The key law that regulates this sphere is the Law on Preservation and Utilisation of Immovable Monuments of History and Culture and of the Historic Environment (1999), which defines historical and cultural monuments and the responsibilities of state governing and local self-governing authorities in the field of monument protection, usage and so on.
From 2002-2007, the government has approved the state lists of historical and cultural monuments in 10 Marzes of Armenia and in Yerevan city, where 24 152 monuments are included, as well as the list of “immovable monuments that are state property and are not subject to amortisation”, which includes 18 935 monuments.
The monuments registered on the territory of the Republic are grouped in approximately 4 500 territorial protection units; 700 of them are historic, ancient and medieval capitals of Armenia, strongholds and habitations, while another 1 200 are monastic complexes, churches and temples. There are hundreds of tomb fields, historical cemeteries, secular buildings, memorials and monuments registered also.
The cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and the EU in the heritage field continues. Since 1998, the Haghpat and Sanahin monastic complexes, Geghard monastery and the Valley of River Azat, Echmiadzin Cathedral and the archaeological place of Zvartnots have been included in “World Heritage List” of UNESCO.
Since 2004, the state has been allocating funding for the protection of historical monuments. However, the heritage works, particularly the excavation-designing-protection stages, still need to be regulated.
Following the independence of the Republic of Armenia, the communist ideology museums, devoted to party figures, were closed. In 1997, about 18 museums in the state system were passed to regional jurisdictions, while preserving the state property right for the collections. Currently, there are 22 museums under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture of RA.
As a result of decentralisation policy, financing of museums within the regional and community jurisdictions was reduced. The museums of distant, bordering, high mountainous communities are in need of methodical and professional information and consultations.
In 2004-2006, new permanent exhibitions were organised in 11 museums, exhibiting more than 4 000 museum items that were not displayed previously. More frequently organised exhibitions and diverse undertakings have increased interest in museums among Armenian and foreign visitors. In 2005, the number of visitors was 275 031, which exceeded the 2004 figure by 35.5%. In 2010, the number of visitors was 1 644 936 and it constantly grows.
Since 2006, the “Museum on Wheels” programme has been operating, which aims to familiarise the distant and bordering population of the Republic with their museum heritage.
The “Union of Armenian Libraries” was created to improve international cooperation, ensure innovation, compare the work of Armenian libraries, and to exchange best practice. There are currently 25 Armenian libraries that are members of this union. In 2006, the Union became a member of IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations).
The Armenian National Archive (SNPO) was established on the basis of the archive department attached to the government and the central and marz state archives. In 2005, the national film library also joined this SNPO. The same year, the Armenian archive system transferred to the Ministry of Territorial Administration. In 2004, the National Assembly adopted the Law on Archives Business, which regulates the most important key issues of the archives sector, particularly the issues connected with the replenishment, finances, reservation and usage of archive documents by state governing bodies, state institutions and organisations. During 2005, archives were established in many bodies of state governance and the improvement process is ongoing.
One of the main directions of state cultural policies is the preservation of non-material (spiritual) cultural heritage, which includes preserved, implemented and verbally transferred traditional cultural values in three areas: folklore, ethnography, and national art and handicrafts. In 2006, the government approved the “conception on preservation of non-material cultural heritage and improving its viability”. The adoption of a law in this area is in the development stage.
In the field of cultural heritage, the main disputes concern the protection of cultural values. The most recent example is the broad public discussions concerning the digitalisation of cultural values and, particularly, of Armenian manuscripts. The problem is that the digitalisation of those manuscripts was to be realised by a private foreign organisation, with a loss of copyright, to which the majority of society objected. The public demanded that the work should be carried out by the state even though it would take a longer period and that the copyright should be reserved by the state in cases where manuscripts are recognised as national cultural items of particular importance.
In 2008-2013, the main cultural heritage policy issues were:
- Development of state policies and the legal environment in the sphere of preservation and development of intangible cultural heritage through: improvement of the legal environment in this sphere, research, database creation, promotion of traditional arts and handicrafts, publication of books, making films, etc. A conference on intangible heritage was held in 2008. Following the results of collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, a database on intangible heritage is being created, and a web-presentation launched (https://ich.unesco.org/en-state/armenia-AM?info=national-laws-on-ich). The Law on Intangible Heritage was developed and accepted by the National Assembly of RA on 7 October 2009. Improvements were made in the legal and policy field for further preservation and rehabilitation of immobile cultural heritage. A number of policy and procedural documentation on mechanisms of preservation, expertise, utilisation, and an inventory of the Armenian mobile and immobile cultural heritage were accepted during 2008-2010.
- Some monuments of a religious character were transferred to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
- Development of an advanced legal platform for museum management and preservation.
- Creation of mechanisms for periodic monitoring and timely restoration of historical and cultural monuments. It includes an inventory of the most endangered monuments, zoning and mapping of historical and cultural landscapes, creation of a database of the cultural heritage (more than 714 objects were studied and entered into the database), development of programmes aimed at rehabilitation of monuments. More than 12 projects of rehabilitation of historical and cultural monuments are completed and about 5 are in progress (out of 24 planned projects). Gradual enlargement of geographical territories involved in the programme is being pursued. Some procedural policies have been accepted with regard to the mentioned activities.
- Promotion of the Armenian cultural heritage through organisation of exhibitions. The focus was placed on recent archaeological research results (excavations of settlements from the early Bronze Age, archaeological research in Tigranakert of Artsakh, etc).
- Improvement of representation of the Armenian cultural heritage through enrichment of museum funds, improvement of technical facilities for preservation and presentation of cultural artefacts. Thus, a project on installation of security and preservation systems in museums has been implemented. The Gallery of Art of the city of Gyumri was renovated with support from the Italian government.
- Looking for alternative ways of enriching collections of museum artefacts and books through encouragement of donations, community participation in the purchasing process, etc.
- Emphasising development of regional museums and libraries that have not been completed, with books and artefacts. In 2008, regional libraries were provided with computer equipment (3-4 computers per library). A number of regional museums were renovated.
- Introduction of IT technologies in the cultural heritage preservation and presentation spheres. It includes digitisation of Armenian culture (literature, manuscripts, archives, databases, descriptions and photo archives of museum collections, etc),
- Improvement of professional capacities of specialists employed in the sphere of cultural heritage through improved professional education and training. In 2008-2009 more than 20 specialists were retrained in Armenia or abroad.
- World-wide promotion of Armenian Cultural Heritage through active participation in international cultural events, collaboration with UNESCO Cultural Heritage related activities and lobbying for inclusion of Armenian cultural objects of both tangible and intangible culture in the UNESCO lists.
- Major promotion and utilisation of Armenian historical and cultural heritage for the purpose of increasing tourism. The most valuable monuments form part of the newly developed tourist routes.
- Recent Public debates on issues of preservation of cultural heritage addressed some contradictions and inconsistency in the activities of the Ministry of Culture and state authorities. During the reconstruction of the centre of the city of Yerevan historical buildings that were registered as cultural monuments were destroyed. The reaction of the Ministry of Culture, which is primarily responsible for the monitoring and preservation of cultural monuments, was very poor and late.