Land surveys of Yerevan’s cemeteries haven not been updated since 2008, but, the Yerevan municipal administration states that over half of the city’s 21cemeteries are now partly closed.
Funerals and burials are an elaborate affair in Armenia, and an obligation that reflects on a family’s honor.
For that reason, when the unemployed grandson, a resident of the Yerevan district of Avan, learned that a cemetery a few kilometers away from his family home had an 18-square-meter (194-square-feet) plot available for $2,000, he jumped at the chance. To get the space, his family eventually paid a bribe of $1,500; an amount nearly four times the size of the average monthly salary in Armenia.
“There was no time for an extensive search, and the proposed [alternative, free-of-charge] places were either in the suburbs or in places which were difficult to reach or rocky,” explains the man, who asked not to be identified. “Aside from that, we wanted a nearby location so that our grandmother could visit the grave frequently.”
While he appreciates the idea of cremation, the procedure would not have been the appropriate option for his family, he says.
A Law on Cremation, but No Crematorium
Even today, Vladimir Badalyan, Armenia’s ambassador to Turkmenistan, recalls how, as an MP more than 11 years ago, the idea came to mind to propose a bill on cremation.
After walking through several of the country’s cemeteries, he says, it became plain that “the overload in many cemeteries, especially in Yerevan, was critical.”
“The graves had spread out from their former boundaries and the cemeteries were invading the area of residential buildings, hospitals, and so on. Aside from that, the cemeteries were in grave condition; they were completely covered” by overgrown greenery.
Crematoria, Ambassador Badalyan continues, would replace “the vast graveyards . . .with small and neatmemorial plates.
“It would be easier to maintain and Armenians living abroad would be sure that, then, the graves of their loved ones and relatives would be safe from natural disasters, such as landslides.”
Ambassador Badalyan’s bill was adopted in 2006 (“On Funerals, Cemeteries and Crematoria”), complete with specifications on the use of a crematorium and even on the size of the plates that cover the ash capsules.
But, he believes, Armenia’s cemeteries have not improved. Many of the law’s clauses, he says, are now just useless paragraphs.
Cremation as a Way to Save Space
Even so, cremation’s space-saving advantages are hard to dispute.
Currently, the government allots Armenian citizens 2.5 square meters (27 square feet) of free-of-charge land for burying one person. A family can receive 12 square meters (129 square feet), with room for up to six graves.
By contrast, the area allotted for burying an ash capsule is five times smaller -- half a square meter (or 5.4 square feet). Relatives can also take the ashes home or place them in a memorial wall.