- Armais Albertovich, in September of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin conferred on you and a group of employees of the Medical Research and Educational Center of MSU, which you are in charge of, national awards for your invaluable contribution to the fight against the coronavirus infection COVID-19 and dedication demonstrated in the course of performing your professional duties. Vladimir Putin presented you with the Order of Alexander Nevsky. What measures were taken by the MSU Medical Center to fight against coronavirus?
- The Medical Research and Educational Center of Lomonosov MSU was converted into a COVID hospital in April 2020. We understood the challenges on a nationwide scale, and in Moscow in particular. It was obvious that a large-scale fight against the virus had to start immediately, and our center could not sit on the sidelines. Rector of Moscow State University Viktor Antonovich Sadovnichiy, having discussed our initiative with the Government of the Russian Federation and the Mayor of Moscow, made the decision to include the Medical Research and Educational Center of MSU in the pool of medical institutions that would combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
We managed to accomplish a great deal in two weeks. We dealt with organizational and methodological issues associated with conversion of the center, installation of lock chambers between green and red zones; issues that had to do with development of optimal routing for patients based on the principle of one ward - one patient, logistics security systems, training of doctors and all the medical personnel. Since April 21, we have started accepting patients. The center operated as a COVID hospital for a little over two months. During that time, 424 patients were hospitalized, and all of them were in critical condition.
- What made it possible for the center, within a short period of time, to gain an understanding of the way the COVID disease runs its course and develop a protocol for its treatment?
- It was a daily interdisciplinary council attended by our most experienced medical professionals and prominent scientists. Every day we personally discussed the condition of each patient - test results, changes in the lungs, other organs and systems.
From the very beginning, it became clear to us that patients with COVID have problems with blood rheology, there is also a tendency to thrombus formation. The tendency was so obvious that it allowed us identify this characteristic of the coronavirus infection. And that is why, all of our patients, without exception, received anticoagulant therapy. Perhaps this is exactly what made the treatment developed in the center such a success. The fatalities in the hospital amounted to 0.94%. Virtually all patients were saved and discharged from the hospital. That was one thing.
Another thing that immediately drew our attention was the uselessness of the therapy that was recommended at the very beginning of the pandemic - treatment with huge doses of antibiotics. The antibiotic therapy is directed against the bacteria, but is ineffective when fighting the virus. Moreover, it is not just not recommended for viral infection, but it also negatively affects and even suppresses the immune system. In other words, human immunity is the main weapon in the fight against any virus, including coronavirus. Thus, from the first days of treating patients, we rejected antibiotics.
We also did not see the point of administering the recommended drugs used in the treatment of malaria and AIDS.
- So, the recommended therapy wasn’t needed?
- Absolutely not, we excluded it completely, including the drug Plaquenil, which was prescribed indiscriminately to every single patient. Speaking of which, this drug negatively affects the liver, leads to an increase in the level of liver function tests, which in turn increases the strain on the body.
We came to the conclusion that if we are dealing with a virus, then it must cause inflammation, and therefore, the required therapy shall not be antibacterial, but actually anti-inflammatory. That is why, the center’s protocol included anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as drugs that helped to prevent the penetration of the virus into the cells. It also included a number of other drugs with antifibrotic effect to prevent severe lung damage.
- Can you please elaborate?
- Some patients showed ground-glass opacity in the lungs, which then began to transform and consolidate into more rigid formations. We saw that in some patients, unfortunately, such changes progressed very rapidly. For this reason, we used antifibrotic drugs and drugs that helped prevent the penetration of the virus into the cells. That was a major development.
Thus, we were able to come up with our own treatment protocol and apply it successfully. In the course of treating patients, we collected scientific material. It is accumulated in our studies, which are extensively published not only in national but also foreign medical scientific journals.
- Have your practices been adopted by other clinics?
- Yes, they have. The results of our work, our treatment methods prompted many of our colleagues to turn to us for help, specifically doctors from Dagestan, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, and Armenia. We provided them with substantial support, stayed reachable over the phone, and with the help of a wide range of Internet sites we consulted the most difficult patients.
I would also like to underscore one more point of great significance, reflected in the center’s protocol. That is a case-by-case approach to the treatment of every patient, the use of the so-called personalized medicine. Many of our patients were quite elderly, they were from older age groups, and naturally each had their own “baggage” of chronic diseases. And any virus seeks and finds the most vulnerable targets, penetrates the weakened structures of the body. And therefore, we were faced not only with the pulmonary form of the disease, but also with the intestinal, cardiac, and renal ones. The latter led to renal failure, and such patients had to undergo hemodialysis to clean the blood. A case-by-case approach allowed our doctors, along with the treatment of the coronavirus disease itself, to select and administer supportive therapy.
- How long, in your opinion, will the COVID-19 pandemic last in the world and specifically in Russia?
- It is a known fact that with viral infections herd immunity occurs if 60-65% of the population has had the disease. We are nowhere near this figure, but we do not take into account the number of our citizens who could have suffered from COVID asymptomatically, without even suspecting that they were sick. What can shed some light on the situation is not so much a PCR analysis from a nasal cavity, but an increase in the number of blood tests performed to detect the presence of antibodies M and G. And in this case, I think, the number of those who have already suffered through this disease will increase significantly.
- In your opinion, is it a good idea to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
- From my point of view, any vaccination should be carried out before the pandemic period, that is, preventively. I have already had several patients who got vaccinated, and it is a two-stage vaccine, and after the first shot, after about 4-5 days, they were diagnosed with nasopharyngeal coronavirus. It is, in fact, an acquired viral disease of the new coronavirus infection. Thus, it turns out that a person who has not yet formed immunity is vaccinated and becomes infected as a result. How are these patients treated? What course of the disease will they have? What is the treatment strategy? It is difficult to answer these questions at this time. Any vaccination takes time, when antibodies are developed, and the immune system is ready to fight the virus against which it is directed.
- Can you name the approximate date of the end of the pandemic?
- I don’t believe it will happen today. On second thought, the situation has stabilized somewhat. We have reached a new plateau. So, I think that by March-April the pandemic will begin to fade away.
- You are responsible for a new trend in medicine - the science of men’s health. Has the pandemic affected men’s health?
- Yes, it has, no doubt about it. With this viral disease, gender specificity became apparent. 65% of those who got sick were men. Thus, there are 30% more men with COVID than women, and they suffer from more severe forms of the disease.
Extremely fascinating studies have been published that lead doctors and scientists to the conclusion that the higher the testosterone, the more often a person gets sick, and the more severe the coronavirus forms that they will suffer from. It would seem that a male hormone is very important for men, for their quality of life. Meanwhile, testosterone, associated with the activation of androgen receptors, through its metabolites, a cascade of biochemical processes enhances the ability of the virus to enter the cells. We are currently investigating this issue. We are conducting a statistical analysis of testosterone levels in men hospitalized with COVID-19.
Our colleagues, Italian scientists, conducted a large study, examining more than 4.5 thousand patients receiving antiandrogen therapy for prostate cancer. It turned out that these patients were 30-40% less sick with COVID than those with high testosterone. What we have is a paradox that requires clarification.
Another very interesting study raises the question of whether the virus can also be transmitted sexually, because the COVID virus in one of the studies was detected in male semen fluid. Meanwhile, in other scientific papers, the opposite data were presented, stating that coronavirus infection was not detected in the semen of those men who got sick. It is too early to draw unambiguous conclusions; further research is required.
- Let’s talk about the events in the South Caucasus. The war in Karabakh ended with the defeat of the Armenian side. What, in your opinion, was the reason for it? What is your take on the current situation in Armenia?
- For all of us, this is a very sore subject. I would like to point out that without betrayal, it would have been impossible to defeat us. Without our inner betrayal. There were many causes for surprise and even bewilderment.
Today everyone is looking for someone to blame; the current government is trying to shift the blame onto those who have been in power in Armenia in recent decades. We all know that the relationship with Azerbaijan, let alone Turkey, without whose help the current war would have been impossible, has been complicated over the past decades.
The West surprises us with its policy of double standards. Western countries, the so-called champions of democracy human right advocates, kept their silence, and some of them even supported the aggressor, despite the fact that they used phosphorus and cluster bombs, they employed terrorists, while the fight against terrorism is a task for all mankind. Not a single sanction was imposed, not a single condemnation was made against Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Even more alarming is the fact that the territory of Armenia itself was featured in the clause of the signed agreement. The war was fought in Nagorno-Karabakh, what does the Armenian territory connecting Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan have to do with it? It is obvious to everyone that this was done to pave the way for Turkey, which has an 8-kilometer border with Nakhichevan. The oil pipeline runs from Baku to Tbilisi and Ceyhan. And now it can pass through this isthmus from Azerbaijan directly to Turkey.
- Was this a war for the territory or a war against the interests of Russia?
- I think it was a geopolitical war. Hiding behind a small Karabakh, which many find it difficult to locate on the map, the West, Great Britain in particular, and large oil giants like BP were just solving their problems. The question arises whether this large-scale planned action, covered by Azerbaijan’s revanchism, a screen, a geopolitical operation design to gain entry for NATO into the Caucasus, and thereby infringe on Russia’s interests? No one except Russia, which today has deployed peacekeepers in Karabakh, stopped the bloodshed.
The situation requires serious analysis, an elaborate examination of the mistakes that Armenia has made over the past two and a half years. Pashinyan shifts the blame for what happened to his predecessors. Meanwhile we should ask ourselves a few questions: why was the arrest of Khachaturov the first decision in power? This dealt a blow to the CSTO and it is noteworthy that it happened in the exact same year when Armenia chaired the organization. Armenia has demonstrated its disregard for the CSTO in front of the entire world. In this context the appeal to the CSTO during the war with questions like: “Why does the CSTO not get involved in the situation” is all the more incomprehensible. Where were your brains when you made this move?
Over the past 30 years, I can’t remember a single anti-Russian slogan on the streets of Armenia that appeared after the new government rose to power. And the new government turned a blind eye to this.
The attitude of the new government towards the church is puzzling. How can a self-respecting Armenian cast a shadow on the Armenian Church, which for many centuries has been the guarantor of preservation of our national identity, culture and written language! There were times in Armenian history when our people did not have statehood, but they had their church. And then out of the blue some cultists appear in Armenia and set up their tent cities in Echmiadzin, and the government is silent yet again.
And what is the deal with Pashinyan’s rhetoric that “Karabakh is Armenia. End of discussion!”, which, by the way, is in violation of the Minsk agreements? This can also be regarded as a provocation to push the opposite side to commit certain actions.
I believe that a well-thought-out plan was implemented, not so much for the surrender of Karabakh, as to strike a blow against Russia’s interests.
- These days, many people in Armenia believe that Pashinyan should resign. Both Catholicos Aram I and Garegin II issued a statement to that regard. What do you think about this?
- During the entire existence of both Soviet Armenia and post-Soviet Armenia, I can’t remember a single instance when the Armenian Church ever made such an unprecedented statement. This is a heartfelt cry of the Christian Armenian world in response to the policy of the Prime Minister and many members of his government, who have not done anything that would be beneficial for Armenia. Continuing to criticizing the old government, with their so-called efforts they did nothing to demonstrate a single tendency towards improving the situation in the country.
I can name what Robert Kocharyan has done during his 8 years in power. You can love him or hate him, but there are deeds by which the actions of each politician are evaluated. And what did Pashinyan and his team do during their reign? Nobody oppressed them; they got all the power in the country. And what did they do? They removed sections of the history of Armenia and the Armenian Church from school textbooks. They introduced a practice that allows a child to choose his gender while still in school. They began to impose the so-called Western values that hide behind a very tricky word “tolerance”. Meanwhile, behind this tolerance lies a deliberate destruction of people’s culture. Behind the kind, seemingly faultless messages of Soros, such as human rights and education of young people, there is an objective to turn people against each other on a psychological level, create conditions conducive for propagating the spirit of the Western “civilized world”.
This is not acceptable for Armenia. We have our own culture. And we, Armenians, will fight for the preservation of our cultural and spiritual heritage, for the preservation of national traditions. Before Pashinyan took office, Armenia was a tranquil country in terms of street crime. That is not the case today. It goes without saying that not a single person from the diaspora wants to send his grandchildren to such an Armenia in order for them to absorb the cultural values. Our goal is to bring Armenia back to its cultural and spiritual roots.
Of course, Pashinyan must go. He must step down as a loser. I leave the word “betray” in parentheses. If you do not have the moral and human qualities deserving of the leader of the country, then resign!
I remember Pashinyan’s first visit to Moscow, his visit to the RA Embassy. I was given an opportunity to take the floor. I said then that the Armenians honor the land where they live and raise their children and grandchildren. For us, it is Russia. I said that our fathers taught us not to spit into the well from which we drink water. I urged Pashinyan to give Russia the right message so that we could see that Armenia was ready for serious cooperation with Russia.
It is necessary to revise, among other things the Constitution of Armenia, which stripped the authorities of any measures of restraint that achieved balance between the separate branches of power. It is vital that the Basic Law makes provisions so that a body can be established under force majeure circumstances, which would take responsibility for the fate of the country.
Things might get messy in Armenia. Nobody wants a civil war. The person who has to leave does not wish to leave. After 8 years, Robert Kocharyan peacefully transferred power to the next president, who in turn, under certain circumstances, also transferred it without bloodshed. Pashinyan must do everything in his power to prevent a civil war in Armenia.
- In the summer of 2020, together with your co-founders, you established the Heritage and Progress Foundation for the Development and Support of Russian-Armenian Humanitarian Initiatives. How did you come up with an idea to create the Foundation? What are its goals?
- It was crystal clear to us that the situation in Armenia requires our participation. The Heritage and Progress Foundation aims to support the Russian-Armenian ties, strengthen relations between the two peoples, and create humanitarian corridors in the fields of culture, science and education. It is important to note that over the course of history Russia and Armenia have never found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades.
As far as Turkey is concerned, Russia had engaged in 30 wars with it in the course of two centuries. During the World War II, Turkey waited for the outcome of the Battle of Stalingrad in order to join the war against the USSR on the German side. After the World War I, when the Entente defeated Germany and Turkey, the Ottoman Empire actually ceased to exist. The Treaty of Sevres, the most legitimate treaty, was signed. The defeat of Turkey was well-documented. The events that took place after the war - the revolution, the deception of Lenin by Ataturk, the weaponization of the Turks, the Battle of Sardarabad, which put an end to the issue of borders. The Treaty of Moscow and the Treaty of Kars then ensued, in accordance with which Karabakh and Nakhichevan were transferred to Azerbaijan. It is a well-known fact that these are Armenian territories.
The goal of our Foundation is to establish close ties between Armenia and Russia in humanitarian corridors. This also applies to youth policy and the patriotic movement, which must be strengthened both in Russia and in Armenia. Patriotic feelings allow us not to forget the history when all the peoples of the Soviet Union fought together against a common enemy. But today we see that geopolitics is severing the old cross-national ties forged by the USSR. And Russia has only one reliable partner in the Caucasus, Armenia. We consider Russia to be a great country. I was born in Georgia. And my evolvement as a person took place in Russia. We must, with the help of the Russian-Armenian Foundation, further strengthen the ties that have been lost to a certain extent. Relationships should not be allowed to grow cold.
- Have the first projects of the Foundation come about?
- We have carried out a number of projects. One of them was dedicated to Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, who passed away not long ago. We made a brilliant documentary about him. We also made a film-memory about Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin, Chief Engineer of the Chelyabinsk-70 nuclear center, the creator of the USSR’s nuclear weapons, thrice Hero of Socialist Labor. Information about him was so classified that v few people knew even his name. Our task is to tell a story not only about the Armenians, but also about the worthy Russian people who have made a great contribution to the entire civilizational world. Kirill Ivanovich was one of those people who prevented the third World War, this time the nuclear one.
We have also released a documentary titled “Ararat-73” about how in 1973 the Ararat football team won the Soviet Cup. It tells the story of Nikita Simonyan and our greatest football players. The victory of the Yerevan football team Ararat turned into a culmination, a triumph of team victory of the Armenians in the most popular sport - football.
One of the most pressing tasks is to restore the destroyed Russian church of Nickolas the Wonderworker in Armenia and prepare for the 100th anniversary of Arno Babajanyan.
We are currently discussing a project to create a monument on the square of Russia in Armenia. It was me who proposed to open such a monument within the framework of the Interparliamentary Commission of Russia and Armenia. In Yerevan, not everyone knows where the square of Russia is located, probably because there is practically nothing there that would symbolize Russia. We have some ideas on how to create a monument that could symbolize the friendship of the two nations.
- Who is on the Board of Trustees of the Foundation?
- The Foundation Board of Trustees includes Director of the State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky, opera singer Lyubov Kazarnovskaya, Igor Abylgaziev, Director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Primate of the Diocese of Russia and New Nakhichevan in the Armenian Apostolic Church, Archbishop Yezras, famous patrons of the arts Kamo Avagetyan, Samvel Karapetyan, Artur Soghomonyan - a great friend of Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Vahram Karapetyan, Head of the Moscow House in Yerevan and many others.
The Moscow House in Yerevan is the optimal platform for our activities. Together we hosted a fundraising campaign, used the raised funds to buy textbooks in Russian for them and distributed them free of charge in those Armenian schools where there is Russian presence. You would think, textbooks ... what’s the big deal? But it is extremely important to preserve the Russian language in Armenian schools, it is important for our children to speak it. The Russian language makes it possible to combine the cultural values of two friendly countries.
Our plans were put on hold because of the war. Who could have imagined its scale and losses. With such a difference in military strength, discoordination at all decision-making levels, incompetence of the command staff, and unpreparedness of the rear, Karabakh should have fallen in 3-5 days. But thanks to the heroism of our boys, it held on, it was Armenian Sparta. The Azerbaijani side, together with the Turkish troops and terrorists, faced the Armenian Sparta. I am sure that the names of our Spartan heroes will be inscribed in history as a manifestation of honor, valor and courage of Armenian warriors.
- What would you like to wish to the readers of the Noev Kovcheg newspaper and the novostink.ru portal in the New Year?
- As a doctor, above all, I would like to wish a healthy New Year; the pandemic has claimed so many lives. Take care of yourselves, lead a healthy lifestyle, and strengthen the immune system! Remember that immunity is our main weapon in the fight against viral diseases.
I would also like to wish to all Armenians to fight off a defeatist attitude; we must understand that a war always ends, someone wins, someone loses. But this chapter has not been closed yet...
I wish that all of us would quickly make sense of the new role of Armenia, particularly when it comes to relations with Russia, as the only guarantor of our security in the Caucasus. We must create an environment in Armenia itself that would allow our people to develop. We must empower everyone in Armenia to achieve success.
Armenia can become a great technological country. We do not have gas, oil, or natural resources, but we have something that is really important - intelligence, human potential. We also lived through more difficult times, and we survived, got up off our knees. We must forget the bitterness of defeat, regain our self-respect and think about the future. Armenians are a great nation and we must prove it.
Interviewed by Grigory Anisonyan
Y. Vorobyov: It is important to make every possible effort to preserve the spiritual closeness of the peoples of Russia and Armenia.
Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council, Co-Chairman of the Interparliamentary Committee on Cooperation between the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia Yury Vorobyov sent a message to the President of the Heritage and Progress Foundation for the Development and Support of Russian-Armenian Humanitarian Initiatives, Director of the Medical Scientific and Educational Center of Lomonosov MSU, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Armais Kamalov.
The document draws attention to the fact that Russia and Armenia are linked by an alliance that is based on strong traditions of friendship and mutual assistance. “Close contacts between our people, cultural, scientific, educational ties are of paramount importance for our countries”.
As Yury Vorobyov points out, the Armenian diaspora acts as a linchpin between the two countries and promotes their active interaction, which in turn facilitates the development of interstate relations and strengthens the trust between the peoples of Russia and Armenia.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic and the recent events in Armenia hold us back and interfere with jointly made plans. That is why, today, in new conditions, it is very important for us to make every possible effort to preserve our spiritual closeness, our common cultural values,” stressed out the message.
According to the Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council, one of the most vivid examples of such work is the creation of the Heritage and Progress Foundation for the Development and Support of Russian-Armenian Humanitarian Initiatives with the assistance of the Interparliamentary Committee on Cooperation between the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.
The Heritage and Progress Foundation, established six months ago, has been making good headway, drawing new participants into the orbit of its activities and has already implemented a number of fascinating projects. Among the most memorable events are those dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the legendary Soviet composer of the 20th century both in Russia and in the world A.A. Babajanyan, whose works were included in the golden fund of Russian classics,” says the text of the document.
Yury Vorobyov expressed his conviction that by continuing to work together Russia and Armenia will further strengthen and develop their relations.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: “I am 100% Janpoladyan and 100% Piotrovsky”
- Let’s start with what’s really important, which, of course, is wrapping up the work on the amendments to the Constitution, that you took part in, supplementing its 70th Article with a definition that is important for the Russian culture. Many people have spoken about this, but it would be more prudent to turn to the primary source, that is, to you: do you think that in a sense you have moved the mountain?
- In matters of changing our Constitution by introducing amendments to it, for me, as the manager of museum affairs and the President of the Union of Museums of Russia, the thing of utmost importance, as you rightly noted, is the amendment to its 70th Article, even though, at first glance, it seems that it is about something else altogether. The amendment that we made with Kalyagin and Matsuev sounds very brief, but, in my opinion, it is essential - this amendment says that the state is obligated to protect, support and safeguard its culture.
The previous text of the Basic Law was only about the fact that culture should be accessible to everyone, and people, preferably everyone, should somehow protect this cultural heritage. The fact of the matter is that many people interpreted it in a way that allowed them to open a museum door with their feet and if the museum staff was not that excited about it they should hire guards to protect the museum with their own funds. We asked for another principle to be declared – the state, as part of society, should be responsible for such protection.
When demands of income and self-sufficiency get placed on culture, it indicates the absence of the principle of protection of culture in the Constitution. Without it, much in the fate of culture is not going well. Why exactly? I suppose the reason for that is the fact that culture is always with us, similar to the genetic and historical code of a nation, it is something that cannot be taken away from us and that we cannot lose in case of military and economic fiascos, and even in the event of dissolution of the state. During the enforced quarantine, it turned out that the museums had no income. There used to be tickets, and it was believed that museums supported themselves. But when the situation changed 180 degrees, it turned out that even in the absence of visitors and income, museums do not disappear anywhere and they must somehow continue to exist. What used to be the topic of our endless discussions, now presented a pretty clear picture.
And then we - in this case the Hermitage as a separate recipient of budgetary funds and the Ministry of Culture - together turned to the Russian government with a request to reimburse the lost income and, as a result, the salaries of employees and funds for the maintenance of the institution. And the result was not slow in coming – the funds were allocated, not exactly enormous, but not moderate either, which allowed many museums and other large cultural institutions survive the toughest periods of quarantine and shape their lives in a new way. I think we will continue this trend, subsidies must exist regardless of whether the museum has visitors or not. If it does, it earns money, and we receive a partial compensation, but a priori the provision of state subsidy is the key! All of this was not born on smoke breaks or over tea, but arose from the very practice of our life. The amendment to the Constitution will give us the foundation to build the right kind of legislation that protects and develops culture - both its fundamental and customized, commercial parts.
- Even now the book of the Piotrovsky family is a rather thick novel that was started by your grandfather, Boris Bronislavovich, was continued by Boris Borisovich, your father, who in addition to the “State of Urartu” found Hripsime Mikaelovna, your mother, at the excavation sites in Karmir Blur. Their meeting and love was like a fairy tale that ended in a miracle. I hope it will take a very long time to write this book, but will you please open some of its pages? It so happened that you were born in the year of the wedding of your parents in your mother’s homeland, in Armenia, which means that the land where you were born should have settled in your blood before everything else. If you are not embarrassed by the question, maybe you will share your feelings - how much of you is Dzhanpoladyan, after your mother, and how much of you is Piotrovsky?
- You are talking about the Piotrovsky family book - indeed, it is being written, and partly, I hope, has already been written. The book was written by Geraldine Norman, titled “Piotrovsky. Keepers of the Ark”. It was translated into Russian by Elena Rubinova in 2018; time was taken to talk about my mom, my dad, and our entire lives.
You ask how much of me is Dzhanpoladyan and how much is Piotrovsky, and you know what? I am one hundred percent Janpoladyan and one hundred percent Piotrovsky.
In fact, this is only half a joke: belonging to two different..., and why different - just cultures, to two national traditions, enriches a person. Rigid nationalism is bad - people should immerse themselves in other cultures as much as possible, make them their own, and they will become richer for it! Belonging to such two wonderful families gives me the happiness of being two hundred percent human!
And when it is given to you with blood, it is in your genes, then it is sometimes easier, sometimes more difficult, but it is always intense.
In Russia, if there are any questions related to Armenia, I am an Armenian chauvinist.
If there are issues related to Russia in Armenia, I am a Russian chauvinist.
All the people of the Dzhanpoladyan dynasty, in all generations, forced the reality in which they lived to serve the noble cause of culture and knowledge - this is also one of the traditions of an average member of Russian intellectual class, to which I belong based on all my convictions and ancestry.
And our unspoken motto is “to use any situation in order to become their bearers, to preserve them so that they do not disappear”; this is what everyone did both now and always.
To summarize, this is what museums do, what the humanities do - they help people to master other cultures. And all together this is our St. Petersburg - Yerevan tradition, because in both St. Petersburg and Yerevan our families belong to a circle that has not only made a great contribution, but who, in addition to their contribution, served as examples of how people lived and behaved. Such good deeds surrounded all my closest relatives, including uncles and aunts; these are the people who are well remembered in Yerevan today. It must be said that this is the Armenian intelligence class that assimilated the wonderful Russian culture and in Soviet times spoke much better Russian than some native-born speakers of the Russian language. As a matter of fact, there was a moment in our shared history when the Armenian language had to be restored. I remember that as a child on the train I was impressed by the conversation between my mother and the poet Nairi Zarian, who wrote in Armenian, they talked - but it was a language that didn’t use a single Russian word, it was very beautiful. That street Armenian, which I knew from childhood, was always mixed with something, but here it was clear, smooth ... And I also remember how my cousins, being students, not exactly studied, but tried to practice literary Armenian – the same as now, in fact, in Russia it would be a good idea to master literary Russian, for our language has become somewhat unclean and simple, to put it mildly.
- So, I understand St. Petersburg, it is your city to the core - heaven and earth. And which places in Armenia and Yerevan do you visit no matter what during your short return trips to the places of your memories?
- As a sprout of life, I was born in Yerevan, and even after my family moved to Leningrad, every summer I returned there and became a Yerevan citizen. You ask where I go to in Yerevan, when I come there –I visit a lot of places, but most of them are no longer there. The place where we lived had no bath house; places where we went had no home... But there are two places where I come for sure – one of them is Karmir Blur, the place that my father “dug out”, the place where that I visited him every summer during his excavations and where I studied archeology, it still needs some care, every time I bring people with me, and we discuss what needs to be done.
And the second place is Matenadaran - a repository of manuscripts, where my mother used to work. She also worked at the History Museum of Armenia, where my uncle, Levon Khachikyan worked as a director, and where I could connect both intellectually and spiritually with many people. I studied lots of manuscripts - Armenian, then, as an Arabist, Arabic, but there I learned the principals of working with millennia-old documents, and it was enough for me not to study it somewhere else.
Both Matenadaran and Karmir Blur are human treasures and my all-time love towards the homeland, which I have two, with Poland trying to squeeze into this group, seeing that our surname is Polish. And to transfer the treasures of my homeland to all mankind, as the greatest blessing, to make it the property of the entire world - that is a great life purpose, trust me.
In Yerevan, everything that clings to the memory is important to me – it could be a theater of my ancestors Dzhanpoladyans, who built a theater in the city, not a restaurant or a casino that are more profitable. It could also be the few stone houses that were made in the old style, back in Erevani, recaptured from the Persians by Paskevich. It was very touching for me to see and hear how in one of the villages in the Ararat valley in the sixties people remembered my grandfather, who measured the land for them, participating in its allocation to the peasants of the Ararat valley.
I am also endlessly touched by the fact that in Yerevan there is a plaque on the house where we used to live. That’s a whole other story: in the place where we used to live, there was a house of the Dzhanpoladyans, it had a wonderful courtyard where wonderful people, including myself, grew up. Later a house was built there, where my grandmother received an apartment, the same grandmother who carried my mother in the womb from Nakhichevan to Yerevan, walking on foot under fire from various robbers. An entire adventure novel could be written about the life and exploits of my ancestors, whom I love and am proud of! Then, when my grandmother died, the Academy of Sciences presented this apartment to Boris Borisovich, and when certain events took place in Baku, he asked for it to be transferred to any Armenian refugee from the Azerbaijani capital - the apartment is still there; of course, I have no idea who the tenants are, but I think they are good people. These are all touching stories about how in the years of my youth people used to live together not united by nationality, but by friendship, love, and faith in the same ideals, no matter how it is perceived now and how loudly it is said.
- I guess hearing your surname, not many people will remember that your mother, who was more than an ordinary scientist herself, lived in your and your dad’s bright shadow. She did not sacrifice science for the sake of her family, she managed everything, remaining, above all, the wife and mother of the Directors of the Hermitage! Mikhail Borisovich, what else would you add to the portrait of this amazing woman, your mother, besides what I have already said about her?
- Throughout our wonderful family history, like the light of God, the state of Urartu remains; it united people into a family - it summoned my father to Armenia to connect him with my mother at the ancient excavations of Karmir Blur.
What can I tell you as the son of the best mother in the world? As long as I remember her, my mother, as it is customary in the East, has always been a symbol of our family and the actual center of existence that occurred within the walls of our house. Plus she was a happy person - they were a very happy couple, dad and mom.
They not only loved each other dearly, but learned to live and work together, which, in general, does not happen in every family, as far as I know.
Ours was a family in which everything was organized just right; of course, it was an eastern Armenian family: mother was where it was necessary, at the head, and dad was where it was necessary, at the head, and their powers rarely overlapped.
We always had a very open house, both for residents of Yerevan, who took a ticket not to Leningrad, but to Khalturin, 31, then Moika, 25, and for Leningraders. How many people now remember how, coming as students, graduate students and just specialists to Leningrad, they found some kind of shelter in our house, with mom and dad, and knew that here they would feed you in not well-fed years, and listen, and give good advice ... This is the Yerevan style that has passed from generation to generation. But I am afraid that this style is not quite the same in Yerevan now, the same can be said about Leningrad, excuse me, in St. Petersburg. But we will remember this for all eternity, as an example of an ability to completely unite different people around us, who over the years get used to considering our house as their own.
A little more about my mom. For a while she did not work, having to juggle the needs of a rather massive, for those times, family. Keeping a hospitable house, where it was a rare day when someone did not visit, she did not abandon science, finding time to keep records of her father’s scientific papers, she went on expeditions, wrote and published books, and then worked at the Institute of Archeology, where she did a great many things. There she is still remembered, again, both as a scientist and as a person who took care of young people who came to the sector of Central Asia and the Caucasus. We started to prepare a collection of her works, of course, we were interrupted by the pandemic, but we will definitely finish it.
Mom has many wonderful works and a number of sensational archaeological discoveries: “Eastern Carved Glass” and “Inscriptions on a Sword”, “Vessels for the Transport of Aromatic Substances” and “Byzantine Glass” - these are all outstanding scientific episodes that she was involved in. In general, if we talk about science, both father and mother made a compromise. Being the Head of the Hermitage, Boris Borisovich only partially sacrificed his great science, finding time to pursue it, as did I. And my mother, who held the family in her fragile hands, did the same. There is such a spot-on opinion that, no matter the circumstances, a person can and should arrange for himself an opportunity to engage in an activity, if it happens to be the main thing in his life, you only need to try and have a desire and character for this, and my mother had character in spades...
How to put it correctly, she was kind and soft, very caring and at the same time firm, but never rough. She knew how to foster, although no one taught her. She knew how to do things that had to do with upbringing, some kind of restrictions that a grown-up would simply not need. She did not pamper us with money, and not because there was no extra money, she gave it to us only for school meals, ice cream and movies, if our grades allowed it, even though she could. Or our little household chores, which we could, in principle, avoid; it was all done so that we would understand the value of our responsibility to other family members, the importance of labor for getting anything. Mom understood this from her own childhood and passed it on to us.
This Armenian-Leningrad life and by no means a monastic lifestyle had nurtured in all of us, and in me in particular, the tradition of cultural connection and cultural openness. You see, if for you the open world is Armenia, with its history, and Russia and St. Petersburg, with their history, then it is not so difficult to add Paris or New York.
- Do the Hermitage and you, as a person representing it, have your own museum policy – let’s say, an in-house one, and an international one, and how, if you indeed have any, does yours correlate with the global trends in the cultural exchange of values between the countries with similar values, or in the promotion of our values in places that don’t have a rich culture?
- Something like expansion?
- You could say that.
- As it is already obvious to you, I split my childhood between two Meccas, where, on the one hand, was the Hermitage, where people from all over the world came, and on the other, Yerevan - Armenians returning from different countries of the East, repatriates. This has already been forgotten a little, but it was a very important wave, when people with the experience of life, culture of the countries of the Middle East, the Middle East, even Europe came to Soviet Armenia. And this was very important for understanding that the world is diverse and does not fit well into the fairest and best model in the world. You can feel right at home anywhere in the world, that’s why the open cultural agenda that exists in the Hermitage Museum is quite natural for me, it is in my blood - hence the knowledge of languages that allows me to communicate with people. In general, the policy of building cultural bridges is the most important part of the Hermitage’s policy. Both Boris Borisovich and I have set our minds on the creation of such bridges that should ensure cultural contacts between our people, even if the political ties between us leave much to be desired.
However, when political connections are good, a subtle cultural policy is needed so as not to turn into appendages of cultural and raw materials or indulge very simple tastes when you bring something. But, on the other hand, it is necessary to work in such a way that people will know of you and your cultural heritage, and know how you, master the heritage of the “world”. Therefore, the Hermitage is represented by numerous exhibitions, it is a two-way flow of valuables for exchange, for which purpose an entire “Greater Hermitage” program had been created. We define it ourselves, and the work of the museum is built on it. Now the Hermitage is constantly expanding its collections, making them accessible by creating open repositories where everything could be displayed.
- Mikhail Borisovich, do you personally deal with the international agenda or does it fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, and do you plan to expand the rights of museums by introducing your amendment to the Constitution, especially when it comes to terms of international exchange of exhibitions?
- You posed an important question, especially now that the world is once again under quarantine. It was always the case that, the country’s Number One museum served as the cultural ambassador of Russia, even during the times of the Iron Curtain. Now, amid the unprecedented campaign of disinformation about our country, the importance of this mission has grown. A year ago, queues lined up for us in London and Amsterdam, Berlin and New York, wherever our collections were exhibited, and this work was only gaining momentum. But now the pandemic test continues, all borders are closed once again, and I thank God for the fact that our exhibits, which for the most part remained abroad, have returned safely, and again with gratitude I remember the amendment we introduced. After all, when we say that it would be fair to obligate the Basic Law of the country to protect and preserve its culture, it has nothing to do with money, but with attitude and the fact that putting culture on such a high pedestal will increase our competitive advantage over other countries and states. Specifically, this may apply to displaced values, the ownership of which takes the form of a law, and the fate of our exhibitions sent abroad, which now cannot be arrested on the simple grounds that it will add political points to someone there: first they will implement the law and return everything that belongs to us, and only then they will try to sort everything out.
Once again we find ourselves in a situation where the whole world looks at the idea of holding any new exhibitions with great apprehension, nobody likes it, and we are discussing with our colleagues what we can do to get out of this situation, how not to lose the established bridges of cultural exchange? We must maintain them, we must send and receive exhibitions, if not actual ones, then virtual ones, so as not to forget that we are part of one united cultural world, and it is our pleasure! However, along with the desires of museum workers, there is and is currently gaining strength one more general big tendency - to fence off, close up, and this is only partially generated by the pandemic. The tendency of many politicians across the globe, both here and abroad, is to disconnect and think only about their own interests. But when you start thinking only about your own interests, then these interests will actually be the losers in this situation – that’s the whole salt of it. And I don't know how much more effort can be put in to convince all the big bosses of how beautiful the world is, how diverse and how we need to know different cultures well so that we could talk to each other all the time.
- It’s been a year since the State Duma adopted a new law on the protection of museum-reserves and museum complexes. Will it in any way affect the Hermitage or the architectural ensemble of it neighbor, the Palace Square, will this law ban fans of the leather ball who are far from art from entering it, after all the postponed EURO 2020 has not been canceled, just pushed back, and is our expanded participation already under consideration?
- I only welcome the UEFA European Football Championship, however, the idea of organizing a fan zone on the Palace Square is debauched in itself. Fan zones, by definition, are a place where people watch football on screens, drink, maybe even, beer, people of different nationalities, temperaments and cultural backgrounds socialize ... Fans don’t need beautiful architecture of the Palace Square, they have a different goal and requests from a different plane - they will appreciate neither the beauty of a cultural monument, nor its, excuse me, prices, to put it bluntly. They just need a convenient place where the teams’ play can be clearly seen and where these people can indulge in whatever activity they have gathered here for, having come such a long way – cheer on and socialize. Another thing is that the championship organizers, like the organizers of the aforementioned reach compromises with them. So far, our compromise is that along with the showing of the matches on the Palace Square, if there is such a thing, and the decision is made by the government not of St. Petersburg, as you understand, a cultural program must be prepared. That is, right there next to us, on other screens and in the Hermitage itself, we must show the masterpieces of art from those countries that are participating in the championship. This museum function of ours shall remind everyone that, apart from sports pleasures, there are also aesthetic pleasures, apart from sports culture, there is an artistic culture, and they exist peacefully side by side without interfering with each other. We must not forget that a person should be multifaceted, have a variety of interests, must cultivate one’s own taste, and the cultivation of taste brings up a kind of decency in a person inherent in very few fans. By the way, this is also one of the ways of to communicate internationally, which is something that is quite difficult for us now.
- How did the Hermitage survive the first wave of quarantine - do you have any new ideas or projects?
- The pandemic has not gone anywhere, but in the pause between its attacks, we began to let small groups of people into museums, making ticket sales safer - now they go through the Internet. A dress code related to wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance between our visitors is being implemented. We are already hosting exhibitions - the first was a large-scale exhibition of the contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huang “In the Ashes of History”, which presents 30 works in different techniques. The most striking work is a 37.5-meter group portrait of members of the Chinese Communist Party, created from the ashes. The exhibition came from China, the country from where the infection spread, and there is some kind of special mysticism in this. Let me explain: while the exhibition was traveling, and it was traveling around the entire world, Zhang Huan, inspired by the pandemic, painted another series of paintings under the general title “Love”. He grieved the disaster that had begun in China that at first had nothing to fight it with, except for the heroism of the doctors and the courage of the people of Wuhan themselves, and all this is felt at the level of love letters from the country that first entered the battle against Covid-19. At the same time, his works themselves are very wise - they combine different art schools, religions, worldviews...
Another recent exhibition is a dialogue-installation by Alexander Nikolaevich Sokurov on the topic of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt, where he, with the help of his colleagues, architects and sculptors, brought the Father and the Son out of the frame, giving them volume, which made it possible to discern what was hidden behind the two-dimensionality of the canvas. Sokurov puts us to work – makes us wonder what will happen after the historical embrace, when the Father of the Son recognized and forgave him all the sins, including the insults that he had previously inflicted on him. What’s next? Sokurov is a very harsh artist; he said that nothing good was going to happen – just look at the world we live in. We have on our screens the terrible world of today’s Middle East, and in this world a person who has repented once can commit crimes again, repent again, and so on time and time again...
- With an Orientalist, one cannot help but talk about the East itself. The cultural monuments of the most ancient civilizations, interspersed with the monuments of the Roman era, which survived through time, now and then find themselves under the gun of modern vandals, and in fact they are the same age as Greece and Egypt. Would you please share your feelings after you learnt that the militants had destroyed Palmyra’s monuments?
- The question of the East and the monuments of the East... it is one of the most painful topics for us - monuments are being destroyed, and more often than not it is not the work of just vandals, as you said, but people who have studied something somewhere. At first it only happened in the East, but the bacillus of destruction, the desire to replenish the ranks of the Herostratus crossed the ocean, and started the decimation not just anywhere but in America; soon Europe also caught this disease. At present, not the most backward countries are affected by the ailment of capitalization on the opposition of history and its “reflection” in some “new consciousness”. People suddenly begin to renounce their past, having no right to do so, because the past of the mankind, reflected in art, in written cultural and other type of monuments, belongs to everyone - to all of humanity. And humanity is obligated to intervene, by force if necessary, when cultural monuments are destroyed. So it happened with Palmyra that was freed from the people who destroyed it, but still a lot was lost in the destruction.
Palmyra is in ruins. I must say, it has always stood in ruins, this is just another stage of its development, but it also suggests that barbarism is transmitted not only in space, but also in time. Therefore, it is clear how important it is to achieve an understanding that monuments are not just a familiar part of the landscape or tourist business, but that they will need to be passed on to someone, as they were passed on to us.
When it comes only to politics or economics, many issues can be swept under the rug, but when the historical heritage of all mankind is being destroyed, countries and organizations involved in the cultural process must, discarding contradictions, protect them, and then all together decide what to do with it going forward, and the example of Palmyra in this case is quite enlightening.
Now all of us together - the Hermitage, the Institute for the History of Material Culture, representatives of the European restoration school, UNESCO experts and representatives of the Museum of Palmyra - we are all preparing materials in order to restore the Palmyra Museum - this is how this project is called - if not to the pre-war level, then at least to the level appropriate for the world museum.
- At your previous place of work, at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a 3D model of the ancient capital has been made, and work has begun on the first stage of its restoration. Tell me, Mikhail Borisovich, how are the Hermitage and you personally involved in this project?
“For this project, my colleague Natalya Solovyova, Head of the Palmyra project at the Institute of Material Culture, and her team have created and handed over to the Syrian side a stunning 3D model of ancient Palmyra, destroyed by the militants in 2015. She compiled detailed information about all the destruction that the monument had suffered. And the dynamic geographic information system Palmyra GIS, developed based on the collected data, is both a document fixing the barbaric destruction of the cultural values of mankind, and a research tool that surpasses in its versatility all the methods used so far.
This is a part of modern technology that makes it possible to discuss almost all issues when it is necessary to evaluate the smallest details of the object, draw conclusions about the areas that require restoration and come up with a plan of restoration.
To document the scale of the disaster, a team of researchers from St. Petersburg in September 2016 undertook an expedition to Syrian Palmyra. It took Russian specialists about a year to photograph the entire architectural and landscape complex and build a 3D model. Today it contains the most complete and up-to-date information about the state of Palmyra and makes it possible to see where things lie without ever stepping foot on the settlement.
As early as on November 18, 2017, as part of the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum in the White Hall of the General Staff Building of the Hermitage, we handed over a three-dimensional model of the ancient city to the Syrian side.
A year ago, UNESCO, hosted a workshop on the restoration of Palmyra in Paris, the purpose of which was to determine the best approaches to the problem of reviving a World Heritage site. The experts from 34 countries took the floor: France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Sri Lanka, Syria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Russia was represented by Natalya Fedorovna and me and the architect Maxim Atayants, and what we presented to the entire world was a brilliant new step in mastering the discussion about cultural heritage.
- Having visited the liberated Palmyra before it was recaptured by the militants, of course, you evaluated the challenges of restoring its ruins. In your opinion, is it even possible without the participation of the Russian specialists?
- Now it is no longer possible - an agreement was concluded between the museum and the Department of Antiquities of Syria: the Hermitage restoration artists are ready to train their colleagues from Syria. So far, these plans have not been realized due to the pandemic, but they will definitely come about in the future, and to make sure of that on December 2 we held an online International Cultural Forum “Day of Palmyra”.
Everyone who is interested in returning this global masterpiece to its rightful place in the ranks gathered at his impromptu round table. We talked about its role in world culture over the centuries, discussed where to begin the restoration process, because Palmyra is a collective name that includes the temples of Bel and Baalshamin, the Arc de Triomphe, Zenobia’s columns, necropolis and the Tower-tombs, the camp of Diocletian and the Fakhr al-Din fortress. The key topic was the “Two Palmyras”, the North one and the South one, as an example of the monument’s life and its image.
By the way, “Palmyra” is not the only site in Syria, on whose restoration we are working on. For instance, the most recent restoration of one of its other pearls, the “Citadel of Damascus”, which generally served as a prison and barracks until 1986, had been under restoration since the 1980s and was never truly completed even during the relatively calm years for the republic. The impetus for the restoration and preservation of the seventeen-century-old monument could be the production of its 3D model by our specialists in order to demonstrate our working methods to the Syrian colleagues and compare our experiences.
To sum up, let me remind you that in the Hermitage, in the Caucasus section, such diverse symbols of Caucasus history are presented together as the Karmir Blur bowls, Kubachi terrain, tiles of the Pir Hussein mausoleum, frescoes from Ani, Khachkar from Jrvezh, silver from Bori, and column caps in the Temple of Garni. Now the Syrian monuments have become our concern, and they are all part of a single world, which we must preserve in its entirety.
We can say that this is also part of our museum mission - to preserve the cultural heritage, turning it into an elder, a “mentor”, a wise teacher for everyone who comes to the museum or does not come to it, but looks at it on the Internet, to preserve and give people an opportunity to learn from what we tell them. This is a big, difficult and important task, which for me personally represents everything my family stands for.
If I may, I would like to summarize a little.
Thank God, the traditions of the two peoples that laid the foundation for the Piotrovsky’s family values are common for Armenia, Russia, France, Italy, and Georgia – all of us, before it’s too late, need to think about what needs to be done in order for us to coexist together. And in our shared existence, cultural dialogues are very important; we need to talk as much and as honestly as possible about the differences between us. I would like to hope that our conversation will help to cross the bridge from the past to the future, where civilization is determined not only by the borders of the nations’ territories, but also by the spiritual life of people and their ability to communicate with each other ...
(c) Newspaper “Noev Kovcheg”, Interviewed by Igor Kiselev