The cinema sits on the spot where the Sts. Peter and Paul Church once stood. The church, which was said to be the largest and grandest in Yerevan, was destroyed by Soviet authorities in the 1930s. Armenian officials issued a decree in late February to demolish the theater and reconstruct the church.
It's not every day in Armenia that a Soviet-era structure gains such an outpouring of support, but many Yerevan residents appear to have a visceral attachment to the Moscow Cinema, and want to see it preserved.
"There are plenty of vacant areas, why do they destroy this beautiful building?" said Asya Yesayan, 60, one of the thousands of Yerevan residents who have signed a preservation petition. "Why do they always destroy things? Or is construction of the church sort of atonement?"
Since the reconstruction plan was announced an initiative group called SAVE Cinema Moscow Open-Air Hall has quickly enlisted 5,000 members. The group recently addressed the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, and the Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, calling for a thorough public debate on the reconstruction plan.
"We, the undersigned, with deep trust in God and respect for the Armenian Church, hope that you'll generously give up this initiative as a token of astuteness and respect for cultural values of the Armenian people," the address said.
Sarhat Petrosyan, an architect and one of the initiative group's leaders, indicated that once the group's petition drive wraps up, the document will be sent to President Serzh Sargsyan's office. In an interview with EurasiaNet.org, Petrosyan described the Moscow Cinema as a landmark and "one of the best examples of Yerevan's modern architecture."
For many, the demolition of the cinema would strike an emotional chord. "We've had so many wonderful moments in this open-air hall, how can I put up with the thought of never seeing it again?" said Karine Manukyan, a 30-year-old teacher. "Doesn't the church understand that destruction has nothing to do with Christianity?"
The spontaneous burst of support for sparing the Moscow Cinema from the wrecking ball has appeared to catch both church and state off guard. Some church officials have cast the reconstruction of Sts. Peter and Paul as a vital matter of national identity. "The church has always been the hearth of national preservation, and I don't see what all this fuss is about," said Gagik Hambardzumyan, a church representative. "We would never survive without the church, and I welcome every new church being built."
Father Vahram Melikyan, another spokesman for the Armenian Apostolic Church, contended that the country could not have too many churches or schools. "In a way, our society lacks moral and spiritual values, and the construction of a temple of God is aimed to meet these spiritual needs," Melikyan told Eurasianet.
Samvel Karapetyan, a historian and head of a non-governmental organization called Armenian Architecture Research, contended that the restoration impulse concerning the Sts. Peter and Paul Church was misguided. "They step into the 21st century like Bolsheviks, destroying instead of building," Karapetyan said.
Karapetyan asserted that the Armenian Church already had a strong presence in central Yerevan, pointing out that the Katoghike Church, a pearl of 13th century architecture, is located just 200 meters away from the Moscow Cinema. "One can construct thousands of buildings and have zero result in terms of faith," Karapetyan said.
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance journalist based in Yerevan.