working places. Nikol Pashinyan and Grachya Pogosyan laid a capsule with the message to the future generations with the hope for the bright future of Agarak and Armenia into the foundation of the new building.
Then Nikol Pashinyan took part in the opening ceremony of the square named after the famous Armenian football team “Ararat-73”. The square was officially opened by the former back of the team, the youngest footballer Armen Sarkisyan. To remember that event by, Nikol Pashinyan planted a blue spruce near the monument.
The honoured guest was awaited on the festive stage. There the guests were met by the popular Armenian singers, the concert was held by Nazeni Ovanesyan and Vartan Tadevosyan. A lot of words of joy of what was going on in Agarak were said on that day, and the hope for the prosperity of Armenia was expressed.
Nikol Pashinyan in his speech underlined the importance of the events.
- The day today is symbolic for different reasons. Many people have asked what has changed in Armenia for the last five months. Those who want to see will definitely do it. They will see that the most important things such as the people’s mood, their points of view, self-esteem and self-confidence have changed. It is important to note that dignity and honor are two significant things for people. And every citizen must clearly understand that they are equal to anyone, no one takes a higher or lower position. Today not a single citizen of Armenia, starting from the Prime Minister, is more privileged. We all are the citizens of Armenia and we have the same rights and duties. We have had the principles of real brotherhood, civil brotherhood, in Armenia, we take each other as one family, one union, one nation.
45 years have passed since that double victory of Ararat, but till now people of Armenia remember these footballers, open squares with tears in the eyes to honour them. With its victories Ararat invigorated the feeling of pride of the nation as after each victory every Armenian could feel proud because our identity, our honour and dignity are the main things for our nation, - the Prime Minister said. Nikol Pashinyan stressed the importance of the celebratory event by saying:
- Why is this day so important? I and Grachya Pogosyan met in St. Petersburg. We had a talk to some Armenian businessmen. When we were discussing the model of the future development of Armenia, the way how it had to develop, we came to a conclusion that the main role of the government was to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest in Armenia. Mister Pogosyan promised to invest in Agarak and he has done it. Such people who give and keep their promise are our most important partners as they are not only involved in charitable work but are able to create opportunities for any representative of the nation to earn their living.
It is the first plant that has opened since our Republic acquired independence, and I hope that this small production will grow and similar productions will appear… Long live Agarak, long live the people of Agagrak, long live Armenia! – the Prime Minister finished his pep talk.
Then the footballers of the legendary team were invited to the stage; a part of them had come from the USA at Grachya Pogosyan’s invitation. Each of them thanked the philanthropist for his activity for the benefit of his nation and for the memory that he is trying to preserve for descendants. They presented Nikol Pashinyan with a golden boot and asked him to continue being the strong leader of the nation. 
The cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Hero of the Russian Federation, the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Grachya Pogosyan came up to the stage.
- This flag spent 200 days into space, when Armenia was experiencing some changes. I consider this flag to be the symbol of a new life for Armenia, its stability and economic growth, the symbol of peace and friendship, - Anton Shkaplerov said. He opened the package letting the cosmic air out on the Armenian land and handed over the symbol of the Republic to its head – Nikol Pashinyan. It happened there, on the stage in the village of Agarak, where the history was made and the people of Armenia would keep it in their memory for years.
Though the cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, Hero of the Russian Federation, who had brought the flags of the Republic to ISS, couldn’t hand them over to the head of Armenia himself, he was virtually there having sent a video message with his congratulations for the residents of Armenia, Yerevan and Agarak. It was shown on a big screen causing joy and admiration among the people present. On that day Russian TV and movie stars – Ivan Urgant, Roman Budnikov, Vladimir Levkin and others -  also congratulated Yerevan and the entire Armenian nation. Their video messages were shown on the day of the celebration.
The floor was given to the main organiser of that celebratory event, to Grachya Pogosyan. In his welcoming speech he thanked everyone who provides support to his initiatives.
- I am very thankful to the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. When he visited our village for the first time in history and consecrated the church of Saint Mother of God, since that very moment, as the residents of Agarak say, the revival of the village has begun. I also would like to thank the teachers of the secondary school for the achievements of their students. I thank Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin for being with us today and for his present that he has given to the school.
All residents of Agarak are descendants of refugees from Western Armenia and for each of us the consecration of the mosaic icon to Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide held by Mkrtych Proshyan has become a unique event. It means a lot for those who live in Agarak. I hope that a similar icon will appear on the territory of Tsitsernakabert, - Grachya Pogosyan pointed out. He specially noted the influence of the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on the creation of the working places for his fellow villagers. He also emphasized the significance of the fact that the footballers of Ararat were present and congratulated them on the latest anniversary of their legendary victory. 
- We, the Armenians, who live outside Armenia feel double responsibility for our Homeland, the place where we were born and the country that has become out Motherland. Living in St. Petersburg I can definitely say that I love this wonderful city and I am glad that there are the people from the city of Peter the Great together with us today. All my work is devoted to the strengthening of our friendly relationships between our countries and our nations. The city of Ashtrak, Aragatsotn Province, and the city of Kirovsk in Leningrad region are twin cities. And our flags – of Russia and Armenia – are waving together today.
Grachya Pogosyan thanked Anton Shkaplerov for the unique present that he had brought and underlined:
- So Armenia has neither its own cosmodrome, nor cosmonauts but our country deserves to be given such a present.
On that day the head of the rural council of Agarak awarded the title “An honoured resident of the village of Agarak” to two countrymen – the senior priest of the church of Saint Mother of God, Father Vigen Manukyan and Grachya Pogosyan’s mother Lena Vartanona. Famous Armenian singers – Sofi Mkheyan, Zara Babayan and others – graced the event with their performances.
After the official part of the event everybody could taste the delicacies and toast well-being of Armenia, Yerevan and Agarak – the tables were laid outdoors. The Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan joined the people.
To form the perfect finale, a seedling of Petrovsky oak that had been grown from an acorn from the tree planted by Peter the Great himself was planted in the schoolyard. That present as a symbol of friendship between St. Petersburg and Agarak was given by Grachya Pogosyan. He in his turn got that seedling from the Russian Museum in summer for his charitable work which he does in the Northern Capital. 
The honour to plant the tree was given to all guests from St. Petersburg. The Honoured citizen of the Northern Capital and Honoured Teacher of Russia Larisa Listova presented a full collection of poems by A.S. Pushkin wishing both the students and the teachers to reach new heights, to step over the boarders of the Republic and achieve the international level.
The residents of Agarak didn’t let the guests go for a long time, they were talking and saying most heartfelt thanks. They expressed their admiration to Grachya Pogosyan and Anton Shkaplerov for that unforgettable event that they had organized for the residents of Agarak.
That celebratory event finished with a gala dinner which was organized by Grachya Pogosyan There everyone present could not only celebrate the event but also get to know the special guests better and take a photo. During the dinner Lieutenant-General Anatoly Zaytsev rewarded the military officers, the active residents of Agarak and the footballers of Ararat with Medals for Labour Achievements, for Military-Patriotic Education. The chief editor of IA “Veteran news”, the veteran of military operations in the Russian North Caucuses Vyacheslav Kalinin rewarded some guests with Medals for Courage and Humanism of the Association of veterans of military operations of the Internal affairs bodies and the Internal Forces of Russia. He presented “a golden cross” of the Military syndicate of Serbia for humanity and love of truth – St. John of the Cross – to Grachya Pogosyan. In the end Anton Shkaplerov, Grachya Pogosyan, the footballer Armen Sarkisyan and the head of the rural council of Agarak Vagan Khachatryan cut a huge cake decorated in a cosmic style.
On the next day the delegation from St. Petersburg and Moscow was invited to the Russian Embassy for an informal reception. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin and the staff of the embassy spoke about the peculiarities of work in Armenia, and the guests shared their impressions of the celebratory event and discussed future friendly relationships between the two countries.
Then Grachya Pogosyan invited everybody to Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. There was an interesting excursion around the cathedral of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin where the guests knew about a centuries-long long history of Christianization of Armenia, drank holy water from the spring inside the cathedral and prayed for the bright future. The guests were impressed by people’s attitude who having seen the delegation and the Russian cosmonaut came and thanked them for such an unforgettable present for the country.
Anton Shkaplerov and Grachya Pogosyan were invited by the main TV channels of Armenia. They answered the questions that concerned the hosts and the viewers about the history of that patriotic event on live TV and people expressed their gratitude and joy for the present that had been given to the country. Grachya Pogosyan in his turn emphasized that he managed to realize his initiative under the support of Roscosmos and Russian cosmonauts. That was a sort of a present from Russia and its nation as a lot of public officials and concerned people provided support.
The guests also visited Yerevan Ararat brandy-wine-vodka factory “Noy”. There they know about its development and its revival after the recession in the 90s. The guide of “Noy” told them about it during the tour of the museum and famous cellars.
The final present from the philanthropist to his special guests was a visit to an ancient monastery Khor Virap. Archimandrite Taron Gulikyan accepted them together with Russian military officers. Father Taron acquainted the guests with the history of the Monastery, showed them around the temple and showed the pit where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was held for 13 years.
It was the end of a social visit of the guests from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Neither its participants, nor the citizens of Armenia will forget that great patriotic event.