Pitch: Mount Aragats and the Armenian astrophysicists
“I’m not used to giving tours,” the Armenian astrophysicist Kamo Gigoyan confides in me, trembling slightly. He searches for the key, inserts it into the lock, and opens the door to a retrofuturistic building. Inside, a journey through space and time awaits. The silver-toned structure houses a gigantic 2.6-meter telescope made in the USSR and installed in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1975. In the control room, a few flat screen monitors sit adjacent to a behemoth, a relic from the Cold War.
“Even if we no longer use it, this computer still works very well,” Kamo Gigoyan assures me. As a young man, the scientist had aspirations of becoming an astronaut but, after refusing to submit to the orders of the Red Army, he pursued a career in scientific research instead. For the last 37 years, he’s had his head in the stars and his feet firmly anchored to the slopes of Mount Aragats, in northern Armenia. Three others astronomy research centers dot the landscape of this former volcano. Two of them are still in operation and the third was abandoned by the Armenian government. After years of fighting with Moscow to install these astronomical observatories in Armenia, the research centers played a pivotal role in the space race during the Cold War. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved and Armenia floundered. “The collapse of the USSR put an end to all Soviet scientific research.
The first war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the energy crisis of the 1990s were additional obstacles to the proper functioning of these astronomy research centers,” explains Arevik Sargsyan, a Doctor of Engineering and the director of the Herouni Mirror Radio Telescope rehabilitation project. Ever since, Armenian scientists have been fighting for “the survival of Armenia” and astrophysics. The engineer hopes to once again place her country at the forefront of the global scientific research community. International visibility could constitute “a means of deterrence against potential attacks from Turkey or Azerbaijan,” according to the scientist, who believes “we must develop and invest in what we already have, especially after this last war; we must rise from the ashes of our heritage, like a phoenix.”
Text Morgane Bona